A Total of $244,109 Will Be Invested to Support Specialty Crop Production and Sales in Rhode Island
PROVIDENCE - The Department of Environmental Management announced today the award of farm viability grants to six Rhode Island-based groups working to support local farmers; the grants, totaling $244,109, are made possible by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Specialty Crop Block Grant Program and will support efforts to increase specialty crop production and grow the marketplace for these crops in Rhode Island. USDA defines specialty crops as fruits and vegetables, dried fruit, tree nuts, and nursery crops, including floriculture and turf grass.
"Rhode Islanders take great pride in their agricultural heritage," said Governor Raimondo. "The exciting growth of our local food economy is a testament to that history and expertise – supporting thousands of jobs, businesses, and families across the state. We all play a role in moving our state forward, and I am proud of these grant recipients and their efforts to support Rhode Island food producers and to foster innovation and growth in local agriculture."
"We are thrilled to announce these awards that help to sustain our local farming industry and support the livelihoods of so many families in Rhode Island," said DEM Director Janet Coit. "Promoting growth in this important economic sector requires a coordinated yet varied approach that focuses on supporting growers and cultivating their practices but also increasing consumer knowledge and demand. We are pleased to reflect this approach in the diversity of initiatives funded in this grant round and look forward to the success of these projects." Grant recipients include:
• University of Rhode Island, Nutrition and Food Sciences Department - $20,131 Rhode Island-based Produce Safety Alliance will provide training for farmers in safe produce planting, harvesting and handling practices to better assist them in meeting FDA regulatory compliance mandates and/or buyer requirements.
• Alex Caserta and the RI Public Broadcast System (PBS) - $48,745 PBS will air seven episodes of the Harvesting Rhode Island television series to promote Rhode Island specialty crop growers and educate consumers on the benefits of buying locally-produced crops. This series brings viewers on location to see the farms, meet the farmers, and hear them talk about food cultivation and what it takes to grow these crops. The series' pilot, which aired last spring, was funded through a $35,000 farm viability grant in 2013.
• Rhode Island Agricultural Council (RIAC) - $14,291 The Council will develop and implement a promotional campaign to enhance the visibility and viability of specialty crops throughout Rhode Island and New England. Campaign activities will include development of a website, promotional materials, and a traveling display highlighting local specialty crops. Presentations will also be given at agricultural events throughout New England and in classrooms across Rhode Island.
• Farm Fresh Rhode Island - $49,621 Farm Fresh will engage in a systematic approach to increasing the demand for locally grown specialty crops in school cafeterias. Activities will include joining school district wellness committees, developing and implementing educational programs for classrooms and after-school programs, and facilitating communications among purchasers, producers and processor/distributors.
• Northeast Organic Farming Association of Rhode Island - $20,000 The Association will provide training and technical support to farmers to enhance the competitiveness of eligible specialty crops. Specifically, efforts will focus on training farmers to produce high-value organic crops to meet local market demand through a series of advanced grower training seminars; technical support from local farm advisors and on-farm workshops where organic techniques will be demonstrated will be provided.
• Rhode Island Beekeepers Association (RIBA) - $27,400 The Association will provide registered Rhode Island beekeepers with a genetically-superior queen for re-queening of an existing hive. The project supports RIBA's ongoing efforts to develop its own breeding program and will assist local beekeepers in invigorating and growing their colonies and increasing disease and mite resistance; it will also support the viability of the honeybee population, increasing the yield and quality of Rhode Island fruit and vegetable crops.
In addition to funding these grants, USDA awarded $63,921 to DEM to strengthen the "Get Fresh, Buy Local" campaign. The funds will be used to support specialty crop sales and improve promotional materials and activities, including featuring produce demonstrations by local celebrity chefs at farmers' markets. To date, DEM has awarded more than $2 million in farm viability grants to support the competitiveness of locally-grown specialty crops.
Rhode Island is experiencing significant growth in its agricultural and local food sector. The state's food system supports 60,000 jobs in Rhode Island and more than 7,000 businesses. Rhode Island is home to more than 1,200 farms - which are largely family operations and occupy a total of 68,000 acres across the state. The Ocean State is a national leader in direct-sales to consumers, with approximately 50 seasonal farmers markets in the state's urban, suburban and rural areas; eight indoor winter markets; and numerous pick-your-own and farm-stand operations.
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