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DEM: $150,000 in Grants Available to Enhance and Promote Rhode Island-Grown Specialty Crops

PORTSMOUTH, R.I. — The RI Department of Environmental Management (DEM) announces that $150,000 in farm viability grant funding is available for projects that enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops grown in Rhode Island.

The funds are from the US Department of Agriculture’s Specialty Crop Block Grant program. Specialty crops are defined by this federally supported program as fruits and vegetables, dried fruit, tree nuts, and nursery crops including floriculture including Christmas Trees, cut flowers, honey, hops, and turf grass production.

Grant awards will range from $10,000 to $40,000 with no direct match required. Funds may be used for research, promotion, marketing, nutrition, trade enhancement, food safety, food security, plant health, product development, education, “buy local” initiatives, and for programs that provide for increased consumption and innovation, improved efficiency and reduced costs of distribution systems, environmental concerns and conservation, and development of cooperatives.

“This competitive grant program will help strengthen markets for Rhode Island specialty crops and support local farming and food businesses,” said DEM Director Janet Coit. “Consumer demand for locally-grown products is strong and is spurring growth in our state’s farming industry. We encourage farmers and others working to promote the long-term viability of locally-grown fruits, vegetables, nuts, horticulture, and nursery crops to apply for this exciting funding opportunity.”

Eligible entities include Rhode Island farmers, residents, or community groups engaged in research, marketing, food safety/security, plant health, buy-local initiatives, and/or development of cooperatives. Projects will be funded for up to two years. Funded projects must support the broad competitiveness of locally-grown specialty crops in Rhode Island. Initiatives that benefit a sole commercial product or provide a profit to a single individual or group will not be considered. To date, over $2 million has been invested through this program to support growth of specialty crops in Rhode Island. For more information on the Farm Viability program, visit DEM’s website. Applications accompanied by a W9 form should be mailed to DEM Division of Agriculture, Room 370, 235 Promenade Street, Providence, RI 02908 and postmarked no later than March 31, 2020. Grant-related questions should be directed to Peter Susi, deputy chief of DEM’s Division of Agriculture at 222-2781, ext. 4517 or peter.susi@dem.ri.gov.

DEM awarded $170,421 in farm viability grants last fall to four Rhode Island-based groups for a wide range of purposes, such as increasing consumption of specialty crops through a series of in-classroom education, cooking, and tasting programs and garden programs for students, parents, teachers, and staff; providing training and support for organic farming methods on specialty crop farms; developing a system for organic hop and rhizomatic crop production and farmer training; and supporting the promotion of saffron as an extremely high-value crop for Rhode Island agriculture.

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.

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