When I go to the grocery store or visit my local farmers market, on the top of my shopping list are healthy foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, dried fruits, and nuts. I know that these items, part of a larger agricultural group classified as specialty crops, are a critical component of maintaining a healthy diet and that it is important for me to include them in my family’s meals. Making sure that all Americans have access to healthy foods like specialty crops is a priority for me and for the USDA.
That’s why I am thrilled to announce that the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) awarded grants to all 50 states, the District of Columbia and 4 U.S. territories. These grants will be used to support 740 projects that encourage the production and consumption of specialty crops across the U.S. That means specialty crop producers will be able to expand their marketing efforts or alleviate some of their production costs. Others will increase education efforts, telling people about the importance of consuming fresh fruits and vegetables and other healthy foods. These grants will create tremendous opportunities for American specialty crop producers.
When I look at the innovative proposals for some of these projects, I see newly established partnerships that will create new markets for American agriculture and help solidify local and regional markets. The local producer in Oklahoma can learn how to place their products in schools after following a business model that Copper Bear Farms will create with the help of one of the state-awarded grants. Some states will partner with local organizations to eliminate food deserts by developing community gardens or providing funding to a struggling food bank. In other proposals organizations will partner with their local farmers market to increase the number of vendors or even add a new area where they can sell their products.
In addition to the improved outlook created by these grants, pending trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea may soon offer specialty crop producers additional outlets for their crops. Passage of these agreements could lead to $2.3 million gained via exports, supporting nearly 20,000 jobs in the U.S.
USDA is proud to support the specialty crop industry and help increase America’s access to healthy foods. Take a look at our Specialty Crop Block Grant Program page to see how some of these projects will improve your community.