The Syracuse-Onondaga Food Systems Alliance (SOFSA), a newly-formed food council that aims to build a more resilient and equitable food system in Onondaga County, was awarded $170k in federal funds through the inaugural round of the USDA Regional Food Systems Partnerships (RFSP) grant program. Through a competitive grant process beginning in spring 2020, the USDA selected 23 projects for awards totaling $9.3 million across 15 states – including not one, but two Syracuse-based projects.

“This funding will significantly expand SOFSA’s capacity over the next two years to build a strong foundation for the partnership and ensure its long-term success,” said Sarah Brown, Chair of the Advisory Board of Syracuse Grows, which served as lead applicant for the grant on behalf of SOFSA. “Syracuse Grows was especially proud to be a part of this effort in honor of the legacy of one of our founders, Evan Weissman, who was a driving force behind both Syracuse Grows and SOFSA prior to his unexpected passing in April.”

Too many people across Syracuse and Onondaga lack access to good food, and too many food businesses stand on unstable ground. SOFSA aims to address these problems by building a network of stakeholders to create a more equitable and resilient food system – ensuring that all people in our county have better quality food options, businesses are viable and able to innovate, and food system advocates have greater impact. As of November 2020, SOFSA includes over 130 individual members from across the county ranging from interested consumers to farmers, non-profit organizations and governmental officials to thriving food enterprises.

“Ultimately, SOFSA aims to connect people to one another and to the land which we depend upon for the food we all need to survive. SOFSA’s role in building connections to improve our food system and to reconnect to our environment is what makes this coalition truly unique and powerful.”

Curtis Waterman, a Hunter-Gatherer on the Onondaga Nation Farm Crew and SOFSA Advisory Board Member

Weissman, Waterman, Brown, and approximately 25 other stakeholders from across the county began meeting regularly in mid-2019 to lay the groundwork for the new council which they planned to formally launch in June 2020. Yet, as the global COVID-19 pandemic and its attendant economic implications worsened food insecurity in our region, SOFSA partners were poised to support rapid response efforts. Rather than wait to launch as planned, the council was thrust into action months ahead of schedule.

“As SOFSA has reacted to immediate needs in the face of the pandemic, the strength, potential, and necessity of our partnership have become even more evident,” said Maura Ackerman, SOFSA’s Facilitator and the Project Director for the RFSP grant. “While we were able to mobilize the partnership to act swiftly in concrete and meaningful ways to respond to immediate needs, it is also clear to us how imperative a collaboration like ours is to mitigating the negative effects of the current crisis and ensuring greater resiliency and equity in our food system in the future.”

The USDA award positions SOFSA to do just that, by providing substantial federal funding for a two-year planning period and leveraging matching funds from local partners including the Onondaga County Agricultural Council, Syracuse University, Syracuse Grows and Transforming Communities Initiative Syracuse. These partners together contributed over $72k to fulfill the required cash match alongside in-kind commitments from 14 other SOFSA partners (full list available on request). A majority of funds will support expanding staff capacity including hiring for a second part-time role as well as a team of Community Liaisons to build SOFSA’s grassroots connections to address the needs of all residents.

Press Contact: Maura Ackerman, Facilitator  
Phone: 315-552-0471