USDA Awards State Agriculture Department and 12 Agricultural Organizations $388,000 in Grants to Promote Specialty Crops
"DAR is thrilled to assist groups working to promote Massachusetts specialty crops," said DAR Commissioner Scott Soares. "I'm confident that the projects that were selected will accomplish the goal of expanding market opportunities and making the Commonwealth's farmers more competitive."
Organizations representing New England's apple, flower, winery and bee keeping industries are among the recipients of the this year's USDA Specialty Crop Grants, which are funded by the United States Farm Bill. USDA provides $49 million to state departments of agriculture each year to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops, which are defined as fruits and vegetables, dried fruits, tree nuts, horticulture and nursery products.
This year's grant recipients and their projects:
New England Apple Association will complete and distribute a series of video presentations as a teaching tool for educators and the general public about how New England apples are grown, harvested and prepared.
Massachusetts Farm Winery Growers Association will create educational programs about growing grapes in Massachusetts's diverse geographic and climatic environment, programs that help winemakers in the state improve the quality of their products, and programs to foster continued growth of the industry by easing the entry of new ventures in areas such as vineyard and winery planning and design.
Southeastern Massachusetts Agricultural Partnership (SEMAP) will work with social service agencies that prepare nutritious meals for children and adults, aiming to increase nutrition knowledge and consumption of locally sourced specialty crops so area producers can expand their markets.
Massachusetts Fruit Growers Association will evaluate the feasibility of tunnel-sprayer technology in Massachusetts orchards. The technology is uniquely suited to ultra-high-density orchards and has great potential to drastically reduce the amount of pesticide applied and the amount of drift to non-target areas, decreasing both human and environmental risks.
Barnstable County Beekeepers Association will build and establish two colonies in three different locations as part of the Hardy Queen Bee project, an effort to raise queen bees that utilizes basic equipment so the 250-member group can be taught to accomplish the same in their own backyard apiaries.
Massachusetts Flower Growers' Association will disseminate garden fact sheets.
Farm to School will train wholesale specialty crop operators about school sales opportunities and issues; help farmers promote the value of local fruits and vegetables to food distribution companies; facilitate conversations between wholesale growers, distribution companies, and school food service directors about possible cooperative sales and distribution systems; and maintain ongoing communication with school food service directors about the value of providing students with local specialty crops.
Cape Cod Cranberry Growers' Association (CCCGA) will create a set of sustainable growing standards for cranberries so growers can continue to produce cranberries in Massachusetts and to sell both locally and globally.
Nuestras Raices will promote child and adult nutrition knowledge, and consumption of Massachusetts-grown specialty crops in Hampden County through the Tierra de Oportunidades (Land of Opportunities) Project. It will continue to pilot a "Double Value" public benefit matching program at three farmers' markets in Hampshire and Berkshire counties, which matches Electronic Benefit Transfers (EBT), WIC and senior coupons at the market one-to-one.
Island Grown will collaborate with the University of Massachusetts Extension for a project that aims to develop new markets for Martha's Vineyard-grown and Massachusetts-grown specialty crops. A marketing campaign in the local community aims to create a more educated buying public, and form positive consumer connections to specialty crops, such as traditional Brazilian staple crops maxixe, abóbora japonesa, and taioba, allowing growers access to new markets.
Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) will promote the purchase and consumption of specialty crops throughout the year in conjunction with the New England Vegetable and Berry Growers.
Sustainable Business Networks (SBN) of Greater Boston will increase the availability, awareness and purchases of locally grown food, primarily fruit and vegetable specialty crops in the Metro Boston/Eastern Massachusetts region through its Local Food for ALL program. Local Food for ALL is a 15-month public awareness and industry development program that aims to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops in New England's most densely populated area. The program will help expand connections with restaurants and retailers, and collaborate with Farm Fresh Rhode Island to expand information in the online farm database www.farmfresh.org to identify locally-grown resources. In collaboration with Chefs Collaborative, The Food Project and other SBN partners, the campaign will organize "ALLocal" dinners and events to increase awareness and demand by local leaders and eaters for local fruits and vegetables throughout the year. SBN will also design stakeholder workshops to encourage entrepreneurial exchange and launch the first Massachusetts Local Food Festival.
The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources will create commodity specific sustainability standards to help Massachusetts specialty crop growers incorporate practices that enhance product quality, safety and marketability. It will also help identify national trends that support and adopt such practices.
The DAR's mission is to ensure the long-term viability of local agriculture in Massachusetts. Through its four divisions - Agricultural Development, Animal Health, Crop and Pest Services, and Technical Assistance - the DAR strives to support, regulate, and enhance the Commonwealth's agricultural community, working to promote economically and environmentally sound food safety and animal health measures, and fulfill agriculture's role in energy conservation and production.