Reed, Ag Leaders Announce $255,000 to Help Promote Ocean State Agricultural Products
Earth Day event highlights grant money to support RI food growers, facilitate healthier meals in schoolsU.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) today joined officials from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), the Rhode Island State Farm Service Agency (FSA), and Farm Fresh Rhode Island to celebrate Earth Day and announce new efforts to promote, research, and market Rhode Island agriculture. Reed announced a series of federal grants coming to Rhode Island to improve nutrition in schools and help increase demand and consumption of local, nutritious, and sustainable Rhode Island-grown food. This year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is making a $255,000 Specialty Crop Block Grant available to DEM and to food and other specialty crop growers for a variety of projects. Specialty crops make up the bulk of what we eat — all of our fruits and vegetables — as well as things like nursery crops. Past recipients of these federal grants include: Farm Fresh Rhode Island; the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Rhode Island; Beanhouses Inc.; and the University of Rhode Island Cooperative Extension. “There’s a lot people can do to protect the planet, like recycling and conserving energy. And another smart way to help Rhode Island’s environment and the economy is to buy local and support your local farms and farmers markets. Because supporting sustainable agriculture here in Rhode Island also supports a healthy economy,” said Reed, the Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior & Environment. “A thriving agricultural sector is critical for Rhode Island’s economy and our environment. Supporting local famers and farmers markets is a great way to celebrate Earth Day all year round. I commend DEM, FSA, Farm Fresh Rhode Island, their partners, and our farmers throughout the state who are at the forefront of efforts to plant, grow, and harvest in a sustainable manner that conserves resources and protects the environment. These federal funds will help enhance the production and competitiveness of Rhode Island-grown food and support local growers through marketing and education campaigns, and ‘buy local’ programs. ” “Earth Day reminds us that healthy farms and food systems are important, as are certain federal grant programs toward achieving that goal. The USDA Specialty Crop Block grant program has been essential to Rhode Island, providing over $1.7 million in federal funding to DEM since 2005 to support local specialty crop growers and programs, of which DEM has directed over $300,000 toward Farm Fresh RI to help build a better local food system,” said Ken Ayars, Chief of DEM’s Division of Agriculture. “Farm Fresh is very grateful to Senator Reed for facilitating these funds to support Rhode Island’s agricultural sector. Investments in our farm economy will create big returns for local job growth and economic development, as well as help Rhode Islanders choose fresh, healthy, local fruits and vegetables,” said Sheri Griffin, Co-Executive Director, Farm Fresh Rhode Island. DEM, which will award the federal funding to local grantees, notes there are more than 2,500 green industry businesses in Rhode Island, which help sustain 12,300 jobs and contribute $1.7 billion annually to our state’s economy. In addition to these economic benefits, Rhode Island’s agriculture industry also contributes to tourism, open space, quality of life, and access to local foods and horticultural products. Farm Fresh Rhode Island, which hosted today’s meeting at their warehouse in Pawtucket, discussed one of their key programs, the “Farm to School” project. The initiative empowers youth to think critically about the food they eat, to learn about nearby farms and how food is produced, and to taste for themselves healthy, fresh foods. Earlier this year, Farm Fresh Rhode Island received a $91,917 federal grant from the USDA to partner with Central Falls, Newport, and Providence School districts, in collaboration with the Rhode Island Training School, on a new “blast freezing” pilot program that will help serve up nutritious produce in more classrooms. Reed today also noted that Rhode Island is slated to receive a $93,191 School Food Service Equipment grant to help schools upgrade kitchen equipment as they seek to provide healthier school meals that meet updated nutrition standards, serving breakfast and lunches with more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein and low-fat dairy, and less sodium and fat. New guidelines took effect in the fall of 2012 under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. A 2014 report by the Pew Charitable Trusts and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that many Rhode Island schools lack the kitchen space and equipment to prepare the healthier meals, forcing them to rely on costly, inefficient workarounds. Reed has long supported legislation to help boost Rhode Island’s food economy. In 2004, Reed helped pass the Specialty Crops Competitiveness Act, which authorized the USDA to provide grants to state departments of agriculture for the purposes of enhancing the competitiveness of specialty crops. Reed is also a co-sponsor of the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act, which seeks to spur job creation by improving federal farm bill programs that support local and regional farm and food systems. The legislation also seeks to help farmers and ranchers engaged in local and regional agriculture by addressing production, aggregation, processing, marketing, and distribution needs, in addition to assisting consumers by improving access to healthy food and direct and retail markets. Many of the provisions of the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act were included in the Farm Bill passed by Congress earlier this year.