PROVIDENCE - The Department of Environmental Management (DEM) announced today the award of $130,008 in farm viability grants to four Rhode Island-based groups working to support local agriculture; the grants 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.
"The innovative projects being funded through this grant round will help strengthen markets for specialty crops and foster growth in our state's farming industry," said DEM Director Janet Coit. "DEM is proud to partner with Rhode Island specialty crop growers and looks forward to the success of these exciting new projects."
Grant recipients include:
African Alliance of RI (AARI) - $25,500 Funding supports expansion of AARI's Beginner Farmers' Specialty Crops Project. AARI will contract with DEM to work with beginner and small minority farmers to increase production and consumption of local, sustainably grown specialty vegetables, greens and value-added products that growers sell at eight AARI farmers' markets located in food desert neighborhoods in Providence.
Young Farmer Network - $39,107 Funding supports the Young Farmer Network's project to enhance specialty crop production and marketing skills for the next generation of Rhode Island farmers. Topics include climate-resilient crop production, strategic marketing in the digital age, and building peer farmer support.
Farm Fresh Rhode Island (FFRI) - $27,666 FFRI will work to increase purchaser and consumer awareness, demand, and ability to purchase specialty crops from Rhode Island farmers by developing and implementing an educational marketing campaign that highlights Rhode Island specialty crop farmers and the produce that they sell to schools.
Southside Community Land Trust (SCLT) - $37,474 Funding supports Southside Community Land Trust's initiative to develop research and training farm yards for rhizomatic crops, at the University of Rhode Island and Urban Edge Farm. Over the course of the project SSCLT will implement trials and training for organic production of two specialty crops, beginning with hops in 2021.
Additionally, DEM received $105,905 under USDA's Specialty Crop Block Grant Program to help increase consumer awareness and demand for specialty crop products; enhance grower competitiveness and on-farm food safety practices to ensure that special crop farmers comply with state and federal food safety requirements; and improve market access to state and federal grower certification programs and agricultural water quality testing for Rhode Island specialty crop growers. Since 2016, DEM has awarded more than $800K in grants through the USDA Specialty Crop Grant Program.
DEM continues to work across many fronts to benefit and strengthen Rhode Island's green economy and to assist local farmers and fishers in growing their businesses. There are more than 1,000 farms sprinkled across the state and Rhode Island is home to a thriving young farmer network. DEM continues to make investments in critical infrastructure as well as provide farm incubation space to new farmers through its Urban Edge Farm and Snake Den Farm properties.
The state's food scene is often cited as an area of economic strength ripe for innovation and growth. Already, the local food industry supports 60,000 jobs, and the state's green industries account for more than 15,000 jobs and contribute $2.5 billion to the economy annually.
For more information on DEM programs and initiatives, visit www.dem.ri.gov. Follow DEM on Twitter (@RhodeIslandDEM) or Facebook at www.facebook.com/RhodeIslandDEM for timely updates.