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specialty crop block grant program

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.

Farmers Market Managers: Innovative Entrepreneurs Meeting Community Needs

The demand for local food is strong and growing. To meet the growing demand, farmers market managers are becoming creative entrepreneurs who connect rural America to urban and suburban businesses.

Last week, during National Farmers Market Week, I had the pleasure of visiting Crofton Farmers Market in Crofton, Maryland, to recognize state and local efforts to bring fresh foods and economic growth into their community. During my visit, I was given a tour of the market by market managers, Chad Houck and Scott Hariton, who are business partners with a passion for their community.

USDA Grants Helping the Specialty Crop Industry Reach Food Safety Goals

Across the country, farmers growing fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture and nursery crops - or specialty crops - are being asked to be certified in USDA’s voluntary audit program, Good Agricultural Practices (GAP).  From restaurants and hotels to schools and institutions, wholesale buyers want to ensure the fruits and vegetables they purchase meet food safety standards under the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).  One challenge for growers in many states is the lack of in-state auditors to perform the GAP certification reviews.

One solution has been to leverage another USDA resource to educate and train producers, handlers and buyers on-farm food safety practices. USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) offers Specialty Crop Block Grants (SCBG) to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops which includes supporting GAP certification audits. Since 2006, these grants have launched over 107 GAP and Good Handling Practices (GHP) outreach and training projects, and funded 116 GAP/GHP cost share projects through State departments of agriculture.

These "GAPs" in the Produce Industry Make for Safer Food Choices

July is the height of summer grilling season and throughout the month USDA is highlighting changes made to the U.S. food safety system over the course of this Administration. For an interactive look at USDA’s work to ensure your food is safe, visit the USDA Results project on Medium.com and read Chapter Seven: Safer Food and Greater Consumer Confidence.

Although farmers and food businesses have anywhere from several months to three years or more before they will need to comply with the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) new food safety rules, many producers are asking how they can bring their operation into compliance – and many buyers are beginning to ask how they’ll know if suppliers are following the rules.

USDA and the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) are working with industry and other government agencies to help ensure that stakeholders in the produce industry know the answers to these questions.

Talking Local Food: Measuring Progress and Creating Opportunities

Results—at USDA we are constantly tracking and measuring them.  We want to know that what we’re doing is making a difference, that we’re making progress towards our mission, that the communities we support are getting the help they need.  Recently I had the pleasure of visiting local food stakeholders that are making a real difference in Charlottesville, VA and hear firsthand how USDA programs have made an impact in their community.

During my visit, I had a chance to listen to farmers, local food organizers, and business owners share their experiences involving local food production.  Just outside Charlottesville, I toured the Hill Farm and the warehouse of Local Food Hub.  The open dialog of these visits is important to me and important to USDA.  I strongly believe that we need to hear from the public so we make sure our priorities, programs and services are in line with what the American people need.

Gardens Bring Learning to Life in North Dakota Tribal Community

USDA celebrates National Native American Heritage Month in November with a blog series focused on USDA’s support of Tribal Nations and highlighting a number of our efforts throughout Indian Country and Alaska.

What we teach our children about food can shape how they eat, learn, grow and live. While I was on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, I saw firsthand how a community garden can bring learning to life.

Planting a garden near their school, elementary students in Cannon Ball created a hands-on, outdoor classroom where they are taught how to grow their own food, a skill that will last a lifetime. The garden not only promotes a healthy lifestyle, it improved the students’ behavior and performance at school and developed their appreciation for the environment.

On the Road in Santa Fe - Saluting Farmers Markets All the Way

Greetings from New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment!  I’m here at the Santa Fe Farmers Market, where local farmers and ranchers have come together to sell their goods to the community for more than 50 years.  This popular farmers market started with just a handful of growers and now has more than 100 vendors, more than any other in the state.  It’s the perfect place to celebrate all that farmers markets do for rural and urban communities around the country by kicking off the 16th annual National Farmers Market Week.

Audio story from USDA Radio available on the USDA website.

The growth in Santa Fe’s market mirrors what is happening across the country – Americans want to get to know their farmers and learn where their food comes from.  Farmers markets like this one are at the heart of many towns and cities, attracting foot traffic and customers to brick and mortar stores, bringing together rural and urban Americans, and creating jobs and opportunities for local farmers and ranchers.  That’s why my agency, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), is always looking for innovative ways to help farmers markets succeed.

Behind the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative: Matt Russell

“The term ‘farm to school’ involves thinking of the whole plate, so to speak. It’s about increasing the amount of local and regional foods served in school cafeterias while also increasing education and community outreach for kids, and creating market opportunities for producers.”

So says Matt Russell, Grant Program Manager for the Farm to School Program at USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS).  Matt works to support school districts, non-profits, and other stakeholders in bringing more local and regional food into the school meal program.

Planting Seeds for New Careers for our Veterans

Tucked away in the countryside of Jacksonville, Fla., is a place that offers hope and opportunity for returning veterans. Veterans Farm, a 19-acre handicap-accessible farm that helps veterans learn how to make a living from farming and find healing in the land, opened its doors in 2009. Its founder, Adam Burke, an Iraq combat veteran and Purple Heart recipient, is utilizing his skills to create a unique environment where veterans can develop agriculture skills that can help them become effective farmers or ranchers.  USDA is partnering with Veterans Farm to conduct quarterly workshops to connect these veterans to key departmental resources that can plant the seeds for their new agricultural careers.

I recently attended one of these workshops to introduce our veterans to my agency – the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). In particular, I talked about opportunities to strengthen the local food sector via AMS’ Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (which includes the Local Food Promotion Program and the Farmers Market Promotion Program) as well as the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. I also talked about our recent partnership with the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to begin a series of grant-writing workshops to help potential grant applicants write successful grant applications.

Grant it, Food Hubs Mean More Local Food for You

Spring is upon us and many local farmers markets are opening with displays of brilliant and vibrant colors. The fresh air has more people talking about and buying local foods. In fact, data from the USDA Economic Research Service suggests that farmers across the country sold an estimated $6.1 billion in locally marketed foods in 2012. My agency, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), plays a role in increasing these numbers by creating marketing opportunities for American farmers and local food businesses through the combination of applied research, technical services, and grant support.

As the demand for local food increases, food hubs are one way farmers can deliver more fresh food to retailers, schools, hospitals and restaurants. That’s why expanding local food efforts have focused on creating more food hubs. A food hub is an enterprise that helps farmers collect and gather local and regional agricultural products for distribution and marketing to wholesale, retail, and institutional customers.