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USDA Plants the Seeds to Help Mississippi Grow

This September we announced the 2010 awards for our Specialty Crop Block Grants (SCBG), a program geared toward increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables by offering grants to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops.

The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), which administers the program, funds projects across a broad spectrum of activity, such as research related to increasing crop yields, state marketing campaigns like “Minnesota Grown,”  and improving supply chain management for emerging local and regional food systems.  These grants can propel burgeoning projects to the next level and help drive local economies and assist farmers.  In many cases producers have benefited by diversifying their farms to include specialty crops, such as blueberries and pistachios, to meet consumer demand.

The SCBG program is administered to assist the specialty crop industry in all 50 states, Washington, DC, and three US territories, a practice that has yielded great results in areas not traditionally identified with growing fruits and vegetables.  For example, Mississippi, a state traditionally known for its tobacco and cotton row crops, saw its number of farmers markets balloon from 18 in 2004 to 47 in 2010, according to our Farmers Market Directory.

In response to this consumer demand for fresh and local foods, the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce applied for a series of specialty crop block grants. Grant funds helped the state hold educational workshops from 2007-2009 that highlighted the benefits of selling specialty crops in farmers’ markets.  As a result, farmers market managers attending these workshops reported a nearly 50% increase in the availability of specialty crops at their markets.

Picking blueberries in Mississippi.

Picking blueberries in Mississippi.

Funds also helped coordinate a marketing campaign to promote selling specialty crops in the state’s farmers markets.  Effective radio, print, and television ads educated consumers about specialty crops and drew more customers to a downtown market.

“We are proud to help states develop their specialty crop industries and increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Trista Etzig, AMS Specialty Crop Block Grant Project Manager.  “We have a great working relationship with these states and territories and look forward to continued success with this program.”

Specific grant awards made to Mississippi and other states and territories can be viewed here.

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