Oregon State University is getting a chunk of a $400 million federal investment aimed at boosting farms and food-related businesses across the country. OSU and Colorado State University are set to co-lead one of 12 new federal food business centers, with the support of $30 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The jointly run program, called the Northwest and Rocky Mountain Regional Food Business Center, is expected to support six Western states — Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.
“Most of the funding will go out on the ground to partners, both service providers and farm & food businesses themselves, including supply chain businesses,” said interim director of OSU’s Center for Small Farms & Community Food Systems Lauren Gwin, in an email to OPB. “That is the purpose of these centers and why we were trusted and selected as co-leads.”
Gwin plans to hire for one new position at OSU and involve two “theme leads” who are already university employees.
The center run by Oregon State and CSU has four priority areas, according to a statement from OSU, including two focused mainly on “small- and mid-sized enterprises.” One of those goals is to expand work aimed at “strengthening local supply chains for animal poultry” at the Western Meat School within OSU’s Center for Small Farms & Community Food Systems. The other is to support work at the university’s Food Innovation Center to ensure that government resources are more accessible for food businesses “looking to scale up.”
In addition, the OSU statement says the center will work on “right-sizing” investment and infrastructure through better “communication between food producers, processors, and distributors and investors, banks, and other sources of capital that potentially can provide funding.”
According to Gwin, the “right-sizing” effort will be run with the help of independent consultant Sydney DeLuna who’s been working with Gwin “on food hub and food sector development” for the last two years.
The new center will also prioritize “climate-resilient agriculture,” particularly the sharing of information, coordination of marketing, and development of new products for a changing climate.
According to a statement from Colorado State, the food center’s initial director will be Dawn Thilmany, a CSU professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics and co-director of the Regional Economic Development Institute.
A steering committee made up of staff from both Oregon and Colorado state universities will supervise and support the center. The committee will also include teams from each of the six states and the four regional priority areas, with the involvement of “leaders from underserved and underinvested communities.”
A separate food center, called Rio Grande Colonias, will cover the southwestern region including California and Nevada.
The USDA announced what it’s calling the USDA Regional Food Business Centers program last September. It announced the 12 grant recipients earlier this month.