Making Sense of Regional Food Systems Partnership Grant
Members of the USDA RFSP grants team, current grantees from Alaska and New Mexico, and a RFSP former grant reviewer discuss this new USDA grant opportunity, its priorities and defining characteristics, and explore what it takes to create collaborative partnerships, impactful projects, and successful proposals.
The USDA Regional Food Systems Partnership grant is a new funding opportunity intended to support partnerships and collaboration that increase the impact and viability of regional food systems. For 2021 the program received a significant increase in funding and a reduction in match requirements through the COVID stimulus bills. That means that this year may be an important opportunity to apply for this grant. But since this program is so new, there are many unknowns. What differentiates this program from other USDA grants? What makes a compelling partnership and project? How do you define “regional” or “partnership”?
This webinar explores the RFSP grant and unpacks what makes impactful partnerships, projects and proposals. USDA-AMS staff, current grantees, and past grant reviewers dig into these questions to help you and your partners design a competitive RFSP project.
What is the required match in 2021 and is in-kind allowed?
The 2018 Farm Bill included a 25% cash match requirement for RFSP. Further, H.R.133 – the Consolidated Appropriations Act provided additional funding for RFSP subject to a 10% match requirement that includes cash and/or in-kind contributions. Further information will be provided in the Request for Applications (RFA).
On the webinar USDA defined “regional” as “larger than a neighborhood, smaller than the country.” Can partnerships constitute multiple regions? Can national networks comprised of regional organizations successfully apply for this opportunity?
Yes. In either case, the applicant should make the case as to why that particular partnership infrastructure is the most appropriate for the proposed project.
Can funding be spent on honorariums?
Generally, yes. However, this would most likely be an item for discussion during the administrative review of the application, between the grant specialist and applicant. More information about allowable and unallowable costs can be found in the AMS Grant Programs Terms and Conditions.
Can funds be regranted?
Funds may be subawarded to partnership members to carry out a portion of the project’s approved activities. Funds may not be competitively ‘re-granted’ through a mini-grant program, or for activities that are not central to the purpose of the project. More information is provided in the RFA.
What kind of “partnership agreement” is expected?
There is no “preferred” structure. The applicant should describe the nature of the agreement (such as an MOU or contract document) and the specific project role of each partner in the application.
Does USDA consider it strategic for 2021 applications to build off of work funded from neighboring 2020 RFSP funded project regions.
‘Building on the work of adjacent RFSP project regions’ has not been identified as a strategic priority for the Program.
Does USDA want to see grant applicants submit a planning grant first and then re-apply when that phase is complete for implementation funding?
Not necessarily. The partnership should apply for whatever project type it considers to be most appropriate to its level of development and maturity. For example, in FY20 (the first year of the program), RFSP awarded 10 Implementation grants out of the 23 projects funded.
Is there an opportunity to serve as a grant reviewer if my organization isn’t going to apply this year?
Yes! You are strongly encouraged to do so. Acting as a USDA grant reviewer is an awesome opportunity to get to know these programs and the characteristics of strong proposals. As was mentioned on the webinar, it is particularly important that grant reviewer teams are made up of diverse perspectives, grounded in equitable local food systems work.
Apply to be a grant reviewer here: https://www.ams.usda.gov/services/grants/peer-review
USDA pays a stipend for reviewers – it was $750 last year. The time commitment is significant, probably 20-30 hours. Additional funding for folks whose organizations can’t support the time it takes to do this should help diversify reviewers.
Can someone become a reviewer if a colleague from their organization plans to apply for the grant?
AMS policy does not allow an individual from an organization to serve as a reviewer for a particular grant program if that organization is actively applying for funding from that program, or if the organization is partnering on a project applying for funding from that program. However, that individual may serve as a reviewer for another AMS grant program.
What types of entities are eligible to apply?
Partnerships made up of at least one eligible entity and at least one eligible partner may apply for RFSP.
The 2018 Farm Bill considers eligible entities to be Producers, Farmer or Rancher Cooperatives, Producer Networks or Associations, Majority-Controlled Producer-Based Business Ventures, Food Councils, CSA Networks or Associations, Local Governments, Nonprofit Corporations, Public Benefit Corporations, Economic Development Corporations, Regional Farmers Market Authorities, and Tribal Governments. The 2018 Farm Bill considers eligible partners to be “State Agencies or Regional Authorities, Philanthropic Corporations, Private Corporations, Institutions of Higher Education, and Commercial, Federal, or Farm Credit System Lending Institutions.
Definitions for these types can be found in Section 3.0 of the Request for Applications.
Can an institution hold more than one LAMP grant at a time?
Yes, under certain conditions which are outlined in the respective RFAs for each LAMP program.
The projects in Alaska and New Mexico each listed a long list of partners involved in the partnership and relationships that span geographies, cultures, even ability to access resources like zoom.
Can you speak to how long it took to convene these organizations in partnership? What went into forming those partnerships?
Alaska Food Policy Council: We worked with existing partners (whom we have good experiences with) but also looked at who wasn’t already at the table and had concerted efforts to establish working relations (leveraging existing relationships with board members and collaborators).
New Mexico Farmers Marketing Association: We have worked with most of our partner organizations for many years. They were chosen based on the type of work they perform, and their geographic and ethnic diversity. Also, many represent networks of farmers from their areas.
What kind of data collection and analytic software or systems do the RFSP projects presenting on this webinar use?
Alaska Food Policy Council uses the mapping software Kumu (https://kumu.io/)
NMFMA collects data via Survey Monkey and other field tools, as well as a custom database for collecting sales data that we are building as part of the project.
Do you have any key takeaways/pieces of advice for using Zoom for network development, particularly in rural areas?
Can you speak to how you measure impact on this grant? What is M&E like for this program?
You can see a copy of Alaska Food Policy Council’s and New Mexico Farmers Marketing Association’s evaluation plans here.