The centers will provide coordination, technical assistance and capacity building to help farmers, ranchers and other food businesses access new markets and navigate federal, state and local resources — closing gaps to success.
In September, USDA announced $400 million in available funding for this initiative, with $30 million to establish the Rio Grande Colonias USDA Regional Food Business Center.
Texas A&M AgriLife and USDA will enter into a cooperative agreement to establish the center, which will serve Texas and New Mexico, focusing on colonia communities.
“Texas A&M is proud to lead a part of this important national resource by establishing the Rio Grande Colonias Food Business Center,” said John Sharp, chancellor of The Texas A&M University System. “Increasing access to markets is critical for robust and competitive agriculture and natural resources systems.”
Beth Racine, DrPH, director of Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at El Paso, will lead Texas A&M AgriLife’s role to establish the Rio Grande Colonias USDA center, whose headquarters will be at the Texas A&M AgriLife center at El Paso.
“USDA is excited to be partnering with Texas A&M AgriLife on this innovative and unprecedented initiative,” said Jenny Lester Moffitt, USDA under secretary for marketing and regulatory programs. “By leveraging the expertise now available through these Regional Food Centers, USDA can offer unique support for local food systems development across the country.”
“This important initiative will open up a host of new opportunities for people in underserved colonia areas,” said G. Cliff Lamb, Ph.D., director of Texas A&M AgriLife Research. “Access to markets and public resources is imperative to healthy living and abundant, affordable, high-quality food and agricultural products in Texas and around the world.”
A team of collaborators serving colonia communities
In addition to USDA, Texas A&M AgriLife will develop the Rio Grande Colonias USDA center with four organizations committed to creating a more equitable food system: La Semilla Food Center, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Advancement, the UTHealth Center for Community Health Impact and Feeding Texas. Other entities taking part in the collaboration include Desert Spoon Food Hub, the University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso County, The City of San Elizario and Border City Distribution.
The selected organizations represent a cross-section of expertise that must converge for a strong and distributed food system. Texas A&M AgriLife and collaborators will engage with grassroots food and farm organizations to employ a range of creative strategies for building food system resiliency in their regions.
USDA will establish a total of 12 Regional Food Business Centers to serve all areas of the country. The centers’ work will benefit historically underinvested communities in their regions.
Broad support for establishing the Regional Food Business Center
Establishment of the new Rio Grande Colonias USDA center follows broad support from government officials including U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales and El Paso County Judge Ricardo A. Samaniego.
“This food business center aims to strengthen regional food systems and networks as well as help grow agricultural small businesses across the region,” Gonzales said. “I am happy to support this proposal that aims to grow food and farm small businesses in Texas’s 23rd Congressional District and beyond.”
“El Paso County shares Texas A&M AgriLife’s desire to empower small and mid-sized farm and food producers in our region through the provision of technical assistance training, coordination and capacity building,” Samaniego said in a letter of support.
“In 2018,” he said, “the county adopted the Healthy Food Financing Initiative to offer grants and loans to businesses and nonprofit organizations with the goal of supporting the rehabilitation and expansion of food retail infrastructure in El Paso County to provide more healthy food options for underserved residents.”
For more information, go to the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service’s Regional Food Business Centers webpage.