Vilsack in a screenshot from the announcement.

U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack is unveiling hundreds of millions of dollars in new U-S-D-A grant and loans to do things like establish grocery stores in underserved areas, build more cold storage facilities for fruits and vegetables and support training for employees in the meat and poultry industry.

“With these investments, the transformed food system will mean more, new and better markets, generating better income for producers,” Vilsack said today during a speech at Georgetown University, “and better choices and prices for consumers.”

Vilsack indicated $155 million in federal grants will be available to set up grocery stores in rural and urban communities that are considered “food deserts.” Six-hundred million will be awarded to expand or build new facilities that process and store fruits and vegetables. Three-hundred million is set aside to bolster organic food production.

“The process for becoming an organic producer is complicated and financially difficult, especially during the early days of transition when expenses can be high and income limited,” Vilsack said. “I believe a transformed food system needs to make that process less complicated and the financial costs of that transition easier to bear.”

Vilsack said existing USDA initiatives will be expanded to support urban gardening as well as public schools that buy locally produced food. Vilsack is using $400 million to set up a new network of USDA centers that will help food producers and buyers connect on a regional basis and navigate their financial options.

“Our transformed food system will expand capacity and competition and increase that competition in all sectors,” Vilsack said, “and, when it does, both producers and consumers will benefit.”

A new $100 million fund will be for companies that come up with healthy, but less expensive menu items for school lunch programs. Vilsack says the goal is to spur innovation, but to also make school lunch options more attractive to the kids who eat the food. All of this new USDA spending was approved by congress in 2021 as part of the American Rescue Plan.