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Grants

USDA Offers Grants to Help Expand Marketing and Local Food Opportunities

If there is one word that best embodies agriculture, it is entrepreneurship. Over the course of my time at USDA, I’ve had the chance to meet with farmers, ranchers and food business of all sizes and in all parts of the country. The faces of these entrepreneurs and their innovative strategies and business models reflect the diversity that makes this country strong.  Each year, USDA helps thousands of agricultural producers and businesses enhance their marketing efforts and bring healthy, nutritious food to communities– and I’m excited that this week, we’ve announced another opportunity to support their work.

My agency, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), announced the availability of more than $27 million in grants to help ensure the livelihoods of our nation’s farmers and ranchers while strengthening rural economies. The announcement included $26 million in AMS grant funding from the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program through the Local Food Marketing Promotion Program (LFPP) and the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP).

Promoting Integrity through Improved Technology

If you’re a frequent reader of this blog, you already know that USDA is committed to continuously improving the integrity of their programs.  We strive to operate our programs effectively and efficiently.  We aim to provide program participants with the best service possible, while ensuring taxpayers get the biggest bang for their buck.

We go about this in a number of different ways.  In previous posts, we’ve shared how we’re streamlining the USDA organic certification process; highlighted our prize competition, which crowdsourced design ideas to minimize error in school meals applications; and featured ways we’re working to educate farmers on official grain standards, sampling and grading rules.

REAPing America's Clean Energy Future

USDA Rural Development’s Rural Energy for America Program, commonly referred to as ‘REAP’, provides financial resources for rural agricultural producers and small businesses to help them improve their bottom line. REAP provides loan guarantees and small grants to support these producers and owners as they improve the energy efficiency of their operations and develop renewable energy sources.

Today, Secretary Vilsack announced hundreds of new projects like the one I visited over the summer in Central City, Nebraska.  It exemplifies the strategic thinking our rural communities use daily to find new ways to prosper.  A community just shy of 3,000 residents, Central City is home to the first community solar garden project ever developed in Nebraska.

Collective Solar Victory in Virginia

Many people in this country would love to use solar or other types of renewable energy in their homes, but barriers may exist to stifle interest in small-scale renewable energy implementation.

Not everyone has the roof space, the sunlight, or the money for a solar energy project. Not everyone has the weather or the local know-how for a wind energy project. The list could go on, but any hurdles such a list might include will no longer hinder the residents of Rockbridge, Bath, Highland, Augusta and Alleghany, Virginia, from realizing their goal of using clean energy in their homes.

Helping States Build an Agricultural Future

Specialty crops—fruits, vegetables, nuts and nursery crops—are an agricultural and dietary staple.  They’re a central part of a healthy diet and are vital to the economic success of American agriculture and to the farmers and businesses that rely on them for their livelihoods.

That’s why my agency, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, works to support and expand markets for specialty crop growers and producers.  This year, through our Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, we awarded $62.5 million to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and five U.S. territories to support critical work related to this segment of the agricultural industry.

Growing Rural Economies and Opportunities through Social Media

From Facebook to Snapchat, rural businesses are exploring how to use social media to improve their customer’s experience and expand their customer base. Over the last eight years, USDA and the Obama Administration have partnered with rural communities to build more opportunities that support rural small business owners, farmers and ranchers through applied research.   Today USDA awarded nearly $1 million in Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program (FSMIP) grants to support market research to strengthen markets for U.S. agricultural products domestically and internationally.

Administered by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), FSMIP projects make a real difference to diverse stakeholders and largely benefit rural communities.  For example, in 2013, FSMIP awarded a 2-year grant to Kansas State University to develop social media strategies for small green businesses, including nurseries, garden centers and lawn care operations, and to explore the potential of social media to expand their markets and profitability.  Social media holds promise as a strategy for these rural businesses which frequently have a small customer base and struggle to be profitable throughout the year, given the seasonal nature of their business.  Through social media, business owners could reach more potential customers for little to no cost but they often do not know how or why they should use these tools.

Growing Local Food Means Growing Opportunities

With sales of over $11 billion in 2014 and projected growth of 10 percent annually, local and regionally-produced food is the fastest growing sector of American agriculture. At USDA, we hear a lot from communities interested in strengthening the connection between farmers and consumers. That’s why we’re investing in projects across the country to help farm and food businesses tap into this growing market.

Yesterday, USDA announced more than $56 million in grants to support local and community food projects, including a program administered by my agency, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). The Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program awarded over $26 million in competitive grants, divided equally between the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) and the Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP).

Local Foods in Schools Bring Rural Communities Together

From the west coast to New England, rural communities across the country are implementing community food systems’ strategies. The projects are bringing more local food into school meals, promoting healthy eating habits and expanding markets for American farmers and producers.

The USDA Farm to School Grant Program is proud to support these efforts. Over the past four years, approximately four out of ten schools impacted by the program are in rural communities. We look forward to supporting similar projects in the future and are currently accepting applications for Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 funding. Visit our grant opportunities page for more information.

To celebrate the release of the FY 2017 RFA, we are highlighting two projects that are having a big impact in their communities.

A Culture of Inclusivity at the National Institute of Food and Agriculture

Fine words, to be sure, but how do we make it true in a department that employs almost 100,000 directly and countless more indirectly at thousands of locations across the country?

At USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), civil rights are inherent to our mission. By promoting equal opportunity and supporting underserved groups and communities, NIFA’s programs help people improve their lives and communities.

NIFA provides funding and national leadership for research, education, and extension programs that address the nation’s agricultural challenges.  NIFA-supported programs turn research into action by bringing groundbreaking discoveries from research laboratories to farms, communities, and classrooms.

Building Businesses & Helping Communities - Celebrating the Fruits of Farmers Markets

National Farmers Market Week is the perfect time to reflect on the evolution we’ve witnessed in our nation's local and regional food systems, and to celebrate the results of the public and private partnerships that have made success possible.

The local food sector represents more than $12 billion dollars per year in sales, according to industry estimates.  That’s a lot of economic growth and opportunity for American producers and businesses.  And, in the newly-released results of the 2015 survey of nearly 1,400 farmers market managers, we are able to see the direct benefits these markets provide to businesses and communities across the country.