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NSAC Members Go for Big Impact in Specialty Crop Block Grant Projects

October 30, 2017


Farmer Tonya Taylor beside her specialty crops (leafy greens).

Farmer Tonya Taylor and her husband Kasey Clark are farmers-in-residence at the Bainum Foundation Farm near Middleburg, VA. Photo credit, Reana Kovalcik, NSAC.

As peak harvest season starts to wind down for farmers and food producing communities across the country, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been busy pumping out grant award announcements and application opportunities. Adding to an October already full of great news about local and regional food-focused projects, USDA has recently announced over $60 million in awards for 678 Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP) projects in fiscal year (FY) 2017 that were approved by state departments of agriculture.

SCBGP awards support farmers growing fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, and nursery crops (aka “specialty crops”) by funding research, extension and a wide variety other projects that producers’ to address unique challenges and enhance their competitiveness.

USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) oversees SCBGP, but the grants are issued by state departments of agriculture to projects that support specialty crop growers and increase the consumption of specialty crops.

Since 2009, AMS has awarded SCBGP grants totaling $516.6 million for 6,816 projects, including the 678 announced last week.

NSAC congratulates all the award recipients and is proud to detail the following member projects (organized by state):

The Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network (ASAN) will use their  grant to convene growers, consumers, and other food system stakeholders for participatory education at a two-day Food & Farm Forum (December 2017), and will hold a pilot series of Tailgate Trainings to build skills and social capital among specialty crop producers (February-November 2018).

E.A.T. South will increase the consumption and sales of Alabama Specialty Crops by: developing “kitchen skills through cooking” workshops to support adults in consuming more fresh fruits and vegetables; creating a farm to table curriculum for K-12 students; and assisting farmers by developing print and electronic marketing materials focused on nutrition and consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables to share through community and social media channels.

The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF), with support from University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Center for Sustainability, will offer free online training modules in organic specialty crop production. Trainings will target beginning farmers, existing organic farmers, and farmers in transition to organic production. In 2015, OFRF surveyed California organic farmers and found a need for training on: 1) irrigation and drought management, 2) soil health, biology, and nutrient cycling, 3) weed management, 4) disease management, 5) insect management, and 6) economics and marketing. OFRF will create six learning modules on these priority areas focused on organic orchard and vegetable production. The modules will include descriptive essays, video presentations, interviews with researchers, and virtual field trips to production and research sites.

The Northeast Organic Farming Association of Connecticut will conduct a three‐year outreach campaign to increase farmer awareness and engagement in cover cropping and pollinator habitat management on specialty crop farmlands. To do so, they will survey Connecticut’s specialty crop producers, host workshops, provide one-on-one consultation, and create promotional content for advertising and online to encourage farmers to cover crop and/or create pollinator habitat on their lands.

Since 1985, Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) have specialized in farmer-to-farmer knowledge sharing. Many specialty crop farmers in PFI’s membership are asking for training on machinery and equipment for specialty crop production, and see this knowledge gap as a barrier to scaling up their production. PFI’s objective is to improve the competitiveness of specialty crops in Iowa through farmer-to-farmer education and farmer networks. PFI will achieve its project goals through farmer- and practitioner-led events including: field days, intensive hands-on workshops, and associated media outreach.

Future Harvest CASA (FHCASA) will use its grant to bolster its core competencies – field education, farmer engagement, and peer-to-peer knowledge transfer – to create and implement a sustainable plant health and pest management track for its Field School for new and established farmers. University of Maryland Extension and farmer educators/innovators will advise the project, host educational events, and help FHCASA showcase and train on latest research; other partners will help distribute materials created for the project.

The Northeast Organic Farming Association/Massachusetts Chapter, Inc. will enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops by addressing the need for soil technical assistance among specialty crop growers through the development of a statewide soil technical assistance program.

Renewing the Countryside, in partnership with the Minnesota Farmers’ Market Association and the Minnesota Institute of Sustainable Agriculture, will build the capacity of market managers to make connections with institutional and wholesale buyers, including restaurants and retailers, which will lead to expanded sales of specialty crops for farmers.

The Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy will use its grant to continue to build on its successful model of creating market opportunities for Minnesota fruit and vegetable producers by enhancing supply chains between farmers and local Head Start programs.

Organic Seed Alliance will work directly with agricultural economists, five organic specialty crop farms, and national seed companies to develop: enterprise budgets for seed production of seven crops; economic case studies of the participating farms; and a seed economics manual, eOrganic webinar, and in-person trainings to help grow Montana’s organic seed production capacity and infrastructure.

The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) will conduct field trials at the Elma C. Lomax Farm, in Concord, NC, in order to evaluate the efficacy of commercially available biopesticides approved for use in certified organic specialty crop production and conduct outreach and education to organic farmers on best practices for pest management, including the use of biopesticides to control pests in organic specialty crop production systems. Field trials will include an evaluation of biofungicides to control powdery mildew on cucrbits, bioherbicides to control aphids, flea beetles, and lepitoptera on brassicas, and bioherbicides to control weeds. Field trial results will be disseminated at field days and workshops, though electronic newsletters, and on CFSA’s website.

The Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture will evaluate elderberries as a potential crop for Oklahoma producers. Elderberries are a native, perennial specialty crop with great potential in Oklahoma. Most of the elderberry market demand in the United States is met with European produced fruit. There is a need for additional small fruit crops among small scale and new farmers who currently rely on annual vegetable crops. Using their SCBG funds, the Kerr Center will evaluate a number of different elderberry varieties to determine yields, survivability, ease of management as well as potential market economics. Investigations and demonstrations will be conducted at the Kerr Center’s Cannon Horticulture Farm. Education will be accomplished through field days, tours, conference presentations, articles and a publication.

Oregon Tilth will help Oregon’s next-generation organic and sustainable mixed-vegetable farmers conduct cost studies to determine their production costs and adopt strategies for increased profitability, and will generate production cost benchmarks to help organic and sustainable mixed-vegetable farmers with financial projections, business planning, and accessing capital.

The Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture will develop financial benchmarks that will help Pennsylvania specialty crop farmers navigate direct market opportunities. Direct market sales through farmer’s markets, community supported agriculture (CSA) enterprises, and local cooperatives are an $86 million industry in Pennsylvania, yet very little information is available to help specialty crop 134 farmers engaged in direct market models make successful business decisions. The project will recruit specialty crop farmers to complete a detailed survey of their farm’s financials, generate key financial benchmarks, and distribute the information to a wide audience of specialty crop farmers. Dissemination will be conducted through field days, conference workshops, webinars, and a fact sheet that will empower growers to better understand the direct market sector and make better business decisions moving forward.

The Northeast Organic Farming Association of Rhode Island will lead a project to improve the competitiveness of organic livestock and crops and organic farmer profitability by enhancing farming practices through targeted technical training, innovation sharing and business skills-building workshops. The effective strategy plans to employ Advanced Grower Training Seminars (AGTS) and support On-Farm Workshops facilitated by local farm advisers/regional and national experts. Two Organic Farming Educational Conferences will be planned, each of which contains one of the AGTS and additional workshops involving numerous local speakers.  A mentorship program will also be piloted and digital and face-to-face outreach activities will take place as a discussion group focusing on solving grower issues including but not limited to the certification process, organic techniques, creative do-it-yourself low technology solutions, and food safety. Program effectiveness will be evaluated based on feedback from RI specialty crop producers and approaches for increasing the number of RI farms practicing organic techniques as consumer demand increases.

The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association will provide technical assistance to 180 specialty crop producers in South Carolina on postharvest handling techniques and on-farm infrastructure necessary to meet local buyers’ product specifications. Technical assistance will be provided at workshops (three per year for three years) and direct one-on-one assistance (five per year for three years). Of the 180 specialty crop producers receiving training, a total of 30 will access new market channels including grocery stores, wholesale markets, and food hubs that process, aggregate, distribute, or store specialty crops.

The Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont will determine the market potential of institutional wholesale as it relates to farm viability by aggregating crop-specific cost of production data, providing technical assistance to help farmers determine crop-specific costs of production and cost of sales in different market channels, and facilitating value chain transparency between farmers and institutional buyers.

A full list of the SCBGP FY 17 awardees is available here.


Categories: Grants and Programs, Local & Regional Food Systems


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