Center for Agroecology will support new USDA Regional Food Business Center

By strengthening connections between rural and urban areas, the Regional Food Business Centers will drive economic opportunities across the region, creating a more diversified and resilient food system.

The University of California, Santa Cruz will support the establishment of a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Regional Food Business Center to support resilient food systems by providing coordination, technical assistance, and capacity building to help farmers, ranchers, and other food businesses access new markets and navigate federal, state, and local resources, thereby closing the gaps to success.

The new center is one of 12 Regional Food Business Centers the USDA will establish to serve all areas of the country, including U.S. territories. The Regional Food Business Centers will provide producers with assistance in accessing a variety of markets, including linking small and mid-size producers to wholesalers and distributors. In addition, the centers will connect growers to resources including educational workshops and technical assistance providers. 

Regional Food Centers will target their work to historically underinvested communities in their region. By strengthening connections between rural and urban areas, the Regional Food Business Centers will drive economic opportunities across the region, creating a more diversified and resilient food system.

“The Regional Food Business Centers, along with investments through the Resilient Food Systems Infrastructure Program will create new and expanded local market opportunities which will improve farm income, create good paying jobs and build greater resilience in our overall food system,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) will lead the establishment of a Southwest USDA Regional Food Business Center to serve California, Arizona, Nevada and Utah. The $35 million project will have a particular focus on the Colonias communities – communities within the mainly rural U.S.-Mexico border region with marginal conditions related to housing and infrastructure – of southern Arizona and California. (See Colonia-Community-Map at

The University of California (UC) will provide technical assistance throughout California through its Cooperative Extension programs, consisting of the Small Farms Program, Regional Food Systems, Urban Agriculture Program, Community and Economic Development Network, and UC campus-based subject matter experts covering food safety, economics and cooperatives. The new Regional Food Business Center will diversify California’s food system by equitably growing new businesses owned by underserved and historically underrepresented communities throughout both rural and urban areas.

“It is so exciting to see 16 organizations, across four states, coming together with us to enhance and expand much-needed business support services to our food and farm businesses,” said Glenda Humiston, UC vice president for agriculture and natural resources.

The UC Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology will support the Southwest Regional Food Business Center with a focus on serving the North Bay and Central Coast, consisting of the counties of Mendocino, Sonoma, Contra Costa, Solana, San Francisco, Alameda, San Mateo, Santa Clara, San Benito, Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura. 

The new Regional Food Center represents a collaborative and comprehensive regional partnership between USDA, UC, and local organizations to catalyze regional growth that will strengthen the region's food economies, improve agri-food supply chain resilience, and center equity in regional food systems.

For decades, the Center for Agroecology has led efforts to advance market opportunities and viability of small- and mid-scale specialty crop producers through technical training, capacity building, and the development of applied practitioner publications that have been disseminated across the state, country, and internationally. 

Education and Research Specialist Tim Galarneau, who will lead the Center for Agroecology’s support of the new Food Business Center, facilitated the development and implementation of a range of farm to institution efforts across schools, universities, and hospitals. Galarneau’s past efforts included advancing the development and implementation of  systemwide sustainable food sourcing guidelines for the UC. 

Last year the UC shifted more than $28 million annually in sustainable sourcing that includes supporting small and midscale socially-disadvantaged producers across specialty crops, livestock, and fisheries. 

Galarneau emphasized, “It’s an exciting time to deepen our region’s food and farming partnerships while leveraging the support of USDA Agricultural Marketing Service and the emerging multi-state Center to strengthen the economic viability and long term priority of a food system that supports our producers, sustains the land, and nourishes communities.”  

Building upon this work, the Center for Agroecology will collaborate with community-based organizations to facilitate technical assistance for farmers and others working in the food system and share resources, training, and materials available through UC ANR to strengthen food safety, integrate technology, and enhance institutional market access. 

“This is an amazing opportunity for the Center for Agroecology to support and collaborate more closely with the extremely successful community-based organizations in our region,” said Darryl Wong, executive director of the Center for Agroecology. “These organizations have been working tirelessly to support underrepresented growers for decades and bringing USDA’s institutional support to their efforts is essential for achieving broad based outcomes.”

More information is available on the Agricultural Marketing Service’s Regional Food Business Centers webpage: