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$4.6M Grant to Farm Fresh RI a Big Win for New England’s Food System

Courtesy Farm Fresh Rhode Island
Courtesy Farm Fresh Rhode Island

This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) announced a $4,628,765 grant awarded to local nonprofit Farm Fresh RI to expand its work increasing access to fresh, locally grown foods across New England. For Rhode Islanders who receive federal food assistance in the form of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits, this means more dollars to spend on fresh food. The grant is being used to increase Farm Fresh RI’s existing Bonus Bucks nutrition incentives program to offer an impressive 100% match for SNAP users at select Rhode Island farmers markets, CSAs, and farm stands — doubling the purchasing power of low-income Rhode Islanders to buy more nutritious foods and re-investing those federal dollars into the Rhode Island economy by directly supporting local growers and food businesses. As impactful as this one-to-one match is for the Ocean State, the grant has wide-reaching benefits across the New England region. Marking a new chapter in Farm Fresh RI’s work out of state, the grant now empowers Farm Fresh RI to support the nutrition incentives programs offered by Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont as well, through the creation of the New England Nutrition Incentive Collaborative (NENIC).

“We are very pleased that we were able to receive this funding, and support two key constituencies: local growers and our neighbors in need of nutrition assistance.” said Sheri Griffin, Co-Executive Director of Farm Fresh RI. “This connection is at the core of our mission. We are also very excited to support our colleagues across New England who are partners on this ambitious project.”

The grant awarded to Farm Fresh RI, administered by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) program and authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill, is the largest of 24 grants totaling $21M awarded nationwide by the USDA this week.

“Fresh, nutritious, and locally grown fruits and vegetables should be accessible to everybody, and I’m glad to see the USDA provide Farm Fresh RI the funding for this project,” said U.S. Senator Jack Reed. In May, Senator Reed wrote a letter to the USDA in support of Farm Fresh RI’s grant application. “The incentives NENIC will provide to encourage the purchase of healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables at farmers markets lead to healthier lifestyles for SNAP recipients while at the same time boosting our state’s agricultural economy. This is truly a win-win for Rhode Island. I congratulate Farm Fresh RI for receiving this funding, and I will continue my work to ensure that all Rhode Islanders have greater access to nutritious and affordable foods.”

Farmers markets play an important role in increasing the availability and accessibility of local foods. They offer more places for local farmers and producers to sell their products, and invite the local community to gather over a variety of fresh foods in their own neighborhoods. In summertime, over 40 farmers markets across Rhode Island not only provide eaters with a reliable source for nutritious, locally sourced options but help build community, protect greenspace, and grow the potential for job creation in Rhode Island by directing food dollars to marketplaces that support local farms and food businesses. Nutrition incentives, like Farm Fresh RI’s Bonus Bucks and the similar programs offered by other NENIC states, enable a greater percentage of the community to take part — putting fresh, local foods within reach by making the healthy choice an easier choice for people with limited food budgets.

“In some low-income neighborhoods, Farm Fresh Rhode Island markets are the only place where reasonably priced fruits and vegetables are sold,” said U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse.  “This significant federal grant will help more families use SNAP benefits at local farmers markets to put fresh, healthy food on the table.”

For many people across New England, nutrition incentives make the critical difference in being able to shop for fresh food at farmers markets. In 2017, 29 weekly farmers markets in Rhode Island accepted SNAP, impacting sales for 78 farms and 65 locally owned food producers. At these markets, Rhode Islanders spent over $105,000 in SNAP dollars, which went to local food businesses, and Farm Fresh RI distributed over $70,000 in Bonus Bucks nutrition incentives to families enrolled in SNAP and WIC programs in Rhode Island. With this new FINI grant, NENIC hopes to reach over 20,000 consumers at over 250 outlets across New England.

“As a SNAP participant and farmers market staff, I experience the benefits from both sides of the table,” explained Tara, a customer and employee at the Coastal Growers Market at Casey Farm in Saunderstown, RI. “Bonus Bucks enables me to purchase about 90% of my groceries from local growers and food artisans at the only place I want to shop: farmers markets. Educating the public about this incentives program and seeing the range of emotions it elicits—from surprise to excitement to deep gratitude—affirms my continuing dedication to increasing food access for all.”

To locate the many farmers markets in RI that accept SNAP and provide Bonus Bucks, community members can use the search tool provided by Farm Fresh RI at www.farmfreshri.org/ebt.


Breene Hollow Farm in West Greenwich Named 2018 Outstanding Rhode Island Dairy Farm

A family tradition: Melissa Breene Jordan and her husband, Matt Jordan run the 50-cow milking operation at Breene Hollow Farm. / DEM photo
A family tradition: Melissa Breene Jordan and her husband, Matt Jordan run the 50-cow milking operation at Breene Hollow Farm. / DEM photo

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) today announced that Breene Hollow Farm in West Greenwich has been named Rhode Island’s 2018 Outstanding Dairy Farm by the Rhode Island Green Pastures Committee of which DEM is a member.

“Rhode Island has a rich agricultural heritage and it’s important to recognize farmers who through business acumen, innovation, and long hard hours are contributing so much to our food supply, the economy, and their families and communities,” said Governor Gina M. Raimondo.

“Breene Hollow Farm is one of our state’s finest dairy farms and is most deserving of this special recognition,” said DEM Chief of Agriculture Ken Ayars. “Rhode Island has become a destination for agriculture and food tourism and food-related business incubation. Dairy farming, however, has experienced a decline in recent years in Rhode Island – as elsewhere nationally.  This award program shines an important light on the value of dairy farming to our state. Kudos to Breene Hollow Farm and the Green Pastures Committee for their commitment to the viability of this important local industry.”

DEM continues to work across many fronts to strengthen Rhode Island’s green economy and to promote local agriculture. The state’s green industries account for more than 15,000 jobs and contribute $2.5 billion to the economy each year. And local agriculture continues to be an area ripe for growth – with the number of farms in Rhode Island on the rise and a growing young farmer network. Breene Hollow Farm, a member of the Agri-Mark Cooperative and Rhody Fresh Milk, was selected for this year’s award because of the Breene family’s long-term commitment to dairy farming and community ties.

Kevin Breene established Breene Hollow Farm with 20 cows at his parents’ home in 1977 upon his graduation from the University of Connecticut. In 1980, he bought 150 acres of land at the farm’s present location in West Greenwich, and built a new free-stall barn and milking parlor. Over the years, several abutting properties were purchased, bringing the farm’s total acreage to 360 acres. The farm currently milks 50 cows and has 90 head in total consisting of registered Holsteins, Jerseys, and Ayrshires. Crops include 20 acres of corn and 45 acres of hay land and pasture. Corn silage is also purchased from a neighboring farm and the cows are fed a total mixed ration twice a day. The remainder of the farm is managed forestland with continual harvesting of firewood and saw logs. Manure is hauled daily to fields and spread in the spring and fall, and a manure storage facility designed by the Natural Resources Conservation Service is in use.

Breene Hollow Farm is operated by Kevin Breene, who does the crop work and cares for the young-stock; and his daughter, Melissa, and her husband, Matt, who run the milking operation. Melissa attended the University of Connecticut and Matt has a bachelor’s degree in forestry from Paul Smith College. Like Melissa, Matt also comes from a farming background and grew up working on his grandfather’s dairy farm.

The entire Breene family is actively involved in the community. Kevin has served as West Greenwich Town Administrator for the past 16 years and previously was a RI state senator for 12 years. He also is involved in 4-H, Future Farmers of America (FFA), Exeter Grange, and previously served as state chairman of the USDA’s Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service.  Melissa is the dairy chair and vice president of the local 4-H Fair and chair of the Young Farmers & Ranchers group for the RI Farm Bureau. She is a former 4-H member, past state vice president of FFA, and past president of Agri-Mark Young Co-operators. 

The Outstanding Dairy Farm of the Year award is sponsored by the New England Green Pastures Committee, made up of government and industry members. Membership in the committee is coordinated by the Rhode Island Agricultural Council and the DEM Division of Agriculture. Winning dairy farmers from each New England state will be honored on September 14 at the Big E Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield, Massachusetts.


Sons of Liberty Beer & Spirits Co. Wins World’s Best Wood Aged Beer at World Beer Awards

The Rhode Island Brewstillery’s Barrel Aged Uprising Stout Ale Prevailed Over 12 Other Country Winners

Sons of Liberty’s Barrel Aged Uprising Stout Ale
Sons of Liberty’s Barrel Aged Uprising Stout Ale

Sons of Liberty’s Barrel Aged Uprising Stout Ale won the title of World’s Best Wood Aged Beer at the prestigious World Beer Awards in London. First recognized as USA’s Best Wood Aged Beer in Round 1, the beer then beat out all other country winners for the style in Round 2 for the World’s Best title. Sons of Liberty also received a Gold Medal for Golden Sour and a Silver Medal for 3 Not So Wise Men – both in the Sour Ale category.

“Just earning a Gold is awesome, but to be named the best in the world for something…that’s truly an honor,” Wil Santiago, Head Brewer, said of the results. “We’re especially proud of this beer because it’s unique to who we are and what we do.”

Sons of Liberty’s flagship whiskey, Uprising, is distilled from a house-brewed stout beer. The winning beer was that same stout aged in barrels that once aged the Uprising whiskey. A barrel aged beer taking on flavors from the whiskey that it was originally distilled into is not something one comes across often.

“Since 2011 we’ve been brewing beers and distilling them into whiskies,” explained Head Distiller Chris Guillette. “Over the last 18 months, we’ve focused on crafting multiple generations of products from one mash bill, similar to a chef’s nose-to-tail style of cooking, use everything you have.”

The team at Sons of Liberty has released 12 different iterations of their Uprising stout mash including six different barrel aged beers. “One of the benefits of being a distillery is the number of barrels we have at our disposal,” said Sons of Liberty owner Mike Reppucci. “We have a lot of fun and interesting beers sitting in barrels that we’re really looking forward to sharing with everyone.”

On September 20th, Sons of Liberty’s Barrel Aged Uprising Stout Ale has the chance to be named World’s Best Flavored Beer as it competes in Round 3 against six other World’s Best style winners within the Flavored category. Sons of Liberty has earned over 100 awards for their spirits and company since 2012, but are now gaining more traction with their beer offerings.

Full results from the 2018 World Beer Awards (Round 1 & 2) can be found here: http://www.worldbeerawards.com/shares/Style-Winner-results.pdf

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