• USDA Regional Food Business Centers geographic areas.
    USDA Regional Food Business Centers geographic areas.

COLUMBIA, Mo. – The University of Missouri, through MU Extension, will partner with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on a $25 million award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to create the Heartland Regional Food Business Center, which will foster more vibrant, resilient food systems throughout a five-state region.

Heartland is among 12 regional centers the USDA will establish to serve all areas of the country, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack announced today. Rural Prosperity Nebraska, a University of Nebraska hub that connects Nebraska communities with university faculty, students and other resources, is leading the five-state regional project in cooperation with MU Extension, the MU Center for Applied Research and Engagement Systems (CARES) and 32 other partners.

The project will establish an online platform to strengthen local and regional food systems. It will mobilize existing resources across Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma and a designated tribal trade coalition to accelerate the delivery of resources for agricultural producers and food businesses. Partners and collaborators include land-grant universities, nonprofits and tribal and indigenous groups, as well as smaller organizations focused on serving under-resourced groups.

MU Extension will receive $750,899 and CARES $250,000 over four years to advance three primary objectives:

  • Develop a regional asset map to highlight resources available to food businesses and agricultural producers, such as technical assistance, capital, incubator kitchens and distribution channels. CARES will support this effort with mapping, reporting and data visualization tools to identify impacts and opportunities.
  • Increase collective outreach, technical assistance and extension activities that promote use of these resources, with a focus on under-resourced groups.
  • Develop a program of sub-awards to accelerate new market opportunities for Missouri producers and food businesses.

“In Missouri, we’ll be targeting audiences statewide with an emphasis on reaching underserved producers and food businesses,” said Bill McKelvey, senior project coordinator for MU Extension and Heartland Regional Food Business Center lead for Missouri.

“This project will complement related efforts in Missouri focused on agricultural entrepreneurship, value-added production and increasing partnerships throughout the food system,” McKelvey said.

“The multistate collaboration allows partners to aggregate expertise and knowledge,” said Alice Roach, senior research associate with the MU Division of Applied Social Sciences and co-principal investigator on the grant. “For farms and food businesses, this means expanded understanding of and access to technical assistance and resources that will help them grow and develop.”

Roach said the Heartland Regional Food Business Center aligns with MU Extension’s “2xAg2030” goal to double Missouri agriculture’s economic impact by 2030 while sustaining natural resources. “When these farms and food businesses do well, their local and regional economies also benefit,” she said.

The USDA said the Regional Food Business Centers will serve as cornerstones in the development of local and regional supply chains, building on lessons learned during the pandemic, providing technical assistance and creating new market opportunities in areas where the need is greatest.

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