Feeding our communities, one grant at a time

The residents of America’s noncontiguous states and territories — whether we live in the far north or on islands in the Caribbean Sea or Pacific Ocean — have a lot of things in common. Food insecurity should not be one of them.

The truth is, too many families face food insecurity, and the ongoing pandemic has exacerbated this painful reality. The supply lines that bring food to our states and the territories are long and fragile. We don’t grow enough food locally, food prices are high and one disaster can put us on the edge of starvation in a heartbeat.

Some of our neighbors have left for places where healthy, fresh groceries are easier and cheaper to get. For the families who have stayed, the question remains: Will their children also leave?

To help all families access healthy, affordable food in their own communities, we created a program funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture called Micro-Grants for Food Security. The program’s goal is to help local communities grow and store more nutritious food and help feed families when supply chains are disrupted.

Agricultural agencies in Alaska, Hawaii, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), Puerto Rico, the Federated States of Micronesia, Guam, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Republic of Palau and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) are each eligible for Micro-Grants funding.

Alaska and Hawaii each received $1.9 million this year. American Samoa, CNMI, Guam and USVI received $121,000 each. While Puerto Rico, Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau didn’t apply this year, hopefully they will take advantage of the program in the future.

The agriculture agencies that received Micro-Grants will award up to $5,000 to individuals and up to $10,000 to Indian tribes and tribal organizations; nonprofits such as food banks and religious organizations; federally funded early childhood programs, K-12 schools and colleges and universities; and certain local and tribal governments.

Funds can be used for anything that will increase the quantity and quality of locally grown foods. This can include: buying things such as seeds, rototillers and livestock fences; costs associated with slaughter and processing facilities, food processing and storage facilities, refrigeration, hydroponic farming, food-related shipping and travel for agricultural education; and creating or expanding avenues for selling local food.

The coronavirus pandemic’s impact on families has made it evident that we must have a reliable supply of affordable, nutritious food. The Micro-Grants program will provide resources to help individuals and communities meet that need. You can be part of the solution for your children, and for generations to come.

We are pleased that more than 2,500 Alaskans submitted Scoping Pre-Applications. These will be reviewed, and those selected will be invited to submit final applications.

Hawaii’s Department of Agriculture opened their request for proposals, which must be submitted by noon Hawaii Time on April 23. Additional information about the applications — including a Zoom webinar — can be found at https://hdoa.hawaii.gov/blog/main/micro-grant-program-for-small-scale-agriculture-opens/.

People in American Samoa, CNMI, Guam and USVI can contact their agriculture agencies for information. If you live in Puerto Rico, Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, or Palau, ask your agriculture agency to apply for these funds for next year.

The future of our local food security depends on all of us working together. We will continue to support our local communities with the resources they need to be food secure.

By:  U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Mazie Hirono