Oregon State to co-lead $30 million USDA regional food business center

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University has been selected to co-lead a $30 million U.S. Department of Agriculture regional food business center that will support farmers, ranchers and other food-related businesses to access new markets and navigate federal, state and local resources.

The Northwest and Rocky Mountain Regional Food Business Center, which Oregon State will lead with Colorado State University, will serve Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming.

It is one of 12 new USDA centers nationally that are part of a $400 million initiative that focuses on small and mid-sized farm and food businesses within local and regional food systems. The centers will focus on historically underinvested and underserved communities in their region.

“This is important recognition of the work we have been doing to build a strong local food economy in Oregon, in collaboration with farmers, food businesses, grassroots organizations, and many other partners around our state,” said Lauren Gwin, interim director of OSU’s Center for Small Farms & Community Food Systems in the College of Agricultural Sciences and OSU Extension community food systems specialist. “We are excited to take this work to another level, here at home and across the West.”

The Northwest and Rocky Mountain Regional Food Business Center will focus on four areas that are priorities for the six-state region:

  • Strengthening local supply chains for animal proteins. This work will support small- and mid-scale meat and poultry businesses by expanding the Western Meat School, led by the Niche Meat Processor Assistance Network, a national program within OSU’s Center for Small Farms & Community Food Systems. Participants learn about producing, financing, processing, marketing and pricing niche meat products. Rebecca Thistlethwaite, NMPAN Director, will co-lead this area.
  • Connecting and scaling food entrepreneurs. Guidance and resources from government agencies and institutions are key for business development, but often don’t align with the needs of small- and mid-sized enterprises. The work will facilitate connections among entrepreneurs and disseminate information about resources and programs that could aid those looking to scale their businesses. Sarah Masoni of Oregon State’s Food Innovation Center will co-lead this area.
  • Supporting climate-resilient agriculture. Scientific research is focused on developing climate resilient grants and other crops, but information about how to process and market those products is lacking. This work will expand processing infrastructure, develop new products, help create supply chain contracts and implement marketing strategies using those climate-resilient crops.
  • “Right-sizing” investment and infrastructure. This work includes improving two-way understanding and communication between food producers, processors, and distributors and investors, banks, and other sources of capital that potentially can provide funding. The investment and infrastructure work is particularly crucial to supply chain infrastructure and systems, which must be the appropriate scale for producers, products and markets to thrive

The Northwest and Rocky Mountain Regional Food Business Center will be supported by a regional steering committee with staff from OSU and Colorado State, teams from each of the six states and four priority areas, and community leaders from underserved and underinvested communities engaged at all levels in the center.

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