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Startup Tucson Secures Two Year Federal USDA Grant to Support Southern Arizona Food System with Tech

Updated: Aug 9, 2023

Tucson native foods
photo by Visit Tucson

TUCSON, ARIZONA -- October 12, 2020 --

Tucson is North America’s first UNESCO City of Gastronomy but, unfortunately, despite that prestigious status and rich food culture, many of our local farmers, producers, and restaurants are still struggling in their businesses, especially in the face of COVID-related disruptions.

Even prior to the COVID pandemic, a study found that approximately 70% of southeastern Arizona farms sell less than $10,000 of product per year (Carney & Krause, 2019). This reveals a massive untapped market potential, considering that 6.8 million people that visit Tucson each year--75% of which say that are interested and willing to pay for historical food related events.

Startup Tucson--together with our project partners Merchant Gardens, Visit Tucson, BRINK Creative Group, and University of Arizona Department of Agricultural Education, Technology and Innovation -- has secured a two year Federal USDA grant to assist our local agricultural producers and entrepreneurs. The aim of the project is to increase financial security for our food producers by helping them to level-up their technology and business models, while at the same time exposing them to new online customers through a one-stop-shop platform hosted by Visit Tucson.

“Through building this project , our team worked closely with numerous food producers-- from small scale farmers and ranchers, to restaurants, to food distributors-- we saw such a need to address the significant challenges they are facing today. Tucson has such incredible potential as a City of Gastronomy and Delice Network, but many of the very entrepreneurs that have put us on the map as a food city are struggling right now. This project will be just one building block of moving toward a unified and supportive food system.” -- Dre Thompson, Executive VP Startup Tucson and USDA Project Lead.

To take advantage of the market potential to purchase locally created agricultural products that you can take home from Tuscson, the program will feature a Startup Food Accelerator to help food producers bring new shelf-stable products and other unique services to market that will help them diversify their revenue. Startup Tucson will add specifically tailored agricultural skill building components to its existing Fundamental and Advanced workshops and pair participants with mentors and industry experts that can help them succeed.

A second major gap that will be addressed by the program is the current lack of eCommerce capability by many producers. Startup Tucson found that only 13% of producers had modern

eCommerce websites -- with our partner BRINK--the program will help build free websites for these producers so that they will be better positioned to weather COVID and beyond.

Finally, consumers -- both local and national -- will be able to access hundreds of our amazing locally produced items through a new platform in collaboration with Visit Tucson that will be launched in 2021.

As members of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network and the Delice Network, we have the responsibility to use gastronomy as a way to foster economic development in our communities. This partnership with StartUp Tucson; Merchants Garden; Brink Media and the University of Arizona, will allow us to fulfill our obligations to make sure that small producers, which are the base of our creative gastronomy, be positively impacted by our visitors.

---- J. Felipe Garcia, EVP of Visit Tucson.

The project will also be working with Dr. Matt Mars of the University of Arizona Department of Agricultural Education, Technology and Innovation to help build our knowledge base about the agricultural community and the economic impacts of our efforts.

The USDA grant secured by the project team is the only such grant allocated in Arizona, however, two other groups have won other USDA grants focused on improving regional distribution and supply chain needs, including Merchants Garden. Startup Tucson will be working closely with these groups to collaborate in our efforts to improve the statewide impact of the funding to have lasting positive impacts on our regional food systems.

To read more about the program and sign up for more updates as the program rolls out, visit


Startup Tucson is 501(c)(3) nonprofit working to transform our region’s economy through entrepreneurship and education. Startup Tucson executes this mission by providing education and culture building programs and events to grow a high-impact entrepreneurial and innovative ecosystem. You can find information about the organization and upcoming opportunities to engage at For questions or comments, please reach out to Liz Pocock directly at

Visit Tucson: Driving economic development by connecting visitors with their ideal travel and meetings experiences in Tucson.

Merchant Gardens: Local farm making fresh food accessible and affordable to everyone using the science of aquaponics and hydroponics.

BRINK Creative Group: Plans and produces brand strategy, innovation and social impact solutions to help our clients and communities navigate the evolving challenges they face

University of Arizona Department of Agricultural Education, Technology and Innovation: Preparing tomorrow's leaders for careers in agricultural education and related businesses and industries.

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