The $7.2 million mistake: TN's missing grant application and its "devastating" impact on farmers and families.

A Food as a Verb exclusive report.

The $7.2 million mistake: TN's missing grant application and its "devastating" impact on farmers and families.
Tennessee-grown broccoli, sweet potatoes, carrots, apples, Chattanooga Area Food Bank, Chattanooga, Tenn.

This is a Food as a Verb exclusive report.

Local Food Purchase Assistance Cooperative Agreement

In October 2022, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA) announced big news: thanks to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) funding, Tennessee would receive $8.2 million to be distributed among food banks, farmers and families across the state.

It's called the Local Food Purchase Cooperative Agreement Program, or, LFPA.

The LFPA would allow Tennessee's five Feeding America food banks to purchase produce, eggs and meat directly from Tennessee's small farmers.

The food banks would then distribute this healthy, nutrient-rich produce to working families and individuals.

It was government funding at its best: a closed-loop, no-waste system allowing hard-working Tennessee farmers to benefit alongside working class families and individuals. It supported Tennessee agriculture which in turn supported Tennessee food banks.

And not a dime of it came from our state budget.

"This grant was like a prayer answered," said Kelsey Keener, third-generation farmer at Sequatchie Cove Farms in Marion County.

Kelsey Keener, garlic, Sequatchie Cove Farms, Marion County, Tenn.

Throughout 2023, the LFPA grant was allocated among 115 farms that provided fresh food to five food banks across the state, which then distributed the food to more than 300 partner organizations, said Kim Doddridge, TDA's Public Information Officer.

The 300 partner organization serve thousands of Tennesseans.

Locally, the Chattanooga Area Food Bank (CAFB) received $800,000 from the grant.

"We were able to work with seven farms and distribute food through 38 hunger relief partner organizations," said Jeannine Carpenter, CAFB's director of advocacy, "Eggs, beef, mountains of produce."

From Alaska to Florida, 49 states and 28 tribes participated in the LFPA grant.

Then, the USDA offered a second round of funding: the LFPA Plus.

Tennessee, for example, could receive $7.2 million in 2024 LFPA Plus funding to continue supporting farmers, food banks and families.

All that was required?

Apply by the application deadline.

USDA grant announcement,

Last spring, as other states reapplied for additional LFPA Plus funding, Tennessee's involvement in the grant ended.

The deadline arrived ... then passed.

TDA did not reapply for additional funding.

The possibility of Tennessee's LFPA Plus funding dissolved.

And $7.2 million in expected funding to our state's five food banks, 115 farms and farmers and 300 partner organizations serving thousands of Tennessee families vanished.

It appears TDA simply forgot. Or missed the deadline. Or both.

"It was not intentional," said Doddridge.

According to Doddridge, the state did not receive any indication of additional USDA funding.

"TDA did not receive a direct notification about additional funding and staff were not seeking information on a second round and therefore did not apply," she said.

Realizing the deadline had come and gone, TDA applied for an extension, yet was denied.

The $7.2 million was gone.

"We are devastated," said Carpenter.

Statewide, the fallout has begun. Food banks, having confidently established a farm-to-client program, are now holding empty air.

Farmers, having relied on this grant as a predictable source of income that breathed new life into farming operations, are desperate to find replacement income.

Working families, finally able to receive fresh, nutritient-dense local food, are now hungry once more.

"We want the state to acknowledge the error it made," said Carpenter. "We want to get this story out."

Food as a Verb thanks Niedlov's, our sustaining partner, for its generous support.

Niedlov's Bakery & Cafe, a Main St. anchor, has elevated our city's bakery experience to beautiful levels while strengthening community in immeasurable ways.

This Sunday, Food as a Verb publishes an in-depth examination and investigation into the LFPA grant, its past, present and future. You'll hear from farmers, state officials and food banks.

Until then, thousands of people across the state need your help.

"An appropriations ask," said Carpenter.

Tennessee's General Assembly will vote on appropriations funding this March. Please contact your legislators and encourage them to support Tennessee farmers and food banks by adding in $500,000 in good-faith appropriations funding.

Not $7.2 million, which our TDA or legislature won't or can't fund. But $500,000? It could at least stopgap some of the pain until TDA can reapply for another round of LFPA funding. (More on this Sunday.)

Remember: tone matters. No legislator is at fault. Plus, one issue both political parties support? Tennessee agriculture. In the midst of a divided nation, this can be a unifying solution.

Tennessee Dept. of Transportation

For farmers. For a state that prides itself on agriculture. For the love-in-action mission of so many food banks.

"Our legislators can step up and say, 'Yes.' Our obligation is to support our agricultural sector and correct the wrongs we made as a state," said Carpenter.

State legislators may be contacted here. That link will take you this page:

Email and call your legislators, many of whom may not even know this issue exists. Respectfully inform them: our state's Dept. of Agriculture neglected to reapply for a $7.2 million federal grant that massively helps, supports and benefits farmers and food banks.

Please ask your legislators to ensure that the final budget includes a good-faith appropriation to make up for this lost funding.

This Sunday, Food as a Verb will publish a deeper examination of this. But time is running out. Tennessee food banks, farmers and families, already hurting, need your help before the hurt gets even worse.

"We had hopes the funding would get renewed," Keener said. "Now, we are selling our eggs ... at a $2-per-dozen loss and scrambling."

Collecting eggs, Sequatchie Cove Farms, Marion County, Tenn.

All photography by Sarah Unger.

All design by Alex DeHart.

All words by David Cook. This story is 100% human generated; no AI chatbot was used in the creation of this content.

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Food as a Verb thanks our sustaining partners for their generous support.

A list of regional farmers' markets:

Main St. Farmers' Market

Corner of W. 20th and Chestnut St., near Finley Stadium

Wednesday, 4 - 6pm

Brainerd Farmers' Market

Grace Episcopal Church, 20 Belvoir Ave, Chattanooga, TN 

Saturday, 10am - noon

Chattanooga Market

1820 Carter Street, Sunday, 11am - 4pm

Ooltewah Farmers' Market

The Ooltewah Nursery, Thursday, 3 - 6pm 

Signal Mountain Farmers' Market

Pre-order online for Thursday pick-up between 4 - 6pm at Bachman Community Center

South Cumberland Farmers’ Market

Sewanee Community Center (behind the Sewanee Market on Ball Park Rd.) Tuesdays from 4:15 to 6:00 p.m. (central.) Order online by Monday 10 am (central.) 

St. Albans Farmers' Market

7514 Hixson Pike, Saturday, 9.30am - 12.30pm with a free pancake breakfast every third Saturday  

Walker County Farmers' Market

Wednesday, 2 - 5 pm, Rock Spring Ag. Center 

Saturday, 9 am - 1 pm, downtown Lafayette, Georgia

To include your farmers market, email

Dig in. (It's free)