Farmers to get help from $400K through USDA

More than $400,000 has been awarded to Rhode Island to support farmers affected by the coronavirus pandemic in an effort to expand the growth of specialty crops.

The state received $137,983 in grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help farmers recover from the pandemic, which includes money to update their operations to meet more stringent guidelines for food safety. The money can be used to defray the costs of implementing safety practices to increase compliance with the Food Safety Modernization Act.

The money also can be used for digital marketing and irrigation systems.

The remaining $270,000 is to help farmers expand market access for fruits, vegetables, tree nuts and nursery crops. The USDA awarded this money through its Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.

“These grants support Rhode Island’s efforts to improve the resiliency of our food systems, which helps provide the people of our communities with greater access to local, nutritious and affordable food,” Gov. Dan McKee said. “Consumers and food producers alike benefit from a more local, sustainable and resilient food supply chain.”

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, a Jamestown resident, helped secure the money to expand specialty crops. The aid will be administered by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management.

“This federal funding will be a big help to Rhode Island farmers and small-scale specialty food producers,” he said. “It will continue to enhance the competitiveness and marketing of Rhode Island grown produce. It will also help develop distribution channels for specialty crops, and support sustainable farming methods, training, and best practices.”

Terry Gray, the state’s environmental director, said his agency is committed to “working to connect consumers with locally grown food to support Rhode Island farmers, food businesses, and our environment.” The money, he said, will help “offset losses and diminished sales incurred from the pandemic” and promote “the long-term viability of our state’s agriculture.”

According to the USDA, one of the projects that will benefit from the federal aid ($41,723) is the establishment of RI Grown Week, which is a weeklong celebration highlighting specialty crops grown in the Ocean State. This is an offshoot of the RI Grown program, which was first launched in 2009, with the statewide “Get Fresh, Buy Local” marketing campaign.

Watson Farm on North Road is among the food producers in the RI Grown program, which aims to help growers distinguish products grown in the Ocean State by using a common logo. The logo “seeks to heighten recognition and highlight Rhode Island grown products to both consumers and wholesale buyers.”