The Department of Agriculture is aiming to improve urban food production by providing $2 million to local governments who host pilot projects focusing on composting and reducing food waste.

The money is being made available through USDA's Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovation Production to communities who host Community Compost and Food Waste Reduction pilot projects. This program is in its second year and was formalized in the 2018 farm bill. 

“Priorities will be given to projects that include economic benefits providing compost to farmers. It also integrates other food waste strategies, including food recoveries,” Terry Cosby, acting chief of USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, told Agri-Pulse

The projects must run two years with a start date of Sep. 25, 2021 and end date of Sep. 25, 2023, according to USDA. Cosby said last year, the department distributed roughly $1 million for 13 projects and hopes to increase the number this year.

“We’re looking for great projects, so whatever that cost is we’ll spend that $2 million and hope to do a few more,” he said.

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Cosby said USDA estimates 23.5 million people live in communities lacking food access and about 15 to 20 million children are food insecure.

“We’re hoping this will be a big shot in the arm for helping that situation,” he noted.

Past project agreements with local governments have included things like improving soil quality, diverting food waste from landfills, and increasing farmers’ access to compost. 

The city of Prescott, Arizona, used the money to work with a farmers’ market, volunteers, and restaurants to build and design a compost program to reduce food waste. The New York Department of Sanitation and nonprofit Big Reuse also established food scrap drop-off locations.

Cosby said project applications are to be submitted by July 16. 

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