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With USDA funds, SCLT-network farmers feed thousands in need

SCLT’s Food Program Coordinator Kakeena Castro fills the van with local produce shares before making a delivery.

 SCLT is known for our programming to bring equity to local food production and access. Within this work, the collection, or aggregation, and distribution of fresh produce has been turbocharged since 2022, when SCLT and other food sector partners entered into an initial $475,000 contract with the state. The contract was funded by a $400 million federal investment to fortify food supply chains in 46 states, with an emphasis on supporting farmers of color, aggregators, and food-insecure individuals. 

The USDA’s Local Food Purchase Assistance Cooperative Agreement program emerged in response to the pandemic, “to procure and distribute local and regional foods and beverages that are healthy, nutritious, unique to their geographic areas and that meet the needs of the population,” according to the USDA. “The funds will help build and expand economic opportunity for local and underserved producers.” 

Garmai Mawolo at the Armory Park Farmers Market.

Garmai Mawolo at the Armory Park Farmers Market.

LFPA funding grew to $864 million in 2023, with a total of $1.7 million coming to Rhode Island through June, 2025. Here, the Department of Environmental Management has subcontracted with Farm Fresh RI to use its partnerships with SCLT, the African Alliance, the Commercial Fisheries of RI, and the RI Food Policy Council to buy and distribute locally grown produce and seafood. 

“We love partnering with SCLT because of its deep roots in the community and its ability to so effectively work with farmers,” says Farm Fresh’s Director of Value Chain Strategy, Eva Agudelo. “SCLT meets the mission of this program perfectly.” 

Farmers growing on SCLT land have been selling their produce through our Produce Aggregation Program for the last five years, distributing it to people through our community partners and food relief agencies in Providence, Pawtucket and Central Falls. This includes our VeggieRx partners Integra Community Care, Lifespan Hospital and Clínica Esperanza.

With LFPA funding, SCLT has significantly increased the amount of fresh produce it buys from 27 farmers in our network and provided it free to roughly 7,650 of the state’s most vulnerable children, adults, and seniors in 2023. These include 5,000 students in the Providence public schools through our collaboration with Sodexo and 2600 individuals who’ve received free produce through our community partners and from produce giveaways at events in the neighborhoods where SCLT works. LFPA also funded 50 additional VeggieRx participants this year. The complex logistics of sourcing and distribution has been overseen by SCLT’s Kakeena Castro and Amelia Lopez. 

Partnership for Providence Parks, an early SCLT aggregation buyer, has received free LFPA-funded food to disperse in 2023. Helene Miller, lead organizer for the nonprofit says, “With bi-weekly distributions at eleven recreation centers between July and November, communities across Providence receive hundreds of pounds of fruits and vegetables to feed bodies, minds, and souls.” 

SCLT has given away LFPA-funded produce at more than a dozen community events this year, including collards and kale, carrots and garlic, tomatoes and eggplants, and other seasonal favorites. After receiving a bag of produce, an attendee at one such event remarked, “I work hard for my money and I want my family eating right, so this is awesome.”

Beyond the impact on those receiving produce, this program has been a boon to local farmers. Those selling through SCLT’s Farm-to-Market Center are on track to earn $190,000 in 2023, doubling the previous year’s total. 

Garmai Mawolo, who grows at Urban Edge Farm, feels the “big difference between going to the market and not knowing what you’ll sell,” and receiving regular payments for all the produce she can grow because of the influx of LFPA funding.

As food insecurity continues to increase, all eyes are on how to sustain this funding.

“It’s a major topic of concern,” says Eva Agudelo. “Senator Markey and Senator Reed are working on it,” along with others at the federal and state levels. Many hope there will be funding in the next Farm Bill. 

Stay tuned. 

Jenny Boone, SCLT Grants & Communications Manager

Sam Shepherd, SCLT Grants & Communications Coordinator


SCLT’s Food Program Coordinator Kakeena Castro fills the van with local produce shares before making a delivery.