The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Monday it is dedicating more than $52 million to funding five grant programs to boost the nation’s organic industry as well as its local and regional food systems and markets. The move comes as consumers have become unprecedentedly aware of the provenance of their food as well as the conditions under which it was produced, turning away from big food producers and toward smaller markets and more local providers.
"Local and regional food systems are one of the pillars of our efforts to revitalize rural economies," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said at the Virginia State Fair Monday, according to a USDA statement. "Consumers are increasingly demanding more local and organic options. Investing in local and regional food systems supports the livelihoods of farmers and ranchers, especially smaller operations, while strengthening economies in communities across the country.”
Most of the new grants announced Monday were included in the 2014 Farm Bill, and as the first disbursement to local and organic providers in the landmark agricultural law, they will provide an economic boost to the nation’s booming farmers’ markets. Since 2008, the number of farmers’ across the U.S. has increased 76 percent to 8,268, the New York Times reported.
The grants will strengthen “organic and local and regional food systems through projects that recruit and train farmers, expand economic opportunities, and increase access to healthy foods,” the USDA said. They provide funding for marketing of farmers’ markets and local foods, research on organics, community food projects and more.
The USDA will be doling out $125 million to the organic industry in the next five years to conduct research, and $50 million for conservation efforts, the Times reported.
“It’s a really nice bump for us because we’ve been getting chump change for research,” Mark Kastel, co-founder of the Cornucopia Institute advocacy group, told the Times.
Some $30 million each year will be dedicated to marketing farmers’ markets while $70 million is being provided via block grants to fund research on produce.
Click here for more details about the individual grant awards to be funded by the $52 million outlay, information about how to apply for them and the criteria used to select which applicants will receive them.