Detroit — U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack used a visit Tuesday to Eastern Market to announce that Michigan will receive more than $60 million in federal funding for school lunches and food banks.
Vilsack joined U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, and U.S. Rep. Shri Thanedar, D-Detroit, to discuss spending in Michigan by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The USDA will distribute $35.5 million for school lunches in Michigan, Vilsack said. The funding is through the department’s Commodity Credit Corporation, according to a press release, and addresses elevated food and labor costs that will continue to affect school meal programs into the 2023-24 school year. In total, the USDA will provide $1.3 billion to combat supply chain issues at schools across the country.
“We also provided $29.5 million to distribute resources to food banks and pantries and kitchens,” Vilsack said. “And to also sponsor support for small and mid-sized marketing operations here in Michigan, to provide food that is necessary for food banks have taken care of families (that are) struggling.”
As part of that initiative, the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems will lead the development of regional food business centers to provide technical and financial assistance to small businesses in the state. The MSU Center for Regional Food Systems is one of 12 in the United States In September 2022, the USDA announced $400 million to fund this initiative. In Detroit alone, Vilsack said 17 urban food centers have been established to support Detroit farmers.
“We’re also expanding competition by investing in processing facilities here in the state of Michigan,” Vilsack said. “Their processing capacity will also increase the ability of selling in state, or internal state sales. So we’ve been extraordinarily active here at USDA in the state of Michigan.”
Dan Carmody, executive director of Eastern Market Corp., said the partnership between the corporation and the USDA furthers the market’s goal of making Detroit healthier, wealthier and happier.
Carmody introduced Thanedar, who said he felt a connection to Eastern Market’s entrepreneurs because he had immigrated to the U.S. and started his own business, and now sits on the House Small Business Committee and its innovation, entrepreneurship and workforce development subcommittee.
“Eastern Market always excites me because I see a lot of entrepreneurs and I see the small farmers, and I see the enthusiasm, the struggles, I see the hard work that they do, and the struggles to increase their revenues, the struggles to make payroll every two weeks, the struggles to make a little bit of money for their families, make a little bit of money so they can they can invest back into their businesses,” Thanedar said.
Thanedar said the Small Business Committee has programs that provide funds and other assistance and he is working on a bill to streamline the online application process so it takes business owners no more than 30 minutes to apply.
“The large corporations are doing good, they’re very profitable, but these little guys, the little small businesses that are struggling and hurting and it’s important for us to make it easy for them to do the government grants and loan programs,” Thanedar said. “It’s all about lifting farmers to give them the access.”
Stabenow echoed Thanedar’s comments about Eastern Market and discussed her plan for regional and local food processing.
“When we talk about Farm to Fork and all the ties to the community, that’s what we were celebrating,” Stabenow said. “We saw what happened during the pandemic, when supply chains were shut down. It didn’t make sense to have four big meat processing operations for the whole country. We need to do it by region.”
Stabenow said she hopes that eventually small businesses in Eastern Market will be able to develop their own storefronts with support from the USDA programs.
“Someone may start out growing something and be here on Saturday, and then they may come here on Tuesday as well,” Stabenow said. “Then they go to the kitchen and they ramp up the volume and then they get more customers and then they go to a storefront. This is about jobs, it’s about the community, it’s about tackling the climate crisis, it’s about a number of things.”