Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced 55 grants totaling approximately $49 million for 745 projects to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops during a teleconference on Thursday. Merrigan said she was excited about these grants through the Specialty Crop Block Program, which show the connection USDA is making about local and regional agriculture.
"We have a new initiative called 'Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food'," Merrigan said. "We like to say not every family needs an accountant…not every family needs a lawyer, but every family needs a farmer."
Merrigan says apparently a lot of states agree with USDA's efforts as they had a phenomenal group of applications for funding this year. USDA selected projects that support local and rural agriculture interests, increase the competitiveness of small producers, and promote or create direct marketing opportunities for specialty crop producers.
"We also have a number of projects that we're announcing today that will benefit the nation's food safety," Merrigan said. "We're funding 59 projects, approximately $3.4 million, that will address food safety as it relates to specialty crops. Many of these projects emphasize training of specialty crop producers, manufacturers and distributors in areas of good agricultural practices; good handling practices; and providing cost-share opportunities to do the kind of audits that are now being demanded by the marketplace."
Joining Merrigan on the press call was Senator Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Representative Dennis Cardoza, D-Calif., and Delaware Secretary of Agriculture Ed Kee, who is currently president of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture.
"On behalf of NASDA and all the secretaries and commissioners across the country I just want to express how thankful we are to USDA and the Senate and Congressional leadership for making this a reality," Kee said. "This really, truly makes a difference at the local level. The grassroots nature of this program is incredibly valuable because it puts the resources right where our local farmers and local communities need it."
Merrigan said USDA is pleased to continue this partnership in every state across the country to support their diverse efforts to promote healthy eating and grow specialty crop markets by expanding access to fresh, local foods.