The projects address a range of agricultural priorities like food safety, producer education, plant pest research, and consumer connection to agriculture through farm-to-school curricula. The federal grants that support them are part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, authorized under the 2014 Farm Bill.
“Specialty crops have always been an important component of our commonwealth’s diverse agriculture industry, and this program encourages their growing presence in the state’s agriculture portfolio,” said Secretary Redding. “These investments in timely projects are contributing to a stronger Pennsylvania.”
Grant recipients are selected by a state-appointed specialty crop advisory board and approved by the state agriculture secretary. Applications are then collectively submitted for approval to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service.
Grant recipients include:
- American Mushroom Institute: $50,000 to bring the industry’s Mushroom Good Agricultural Practices (MGAP) program into compliance with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) produce rules and standards benchmarked under Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI)-recognized auditing programs;
- Chester County Economic Development Council, Temple University Fox School of Business, Penn State Extension, and Lundale Farm: $50,000 to identify and disseminate profitable and sustainable best practices for community-supported agriculture and direct-to-consumer business models for small produce farms in Southeastern Pennsylvania;
- Fair Food: $26,000 to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops through targeted marketing, promotion and education at the consumer and wholesale buyer-focused Philly Farm and Food Fest;
- Leadership, Education, and Farming (LEAF) Project: $20,000 to provide learning opportunities at two Cumberland County preschools that serve low-income populations through delivery of diverse specialty crops, on-farm education and hands-on cooking lessons;
- National Peach Council: $25,000 to develop a social media platform and marketing toolbox for peach marketers to increase awareness of locally- and regionally-produced peaches and their nutrient and dietary value;
- Pennsylvania Apple Marketing and Research Program: $30,000 to further identify methods for reducing listeria risks by exploring the use and effects of select antimicrobials on listeria populations on whole apples;
- Pennsylvania Farm Link: $20,000 to develop an online specialty crop resource hub with resource material to help enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops and provide assistance to farmers;
- Pennsylvania Maple Syrup Producers Council: $50,000 to gather information about Pennsylvania consumers in order to develop a comprehensive marketing plan to help the state’s maple syrup industry gain market share and grow the market for its maple products;
- Pennsylvania Vegetable Marketing and Research Program: $50,000 to provide live streaming and video recording of grower education events to benefit growers who cannot attend in person;
- Pennsylvania Winery Association: $40,000 to increase consumer engagement with wineries through timely and inspiring content highlighting Pennsylvania grape growers, vineyards and wineries by developing a PA Wines Publishing section on the re-designed Pennsylvaniawine.com;
- Rodale Institute, Landisdale Farm, Dickinson College Farm: $75,000 to research organic methods of reducing soil disturbance and compaction, decreasing weed competition, and improving biological soil activity in order to enhance organic crop yield and productivity;
- School District of the City of Erie: $20,000 to develop five school gardens that extend science curricula through outdoor, experiential learning, while responding to the growing need for the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables to the city’s residents; and
- Pennsylvania Co-Operative Potato Growers and Pennsylvania State University, with collaboration from Sterman Masser Inc., the Lehigh Valley Potato Growers Association, and Twin Maple Farms: $70,000 to conduct field and laboratory trials to evaluate and select high-quality colored-flesh and medium-sized potatoes under Pennsylvania growing conditions.
- $20,000 for the Center for Agricultural and Shale Law to conduct workshops to teach producers about federal and state labor laws that have potential applications to their operations,
- $45,000 to develop science-based methods of seed treatments combined with organic soil amendments in order to reduce pest damage to tomatoes and peppers,
- $40,000 for Penn State Extension to develop a standardized pesticide toxicity test protocol to help protect wild pollinators while maintaining pest control in tree fruit, and
- $50,000 for Penn State Extension to develop bilingual educational programming to increase the number of specialty crop growers and support more economical and sustainable methods by the next generation of fruit and vegetable producers.
- Provide free outreach events regarding USDA Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) audits and information on the FSMA Produce Rule as it relates to GAP,
- Provide cost-sharing support for GAP or Good Handling Practices (GHP) audits, and
- Promote the use of Pennsylvania specialty crops through the PA Preferred Culinary Connection at the 101st Pennsylvania Farm Show in January 2017.
This year the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded grants totaling $62.5 million for 693 projects in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and four U.S. Territories.