PROVIDENCE - The Department of Environmental Management announces that $150,000 in farm viability grant funds is available through DEM for grants to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops grown in Rhode Island. The funds are from the US Department of Agriculture's Specialty Crop Block Grant program. Specialty crops are defined by this federally-supported program as fruits and vegetables, dried fruit, tree nuts, and nursery crops including floriculture and turf grass production.
Grant awards will range from $10,000 to $50,000 with no direct match required. Funding will be provided in two stages, with 50 percent of the monies given up front and the remainder provided at the satisfactory completion of the project. The grants may be used for projects of up to two years in duration.
The grants may be used for research, promotion, marketing, nutrition, trade enhancement, food safety, food security, plant health, product development, education, "buy local" initiatives, and for programs that provide for increased consumption and innovation, improved efficiency and reduced costs of distribution systems, environmental concerns and conservation, and development of cooperatives. Grant funds may not be spent on construction projects.
"The growth of agriculture in Rhode Island can be seen across the state, from the explosion of farmers' markets to the promotion of local foods in our outstanding restaurants," noted DEM Director Janet Coit. "Rhode Island's $1.7 billion green industry – and the 12,300 jobs it supports – is a bright spot in the economy of our beautiful state, thanks to growing consumer interest in products grown locally. On top of these economic benefits, agriculture also contributes to tourism, open space, quality of life, and access to local foods and horticultural products."
Director Coit pointed to Farm Fresh Rhode Island as a good example of an effort that is regularly supported by the specialty crop grant program. Today, Farm Fresh Rhode Island is a successful local food system that sponsors the Farm to School program; a host of year-round farmers' markets; distribution channels for bringing locally-grown products to restaurants, worksites, hospitals, grocers, schools, food pantries and community centers; and special events such as the Local Food Forum held last week at Brown University.
Any Rhode Island agricultural or educational association or organization, individual farmer, or resident is eligible to apply. Grant applications and projects must further the competitiveness of specialty crops as broadly as possible in Rhode Island, and not just serve to enhance individual farm viability pursuant to USDA program guidelines. Grant funds will not be awarded for projects that solely benefit a particular commercial product or provide a profit to a single organization, institution, or individual. Single organizations, institutions, and individuals are encouraged to participate as project partners.
A downloadable application is available on DEM's website at www.dem.ri.gov, by clicking on "Agriculture in Rhode Island" on the left side of the homepage, then "For Farmers," then "Farm Viability Grant Proposals 2013" under the Grants and Loans section. For grant-related questions, contact Peter Susi, deputy chief of DEM's Division of Agriculture at 222-2781, ext. 4517. Applications accompanied by a W9 form must be postmarked no later than March 31, 2013 and sent to DEM's Division of Agriculture, Room 370, 235 Promenade Street, Providence, RI 02908 to be considered. Completed applications may also be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org in Word format by the March 31st deadline. Grant proposals will be reviewed by the DEM Agricultural Advisory Committee, which will make funding recommendations to the Department.
DEM's Division of Agriculture oversees numerous efforts designed to maintain the viability of farming in Rhode Island, including locally-produced milk and beef, farmers' markets, and buy local and agri-tourism programs.