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.
Funds 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.
"These grants will help sustain the livelihood of Rhode Island farmers and promote the long-term viability of agriculture in our state," said DEM Director Janet Coit. "All across Rhode Island we can see the tremendous growth of agriculture, from the expanded network of farmers' markets to the promotion of local foods in our outstanding restaurants. Consumer demand for locally-grown products is constantly increasing, and these grant funds will help strengthen markets for specialty crops grown in Rhode Island."
DEM's Division of Agriculture oversees numerous efforts designed to maintain the viability of farming in Rhode Island, including locally-produced milk, meats and locally-harvested seafood, farmers' markets, and buy local and agri-tourism programs. "The Specialty Crop Block Grant program is one of many efforts by DEM to support the local agriculture and food economy," noted Ken Ayars, chief of DEM's Division of Agriculture. "Past grants have fueled and continue to support initiatives such as Farm Fresh RI, the RI Farm to School program, research projects at URI, and marketing and promotion initiatives. We look forward to another round of strong projects to support via the current grant round."
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/Agriculture website at www.rigrown.ri.gov by clicking on "Grant Opportunities" on the left side of the homepage. 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, 2014 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.
The 2,500 green industry businesses in Rhode Island sustain 12,300 jobs and contribute $1.7 billion annually to our state's economy. On top of these economic benefits, agriculture also contributes to tourism, open space, quality of life, and access to local foods and horticultural products.