NSAC's Blog

Specialty Crop Block Grant Program Awards $62.5 Million to 693 Food and Farm Projects

October 19, 2016

Reiter Berry Farms, in Watsonville, CA. Photo credit: USDA.

Reiter Berry Farms, in Watsonville, CA. Photo credit: USDA.

This week marked the final U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Fall Forum of the current administration. On October 17, 2016, local and regional food systems leaders and advocates gathered together at the New Hampshire Audubon Society to discuss how USDA can continue to support local and regional food systems. While attending the forum, USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Administrator Elanor Starmer announced that over $62.5 million in grants have been awarded through the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP).

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

At the USDA Fall Forum, an area of particular focus at this gathering was how implementation of the new Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) rules was affecting local and regional producers. It was fitting that implementation of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) new FSMA rules was a primary topic at the forum, as several of the fiscal year (FY) 2016 SCBGP awards are for projects supporting farmer food safety and best practice trainings. Many of these projects also utilized cost-share assistance to help defray the cost of farmers becoming Good Agriculture Practices (GAP) audited and certified.

FSMA implementation and compliance are important issues for specialty crop farmers. Utilizing specialty crop block grants to support farmer training and FSMA compliance is something NSAC supports strongly. We look forward to working with members of Congress during the 2018 Farm Bill authorization process to ensure additional investments are made in this important area.

Specialty Crop Block Grant Program

AMS administers the SCBGP, which in turn issues grants to State departments of agriculture. The State departments of agriculture then use the funds to lead or support projects that help support specialty crop growers and increase the consumption of specialty crops.

Since 2009, AMS has awarded SCBGP grants totaling $455.5 million for 6,138 projects, including the 693 announced yesterday.

NSAC congratulates all the award recipients and is especially proud to detail the projects of the following 12 NSAC member organizations:

  • The partnership between California FarmLink and the Resource Conservation District of Monterey County enables beginning and Latino farmers to expand and create profitable vegetable and berry operations. The 2-and-a-half-year project combines a yearly seven-workshop “Winter School” series and one-on-one technical assistance (TA) to provide 130 beginning and Latino farmers with the critical conservation, agronomic, and finance training, tools, and resources needed to sustain and scale up operations. The one-on-one TA is part of a continuum of services that begins with workshops and existing client relationships, empowering farmer action to address individual business needs. The Winter School workshops will cover the following topics: Finance and Conservation Introduction/Intake; Farm Planning, Soil Sampling, and Nutrient Management; Water Management and Regulations, Erosion Control; Crop Production, IPM, Food Safety; Business Accounting and Product Marketing; Securing Financing; and Crop Insurance and Recordkeeping.
  • The partnership with the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association will continue and expand the Local Produce Safety Initiative in 2012 to help small diversified specialty crop growers pass a USDA Good Agricultural practices audit.
  • Community Alliance with Family Farmers’ (CAFF) project will host and participate in workshops with the goal to explain Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) rules and good agricultural practices throughout California in collaboration with University of California Cooperative Extension and other organizations, focusing primarily on small and minority specialty crop farmers who may have a qualified exemption from FSMA and who typically cannot afford food safety consultants. CAFF expects to directly reach 600 farmers in workshops, 50 farmers through one-on-one support, 50 growers in 2 webinars, and 100 growers from previous contacts. The project will develop materials appropriate to the audience in collaboration with the University of California, Davis and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. The Food and Drug Administration will approve the materials. The webinars will be posted online with all other materials, and CAFF will make the information available to organizations and growers around the country. The major outcome will be that these growers will learn about and understand FSMA rules, food safety threats, and third-party audits for good agricultural practices certification.
  • The partnership with Georgia Organics seeks to provide technical workshops for lettuce growers on-farm during field days and farm tours, at the Georgia Organics annual conference, and at other key agriculture conferences addressing production, while integrating pest management, safe handling, organic certification training, and other related topics. Georgia Organics will also distribute and, when appropriate, develop new production resources to provide robust technical assistance workshops to lettuce growers.
  • The Interfaith Sustainable Food Collaborative project will increase marketing of specialty crops by establishing producer marketing relationships with faith-based institutions. The project will benefit local specialty crop producers who need additional marketing outlets to maintain economic viability. The project goals include: 1) Increase purchasing of local produce by promoting farmers’ products to more than 1,900 faith-based groups through outreach, technical assistance, training, resource materials, and conferences; 2) Develop 40 specialty crop marketing outlets including farm stands and Community Supported Agriculture ventures at faith-based sites; and 3) Offer 50 nutrition education workshops including cooking demonstrations integrated into sales and delivery dates to more than 850 individuals. The project builds on 3 years of experience in Sonoma and Marin Counties by expanding into Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. Partners include private farms, diverse faith-based groups, and government agencies.
  • The partnership with Michigan Farmers Market Association will increase Michigan families’ awareness of the abundance of Michigan specialty crops available at farmers markets and other retail venues to ultimately increase sales and consumption through marketing, promotion and consumer education.
  • The partnership with Michigan Integrated Food and Farming Systems (MIFFS) will create a user-friendly database documenting vetted examples of on-farm food safety practices and linking them to associated best practices for complying with the Food Safety Modernization Act standards, GAP certification, conservation of natural resources, and USDA cost share opportunities.
  • The Growing for Success project is a collaborative effort of the National Center for Appropriate Technology to increase the sale of specialty crops to Montana institutions. This project builds on the materials created and the lessons learned in the current school-based Montana Harvest of the Month program, where participating schools promote one locally grown item each month by serving it in a meal, offering a taste test, and doing educational activities in classes and the cafeteria.
  • The partnership with Northeast Organic Farming Association will enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops through educating farmers on high tunnel techniques and practices that use certifiably organic methods.
  • The partnership with the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Rhode Island (NOFA/RI) seeks to enhance the viability of certified organic and beginning farmers by providing advanced technical training through a series of Advanced Grower Training Seminars, technical support provided by local Farm Advisors, and a series of On-Farm Workshops demonstrating organic techniques.
  • The partnership with Oregon Tilth seeks to help Oregon specialty crop producers make successful transitions to certified organic production and access growing opportunities in high-demand organic markets. Project activities will include farmer workshops, field days, an online information and support network for transitioning producers, and an assessment of needs for education on the economics of transition.
  • The Practical Farmers of Iowa project will improve the competitiveness of specialty perennial crops in Iowa through farmer-to-farmer education and farmer networks.

A full list of the SCBGP awardees is available on AMS’ website.

Categories: Food Safety, Grants and Programs, Local & Regional Food Systems, Research, Education & Extension

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