The University of Wyoming and Central Wyoming College recently received a $1.3 million USDA grant as part of a five-year regional initiative to strengthen local food systems.
The project, titled the Northwest and Rocky Mountain Regional Food Business Center, aims to support and collaborate with Wyoming’s farmers, ranchers, and value-added food processors to develop and strengthen local food systems.
The center will focus on expanding animal processing capacity, helping local food entrepreneurs scale up their operations, and investing in right-sized infrastructure.
“The Food Business Center will assist Wyoming entrepreneurs to start and grow their food businesses,” says Melissa Hemken, community food system specialist at CWC. “For a resilient Wyoming food system, and economy, we need more small businesses that produce food for our communities.”
Hemken and Anders Van Sandt, a UW Extension specialist and assistant professor of regional economics, are state leads for the new initiative. Cody Gifford, UW assistant professor of meat science, will serve as Wyoming’s technical assistance specialist.
“This center and its activities will strengthen Wyoming’s values of independence and living off the land,” Van Sandt comments. “Specifically, we hope to improve Wyoming’s animal processing capacity and access, as well as build up our local food supply chains through trainings, mini-grants, and infrastructure investments.
Van Sandt and Hemken emphasize that community involvement is key to the Food Business Center’s success.
“My hope, and expectation, is that there will be community engagement every step along the way,” says Van Sandt. “We will have to lean on our producers and food processors to guide us if we are to make meaningful and lasting improvements to Wyoming’s local food systems.”
The initiative is led by Colorado State University and Oregon State University; other regional partners are based in Idaho, Montana, and Washington. Wyoming’s steering committee includes members of the Wyoming Business Council, Small Business Development Centers, Intertribal Agriculture Council, and Wyoming small business owners.
To learn more about the Northwest and Rocky Mountain Regional Food Business Center, contact Van Sandt at firstname.lastname@example.org or Hemken at email@example.com. To sign up for the Center’s newsletter, visit https://bit.ly/food-business-newsletter.