PROVIDENCE – The R.I. Department of Environmental Management has announced the award of farm viability grants totaling $205,311 for projects promoting specialty crops grown in Rhode Island.
Funding for the grants stems from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Specialty Crop Block Grant program, which defines “specialty crops” as fruits and vegetables, dried fruit, tree nuts and nursery crops including floriculture and turf grass production.
“We’re pleased to award these grants for projects that will help strengthen markets for specialty crops, sustain the livelihood of Rhode Island farmers, and promote the long-term viability of agriculture in our state,” said DEM Director Janet Coit in a release Tuesday.
The farm viability grants will help increase purchases of specialty crops by local schools, create African vegetable markets in select stores in African and Latino neighborhoods in the state, and support agricultural research at the University of Rhode Island, the DEM said.
According to the USDA’s first-ever “Farm to School Census,” released Tuesday, Rhode Island has a very high participation rate in farm-to-school programs. Responding school districts in the state reported a 100 percent participation rate and spent $1.1 million – or approximately 11 percent of their school food budgets – buying local fruits and vegetables.
“There’s nothing better than biting into a freshly-picked apple or ear of sweet corn from a local farm, and thanks to the farm-to-school program, students across Rhode Island can enjoy these delicious, healthy foods as part of their school lunch,” said Coit. “Plus, more than 95 percent of the responding school districts said they will but more local foods in the future. This is a real win-win for our students and Rhode Island’s agriculture industry.”
The DEM’s Division of Agriculture and Resources Marketing received 11 applications for the farm viability grants. Projects awarded funding in this round of grants include:
- $50,000 to Farm Fresh Rhode Island, to provide technical assistance to food service management companies and local farmers and increase demand for local specialty crops through classroom and worksite education programs.
- $35,000 to Alex Caserta, to promote Rhode Island specialty crop growers and educate consumers about locally-produced specialty crops by working with the Rhode Island Public Broadcasting Service and the Rhode Island Nursery and Landscape Association to develop a pilot television series promoting specialty crops.
- $31,865 to the University of Rhode Island Cooperative Extension, to improve yield and quality of melons by testing innovative methods of protecting melons from striped cucumber beetle damage throughout the crop cycle while minimizing risks to bees.
- $20,000 to the African Alliance of Rhode Island, to provide African vegetables grown in urban vegetable-growing parcels to local African and Latino neighborhood corner stores, and to host native African vegetable education programs and cooking demonstrations.
- $17,000 to the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Rhode Island, to provide training for specialty crop farmers in the use of organic production techniques.
- $10,500 to Beanhouses Inc. and the University of Rhode Island Cooperative Extension, to conduct trials to determine if any varieties of dry beans can be grown in Rhode Island, and to make dry bean production an affordable option for farmers.
In addition, the DEM’s Division of Agriculture has received $40,946 to continue to encourage the consumption of Rhode Island-grown specialty crops by expanding the “Rhode Island Grown Get Fresh Buy Local” initiative.
The program includes hosting produce-preparation demonstrations featuring local celebrity chefs, updating the DEM’s Rhode Island agricultural display, providing advertising material to farmers to enhance marketing efforts, and introducing electronic benefit transfer banking to farmers markets to allow federal nutrition benefit recipients to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables.
Matching funds will be used to cover non-specialty crops and producers, the DEM said.