Want to encourage people to eat healthier? Don’t do one thing, do many things – new supermarkets, food education, calorie labeling. Want to make a community healthier and more food secure?  The use of multiple interventions also applies.  Bring together the food system’s stakeholders, engage the community, make a plan that involves multiple approaches, and work together.  Those are the purposes of USDA’s Community Food Project Grant Program (CFP), and unless Congress includes it in the upcoming Farm Bill, CFP will cease to exist. The time to take action to defend CFP and what it has done for hundreds of communities across the nation is now!

As I described at some length in my new book Stand Together or Starve Alone https://www.markwinne.com/books-by-mark-winne/ much of the national policy response to community food security, dietary health, and local food systems has come in the form of a crazy-quilt of small federal grant programs.  They are “small” because their total funding is in the millions as opposed to the billions for programs like SNAP, and their focus and reach are generally narrow. While they may promote innovative approaches like farm to school or “double-up bucks” at farmers’ markets, the initiatives don’t require comprehensive strategies that engage a wide swath of the community. This is precisely what CFP is designed to do.

In Warren, a northeast Ohio community that’s been struggling to get back on its feet since the steel industry left town, the Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership used a CFP grant to conduct a food assessment. They engaged dozens of stakeholders and community members in a process that is now bringing new community gardens, farmers’ markets, and other local food activities to close the food gap in neighborhood food deserts.

Going back almost two decades, a CFP grant in Santa Fe, New Mexico brought a new farmers’ market to a lower income area of the city while also piloting an early farm to school project. Today, the State of New Mexico contributes $400,000 annually to a statewide “double-up bucks” farmers’ market program, and the Santa Fe School District allocates $50,000 a year of its own funds to buy food from the region’s farmers for its schools.

Ontario, California is the site of Huerta del Valles where, with the help of a 2016 CFP grant, hundreds of Latino families have converted three-acres of land into one of the most exciting urban agriculture projects you’ve ever seen. Greenhouses, large compost sites, dozens of family garden plots, and several commercial size garden sections have turned this community-led farm into an urban oasis. And expansion plans are underway, thanks to CFP!

These are just a few of the hundreds of community-driven projects spawned by CFP over the past 20 years. The program has so many impacts on low-income communities and family farmers across the country that its return on investment far outstrips its small annual appropriation of $9 million.  In 2016 alone, CFP directly benefitted 233,000 people, 70 per cent of whom were low income. It creates wealth and jobs for small farmers and low-income community members, while stimulating new markets, generating food donations to the hungry, teaching agricultural literacy, providing job training, fostering civic engagement, and transforming communities toward greater sustainability and equity.

Just in terms of job creation alone, the program created 195 jobs in 2016, retained 157 jobs, and indirectly created another 130 jobs. To monetize this service, we can use the well-regarded figure of $30,000 that it costs to create a job. Seen in that light, CFP generated a direct value of $5.9 million. That’s quite an impressive achievement for a program that was never intended to be an employment program.

There are intangible outcomes from CFP as well. Many grantees are applying for the first time to USDA, which is never an easy process. The experience gives them the practice and confidence they need to apply for other programs. Leadership development is another consequence of participation in a CFP grant. In 2016, grantee projects created 367 new leadership roles, 70 per cent of which were filled by people of color and 38 per cent by youth. In these ways, CFP builds the capacity of organizations to secure and manage the resources they need to strengthen their own communities.

If you want to preserve the right of towns, cities, and counties to control their own food destinies, you need to let Congress know that you support CFP and they should too. If you’re not sure who to call, here’s the congressional switchboard number which can connect you to your representative and senators. Time is of the essence. Act now!

To call your Member of Congress:  US Capitol Switchboard (202) 224-3121 

To locate your Member on-line:  U.S. House of Representatives: www.house.gov  U.S. Senate: www.senate.gov