Grants Promote R.I.’s Local Food Movement

By ecoRI News staff

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) recently awarded farm viability grants to six local 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. The USDA defines specialty crops as fruits and vegetables, dried fruit, tree nuts and nursery crops, including floriculture and turf grass.

Here is the list of grant recipients:

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 R.I. Public Broadcast System ($48,745). PBS will air seven episodes of the “Harvesting Rhode Island” 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 pilot, which aired last spring, was funded through a $35,000 farm viability grant in 2013.

Rhode Island Agricultural Council ($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 ($27,400). The association will provide registered Rhode Island beekeepers with a genetically superior queen for the re-queening of an existing hive. The project supports the group’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 money will be used to support specialty crop sales and improve promotional materials and activities, including produce demonstrations by local 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, according to DEM. The state’s food system supports 60,000 jobs and more than 7,000 businesses. Rhode Island is home to more than 1,200 farms, which are largely family operations, that occupy a total of 68,000 acres.