La Montañita Co-op Awarded $500k Grant

By Benjamin Bartley, Value Chain Specialist, La Montañita Cooperative Distribution Center

The USDA’s Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP) supports organizations across the country that help farmers and ranchers sell their product locally. The Co-op can now be counted as one of those organizations. La Montañita was recently awarded $500,000 to support our work in creating market opportunities for New Mexico growers.

More than 350 applicants submitted LFPP proposals this year; La Montañita was among the 14% of organizations who were ultimately chosen for funding. The Co-op was selected for this competitive grant opportunity in large part because of our solid track record for sourcing locally—the USDA prioritizes applicants that are effective and proven actors within their local food economy, and in 2016 the Co-op sold more than $10 million in regional products.

La Montañita’s proposal was also a compelling use of LFPP funds; this grant will greatly increase the Co-op’s capacity to continue developing our local food system. In short, this three-year grant will allow us to:

  • Conduct production planning with our New Mexico vendors, aligning local supply of fruits, vegetables, and proteins with local demand.
  • Modernize La Montañita’s Cooperative Distribution Center, increasing our ability to serve more wholesale customers.
  • Launch a USDA-accredited GroupGAP program for local growers, lowering the cost and burden of securing food safety certifications and increasing market access for participating farmers.

These three activities are mutually supportive; each effort strengthens our ability to achieve the others. They also build upon La Montañita’s current value chain work—as a result of this grant, the Co-op will be expanding its Value Chain Team through the hire of a new staff member, increasing the amount of time and labor that we can dedicate to supporting our local vendors

La Montañita will also be joining an innovative group of food hubs and cooperatives that have piloted similar GroupGAP programs. In the spirit of cooperation, GroupGAP makes it easier for growers of all sizes to join together and apply as a group to receive USDA Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification. By participating in the group, growers get to share resources and certification costs, operate under a single, central quality management system, and develop a pool of diverse product offerings for buyers.

It is because of our support, participation, and advancement of innovative initiatives like these that La Montañita is recognized as a local food system leader. And we become stronger as a Co-op by operating with these kinds of values, exemplified by our receiving grants like the USDA Local Food Promotion Program.

But La Montañita is similarly defined by cooperation, and by giving back to our broader community of practice. Earlier this fall, for instance, the Co-op was asked to share its experience and best practices around social justice and value chain coordination with more than 200 of its food system peers—to learn more, you can watch the online recording of the Wallace Center webinar, “How Regional Food System Investment Creates More Equitable Communities.”

As a member-owner of La Montañita, your regular patronage of local foods is what makes all of this possible. Thank you for supporting your local co-op, and for making La Montañita a leader in local food systems development!