2012-05-10 / Editorial

From the State House


Greetings friends and neighbors. Hope this spring finds you planting your gardens and enjoying the farmers markets.

The governor recently signed into law a bill I sponsored on behalf of the state Department of Environmental Management called the “Rhode Island Local Agriculture and Seafood Act.”

The agriculture and fishing sectors have become real economic engines in our economy. We tend to think of economic development as growing jobs inside a plant or building, but Rhode Island’s “green” and “blue” industries are the heartbeat of our outdoor economy.

After all, we are the Ocean State, and there are 1,200 farms in Rhode Island, up 42 percent from 2002, according to the U.S. Census of Agriculture.

When you factor in farming, nurseries, fishing, golf courses, florists and parks, the economic impact is well over $1.7 billion to our state’s economy, according to the URI Department of Environmental and Natural Resources. They just completed a comprehensive economic impact study on Rhode Island’s green-related industries.

Rhode Island’s agriculture and fishing sectors have become real bright spots in our economy. That’s the reason for sponsoring this legislation.

The two main pieces of the law are the creation of the Interagency Food and Nutrition Policy Advisory Council, and the Local Food Promotion Program.

The state plays a huge role in supporting and advocating for healthy, local, food production and consumption. Why? Because the state has significant buying power and the ability to lead by example in what it buys, serves and promotes.

The advisory council will take a look at how the state markets and promotes healthy food through programs at the Department of Health, DEM, and other state agencies with meaningful initiatives around nutrition and food safety.

The second part of the law that’s really important is funding for farmers. Federal dollars for farmers are tied to rural areas, and by definition that leaves out a large portion of Rhode Island. We’re at a competitive disadvantage amongst larger farming states.

This state program will help fill the gap and ensure support for a sustainable local food system. The grant – up to $20,000 – comes from the federal government, private grants and donations, but no state taxpayer dollars. Programs include new farmer training, farm to schools, farm to hospitals. It’s farm to fork. “No farms, no food” is more than just a bumper sticker.

We must ensure the future viability of family farms so future generations can enjoy the benefits that family farms provide in growing and selling local produce.

Did you know that Rhode Island leads the nation in direct sales to consumers with farmers markets? Rhode Island farms had $6.3 million in direct sales to the public, representing 9.5 percent of all agricultural market sales. That makes Little Rhody No. 1 with farmers markets in the state’s urban, suburban and rural areas.

There’s also a demand for more seafood at many farmers markets since the fisherman’s collaborative – The Local Catch – is providing a sustainable, local seafood market.

Fishing and farming have always been a strong part of our community and economy in Jamestown. Now, Rhode Island’s green and blue industries are driving economic development and the outdoor economy in the state.

So, get fresh, buy local, and stay well.

Rep. Deb Ruggiero serves District 74 (Jamestown and Middletown) in the state House of Representatives. She’s an avid gardener, loves to cook what she grows, and buys at farmers markets.

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