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Central Valley agricultural industry gets a boost from federal grants

Esther Quintanilla
Federal and local officials celebrate the monumental grant at the Bank of Italy building in downtown Fresno.

The Central Valley has received two federal grants designed to strengthen the agricultural industry through technological innovation and expanding equitable job opportunities.

The Fresno-Merced Future of Food Innovation (F3) Coalition received $65 million through the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s “Build Back Better” Regional Challenge. The Central Valley Community Foundation, which leads the coalition, plans to use the funding to strengthen agricultural workers’ skillsets in utilizing new technologies.

“As technology evolves, California has the opportunity to lead the world in innovative strategies to allow us to help feed the hungry world,” state Sen. Anna Caballero said during a press conference Friday morning in downtown Fresno. “But agricultural jobs must change, and the jobs that farmworkers do must as well.”

The Economic Development Administration also granted $23 million granted to the Fresno County Economic Development Corporation to expand equitable job opportunities across underserved populations and communities through its “Good Jobs” Challenge.

The Valley is the only region in the country to receive both grants.

“This is a great day for the great Central Valley,” Congressman Jim Costa says. “For all too long, we have been overlooked. But not anymore.”

A portion of the funding will support agricultural education through a partnership between UC Merced, Fresno State and various community colleges.

The grants are expected to reach the community by the end of the year.

Additionally, the Central Valley Community Foundation plans to renovate the Bank of Italy building in downtown Fresno to host a new headquarters for the F3 initiative.

“There needs to be a dedicated spot on the globe where you can point to and say, ‘that's where they're figuring out how to grow food sustainably,’” says Ashley Swearengin, the president and CEO of the foundation.

Swearengin says grant funds will not be used for the renovations.

This story is part of the Central Valley News Collaborative, which is supported by the Central Valley Community Foundation with technology and training support by Microsoft Corp.

Esther Quintanilla reports on diverse communities for KVPR through the Central Valley News Collaborative, which includes The Fresno Bee, Vida en el Valle, KVPR and Radio Bilingüe.