The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has selected 12 applicants that will each establish a Regional Food Business Center. UTHealth Houston School of Public Health Center for Community Health Impact has partnered with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and other Texas and New Mexico organizations to lead the Rio Grande Colonias USDA Regional Food Business Center over the next five years.
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.
Lead applicants will enter into a cooperative agreement with USDA to establish the Rio Grande Colonias USDA Regional Food Business Center, which will serve Texas and New Mexico with a focus on colonia communities.
Gabriela Gallegos, JD, MPP, associate professor in the Department of Management, Policy & Community Health at UTHealth Houston School of Public Health and member of the Center for Community Health Impact in El Paso, will lead the evaluation, assessment, and advocacy team for the Rio Grande Colonias USDA Regional Food Business Center. “This transformational investment by the USDA in local food systems development along the border will support local food businesses and help ensure long-term food resiliency,” said Gallegos. “Our Center for Community Health Impact team looks forward to working with Texas A&M AgriLife, USDA, and all the partners and collaborators on this ambitious project.”
“The Center for Community Health Impact continues to expand its work on food systems to address one of several social determinants of obesity and promote access to healthy and affordable foods throughout the borderlands,” said Leah Whigham, PhD, director of the center and associate professor of Health Promotion & Behavioral Sciences at the School of Public Health.
The Rio Grande Colonias USDA Regional Food Business Center is led by Texas A&M AgriLife El Paso in partnership with the other four organizations committed to creating a more equitable food system: UTHealth Houston Center for Community Health Impact, La Semilla Food Center, The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Advancement, 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 will together support a strong and distributed food system. Collaborators are now engaging with grassroots food and farm organizations and employing 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.
Visit the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service’s Regional Food Business Centers webpage for information.