SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – The Illinois Department of Agriculture will receive an additional $209,000 in federal block grant funds next year to improve the competitiveness of the state’s specialty crop industry.
The department intends to use the funds to award “mini-grants” that expand markets for fresh produce grown in Illinois and is encouraging specialty crop growers to submit a proposal before the April 30 application deadline. More than $640,000 is available.
“I thank USDA for recognizing the importance of expanding access to nutritious, locally-grown foods and providing this funding increase,” Agriculture Director Tom Jennings said. “The grants will raise awareness about the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables that are available here and help consumers make food choices that improve not only their health, but also the health of their local economy.”
Proposed projects should accomplish one or more of the following industry objectives:
• Increase child and adult nutrition knowledge and consumption of specialty crops;
• Ensure industry participation at meetings of international standard-setting bodies in which the U.S. government participates;
• Improve efficiency and reduce costs of distribution systems;
• Assist all entities in the specialty crop distribution chain in developing “Good Agricultural Practices,” “Good Handling Practices,” “Good Manufacturing Practices,” and in cost-share arrangements for funding audits of such systems for small farmers, packers and processors;
• Invest in specialty crop research, including organic research to focus on conservation and environmental outcomes;
• Enhance food safety;
• Develop new and improved seed varieties and specialty crops;
• Improve pest and disease control; and
• Promote organic and sustainable production practices.
Projects that improve food access in underserved communities or expand local agricultural economies also are eligible for assistance. So, too, are advertising-related expenses to publicize farmers markets, as long as program requirements are met.
The Illinois Department of Agriculture will accept grant applications until 4 p.m. on April 30. Funds will be awarded early next year. Application forms and instructions can be obtained on the department’s website at www.agr.state.il.us or by calling (217) 524-9129.
The number of farmers markets in Illinois has nearly tripled, increasing from 97 in 1999 to nearly 300 today. Nationally, Illinois ranks first for its pumpkin production, and in the top ten in the production of many other specialty crops, such as asparagus, cauliflower, peas and lima beans.