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Posts tagged: Specialty Crop Block Grant Program

Planting Seeds for New Careers for our Veterans

Veterans Farm founder Adam Burke taking AMS Veteran Program Manager Yowei Peralta on a tour of the organization’s blueberry farm

Veterans Farm founder Adam Burke (dark jeans and blue shirt) takes AMS Veteran Program Manager Yowei Peralta (khakis and white shirt) on a tour of the organization’s blueberry farm. Each plant bears a military Identification tag of a veteran that participated in the fellowship program. Photo Courtesy of Veterans Farm.

Tucked away in the countryside of Jacksonville, Fla., is a place that offers hope and opportunity for returning veterans. Veterans Farm, a 19-acre handicap-accessible farm that helps veterans learn how to make a living from farming and find healing in the land, opened its doors in 2009. Its founder, Adam Burke, an Iraq combat veteran and Purple Heart recipient, is utilizing his skills to create a unique environment where veterans can develop agriculture skills that can help them become effective farmers or ranchers.  USDA is partnering with Veterans Farm to conduct quarterly workshops to connect these veterans to key departmental resources that can plant the seeds for their new agricultural careers.

I recently attended one of these workshops to introduce our veterans to my agency – the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). In particular, I talked about opportunities to strengthen the local food sector via AMS’ Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (which includes the Local Food Promotion Program and the Farmers Market Promotion Program) as well as the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. I also talked about our recent partnership with the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to begin a series of grant-writing workshops to help potential grant applicants write successful grant applications. Read more »

Grant it, Food Hubs Mean More Local Food for You

Mix of bright vegetables

Spring is now upon us and many local farmers markets are opening with displays of brilliant and vibrant colors. Farmers across the country are making local foods available to their communities. USDA photo courtesy of Peter Wood, AMS.

Spring is upon us and many local farmers markets are opening with displays of brilliant and vibrant colors. The fresh air has more people talking about and buying local foods. In fact, data from the USDA Economic Research Service suggests that farmers across the country sold an estimated $6.1 billion in locally marketed foods in 2012. My agency, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), plays a role in increasing these numbers by creating marketing opportunities for American farmers and local food businesses through the combination of applied research, technical services, and grant support.

As the demand for local food increases, food hubs are one way farmers can deliver more fresh food to retailers, schools, hospitals and restaurants. That’s why expanding local food efforts have focused on creating more food hubs. A food hub is an enterprise that helps farmers collect and gather local and regional agricultural products for distribution and marketing to wholesale, retail, and institutional customers. Read more »

Taking a Bite out of the Local Apple in the Windy City

The Chicago Public Schools System has incorporated locally-grown produce into school menus, providing students with fresh, healthy food. (Administrator Anne Alonzo, 4th from right) USDA Photo Courtesy of Peter Wood.

The Chicago Public Schools System has incorporated locally-grown produce into school menus, providing students with fresh, healthy food. (Administrator Anne Alonzo, 4th from right) USDA Photo Courtesy of Peter Wood.

March is National Nutrition Month, and local food plays an important role in providing Americans with fresh, healthy fuel for their bodies. From farmers to financiers to schools and hospitals, there is a lot of passion for sharing good food by supporting strong local and regional food systems. I experienced this firsthand during my trip to Chicago, Ill., where I spoke at last week’s Good Food Festival & Conference.

The trip came on the heels of a recent announcement that USDA is making $97 million available to expand access to healthy food and support rural economies.  Grants from my agency — the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) – make up over $90 million of that funding.  AMS was a sponsor and exhibitor at the trade show, where we shared information with stakeholders about the many resources we have to support local and regional food systems. Through our Specialty Crop Block Grant Program and Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (comprised of the Farmers Market Promotion Program and the Local Food Promotion Program), AMS supports producers, local food entrepreneurs, and rural and urban communities across the country. Read more »

Celebrating the Blueberry – A Fruit and an Industry That Really Packs a Punch

In addition to purchasing blueberries for federal food distribution programs, AMS supports the blueberry industry through grant programs like the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. This program offers funds to states to support research and marketing projects that do things such as increasing crop yields. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council.

In addition to purchasing blueberries for federal food distribution programs, AMS supports the blueberry industry through grant programs like the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. This program offers funds to states to support research and marketing projects that do things such as increasing crop yields. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council.

Blueberries are often highly sought after because of their long list of health benefits and their sweet taste. Whether purchased fresh, frozen, or pureed, the blueberry has long been a staple in the diets of many people. Every July, the entire nation celebrates Blueberry Month by coming up with creative recipes and other unique ways to get their fill. Here at USDA, every month is Blueberry Month. One of the ways that we show our appreciation for our nation’s blueberry producers and processors is by creating more opportunities for people to enjoy this delicious fruit.

Indigenous to North America, the history of blueberries can be traced all the way back to Native Americans, who added them to soups, stews, and even meats. Highbush or cultivated blueberries are grown on large bushes that are planted in rows. These blueberries are often sent to the fresh market. Lowbush or wild blueberries produce smaller sized berries and are pruned every couple of years. The majority of lowbush blueberries are processed into items like jams, jellies and baked goods. Read more »

Secretary’s Column: Farm Bill Supports Specialty Crop Growers, Improves Access to Healthy Food

The 2014 Farm Bill has already set in motion and accomplished so much for our country. With historic support for specialty crop producers across the country, the bill will touch every one of our lives through one of the most basic of human needs: food.

Specialty crops make up the bulk of what we eat—all of our fruits and vegetables, tree nuts and dried fruits—as well as things like cut flowers and nursery crops. They are half of MyPlate at every meal, and the daily source for most of our vitamins and nutrients. For many in rural America, these crops not only provide nutrition, they are also a primary source of income.

For nearly a decade, USDA supported specialty crop growers across the country through the Specialty Crop Block Grant (SCBG) program. These grants enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops, sustain the livelihood of American farmers, and strengthen rural economies. Read more »

Acting Local, Growing Global for Good Food

From left to right: Deborah Kane, USDA Farm to School Program; Tim Snyder, Seeds of Change; Leslie Fowler, Chicago Public Schools; Anne Alonzo, AMS Administrator; Jim Slama, FamilyFarmed.org; Paul Saginaw, Zingerman's; Ken Waagner, e.a.t.; and Tom Spaulding, Angelic Organics Learning Center.  The Good Food Festival & Conference is the oldest sustainable and local food trade show in America.

From left to right: Deborah Kane, USDA Farm to School Program; Tim Snyder, Seeds of Change; Leslie Fowler, Chicago Public Schools; Anne Alonzo, AMS Administrator; Jim Slama, FamilyFarmed.org; Paul Saginaw, Zingerman's; Ken Waagner, e.a.t.; and Tom Spaulding, Angelic Organics Learning Center. The Good Food Festival & Conference is the oldest sustainable and local food trade show in America.

For over a century, my hometown of Chicago has been a cultural, financial, and agricultural hub.  And as a hub, it has a long history of supporting innovation and opportunity.  From the first cattle drives came the great Chicago Stockyards that supplied meat to the nation.  From the early trading of the Chicago Butter and Egg Board came the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. The city’s richly-woven tapestry of cultural diversity and the success of its food businesses prove Chicago’s value as an ideal business cultivator.

That is why it was so fitting that AMS Deputy Administrator Arthur Neal and I were invited to present at the Good Food Festival & Conference in Chicago on March 14. Hosted by Jim Slama of FamilyFarmed.org, the event is the oldest sustainable and local food trade show in America. Each year it brings together stakeholders including farmers, entrepreneurs, policy makers, and food industry representatives. Read more »