CRANSTON, RI – In an effort to help Rhode Island farmers, food producers, and the state’s agricultural sector grow and develop a healthy, sustainable future, U.S. Senator Jack Reed today announced $270,000 in Specialty Crop Block Grants.  Administered at the federal level by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), these federal funds will be awarded to several projects designed to grow Rhode Island’s ‘specialty crop’ sector, which include fruits, vegetables, and horticulture and nursery crops.

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and a half dozen non-profits will harness the federal USDA funds to expand the availability of fresh, locally-grown produce, strengthen the state’s specialty crop industry, and promote Rhode Island grown produce to a broader audience. 

“This has been a tough time for Rhode Island farmers and small-scale food producers.  It’s imperative that the federal government do its part to support local farmers and food networks.  This federal funding will help promote buy-local initiatives and enhance the competitiveness and marketing of Rhode Island grown produce.  It will also help develop distribution channels for specialty crops, and support sustainable farming methods, training, and best practices,” said Senator Reed, a member of the Appropriations Committee.

In order to qualify for the competitive USDA specialty crop grants, projects had to demonstrate a benefit to the industry as a whole, rather than one product, individual, or organization.

The specialty crop grants being awarded this year in Rhode Island include:

$38,559 for Southside Community Land Trust (SCLT) to provide outreach and education to 31 farmers in order to enhance the competitiveness of up to four specialty crops in low-income Rhode Island communities.  The project will identify crops where there is significant consumer demand but low supply.  SCLT will work with farmers to develop demonstration plots to successfully grow the new crops.  SCLT will provide field tours and training resources to encourage 12 farmers to begin production of at least one new crop during the term of the grant and projects 2,400 consumers to benefit from access to these new, high demand crops.

$37,089 for Farm Fresh Rhode Island to use farmer, chef, and classroom-based training to connect culinary students with the skills and resources necessary to become local food advocates in their schools and future careers.  These trainings will provide educational experiences that bring more local food into schools and empower the next generation with the skills they need to purchase, prepare, and cook specialty crops.

$32,541 for the RI Farm Incubator to disseminate and share new and cutting-edge integrated cropping techniques appropriate for use by small scale, organic, and beginning growers in the region.  The Incubator will create and facilitate a collaborative regional information network across small farms in Rhode Island to increase efficacy of and adoption of integrated cropping methods.  Methods like stale bed preparation including the use of cover crops are critical to move carbon to the soil, decrease erosion, decrease nuisance plants, mitigate the effects of drought as well as reduce the amount of nitrogen fertilizer required to grow specialty vegetables.

$29,987 to the Rhode Island Food Policy Council (RIFPC) to help build a more equitable, accessible, economically vibrant, and environmentally sustainable food system in Rhode Island.  RIFPC’s efforts are focused on ensuring all Rhode Island residents have access to culturally appropriate, affordable food by addressing the most pressing needs across farming, fishing, food processing, distribution, consumption, and waste management.

$22,260 for the Rhode Island Fruit Growers Association (RIFGA) to install and maintain four weather stations throughout Rhode Island which will be linked to Cornell’s Network for Environment and Weather Applications (NEWA), allowing Rhode Island specialty crop growers to make timely and accurate Integrated Pest Management (IPM) decisions based on real time, on-the-ground conditions, accurate to the area of management.

Additionally, DEM will use $59,413 to support RI Grown, DEM’s marketing toolkit which seeks to help get more home-grown food on the table.  And DEM will direct an additional $28,042 to its Specialty Crop Block Grant “Enhancing Market Access” projects.  DEM says the need for new markets and assistance in joining those new markets is at an all-time high due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As new local markets are on the rise in Rhode Island, technical assistance like this project will be used to allow Rhode Island farmers access to those newly formed market opportunities.

Lastly, the Rhode Island Division of Agriculture will use $28,042 in order to ensure compliance with the law.

Last year Senator Reed helped appropriate $375,000 in stimulus funds for Rhode Island specialty crop grants in response to the pandemic’s impact on the food system.  DEM announced a process for distributing a portion of these funds and priority is given to projects responding to problems caused by the pandemic, including supply chain disruptions.

Earlier this month, DEM began accepting applications from farmers and small-scale producers whose operations were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic to award specialty crop ‘mini-grants’ ranging in size from $2,500 to $10,000.  DEM will award these federal dollars to support Rhode Island farmers and food businesses, with DEM noting that mini-grants must fit within one of three funding areas:

  1. COVID-related expense relief: A part of this funding will be used to assist businesses, organizations, and individuals with eligible expenses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  2. Produce safety: This grant can help defray the costs of implementing on-farm food safety practices to help growers transition to compliance with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule and/or meet market demands for on-farm food safety. This can include improvements to irrigation systems that mitigate risk associated with agricultural water use in lieu of current drought conditions.
  3. Digital media: This grant can provide funding for modernization and access to digital media for eligible entities. It is meant to increase/improve a producer's market access.

Applicants may apply for mini-grants now through the end of the year at: