The center is one of 12 established across the nation in 2023, with funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to support development of a more resilient, diverse, and competitive food system. In addition to 14 key partners, more than a dozen collaborating partners are part of the center’s work to build a more robust and responsive support system for farm and food businesses in local and regional markets.
KC Healthy Kids believes that kids and their communities need a strong local food system. With our local food programming we help farmers grow thriving businesses and teach kids and their families the value of growing their own food and purchasing locally grown food. Our planning initiatives bring together partners to work towards a resilient and equitable food system. We engage advocates and decision makers to promote good food policies that put healthy local food within reach and remove barriers so food businesses may thrive.
KC Healthy Kids will support the center by identifying existing resources, engaging food policy councils, coordinating community partners, providing technical assistance, promoting local farms and food, and administering Business Builder Subawards across our bi-state region.
“As a nonprofit that works in both Kansas and Missouri, KC Healthy Kids appreciates the support of a strong regional partnership. Having organizations from five states working together means we can further invest in our local food system," says Rachael McGinnis Millsap, vice president of programs and policy for KC Healthy Kids.
The center's purpose is to connect and strengthen small, mid-size, and diverse farm and food businesses, as well as local and regional food sector initiatives. It aims to grow the farm and food enterprises, markets, and community connections needed to make local food an everyday, easy choice.
The growing five-state resource network will provide farm and food businesses with:
Local Economy and Food Security
Building local and regional food supply chains is critical for long term growth and the sustainability not only of our region but the country, said Steve Schulz, Associate Professor in the Department of Management at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. His team will support the Heartland Food Business Center’s work to analyze and assist in developing local and regional food supply chain logistics.
“We’ve seen how vulnerable our supply chains can be since the pandemic; the school lunch program being shut down, restaurants closing, empty grocery shelves …,” he said. Adding more food and farm businesses and building shorter, local and regional supply chain links will build resilience and strengthen communities, he added.
Reliable and ready access to fresh, healthy and affordable food is a major objective of USDA’s $400 million investment in establishing Regional Food Business Centers to serve the entire United States.
“USDA recognizes that local and regional food systems are essential to the overall food supply chain, and the new Regional Food Business Centers are the cornerstone of our efforts to support them,” said Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Jenny Lester Moffitt.
The five-state center will advance the region’s ability to put local food on more tables and help smaller rural and urban farm and food businesses thrive, said Katie Nixon, Food Systems Director at the rural Missouri community development corporation New Growth. She is co-director of the center with Mary Emery, executive director of Rural Prosperity Nebraska at University of Nebraska Extension, which administers the Center.
“Over the last several decades, the power and control of our food system has increasingly gone to large agri-business,” Nixon said. “The small to medium size farms and food entrepreneurs, who often embrace social, environmental and economic sustainability, have been left to fend for themselves in an increasingly challenging system. This center is for these businesses, to help them succeed and provide good food for their communities in a way that helps them sustain their operations.”
Regional Resource Network
Co-director Mary Emery said a large part of the effort is to support and advance work that is already underway and to connect more entrepreneurs to existing resources.
“You have all these different entities working with local foods — producers, grocery stores, local distributors, non-profits, business developers … and these are all puzzle pieces,” she said. “But we’ve never put the pieces together. What we want to do with this project is put the puzzle together and see the picture of how regional food systems work.”
The Heartland Food Business Center invites collaboration with other organizations that work with small businesses and in agriculture and community and economic development. Outreach efforts will include learning about other resources and how to support them in working with food and farm businesses.