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Grant aims to enhance local produce

By Ben Kerns | Indiana Daily Student

The U.S. Department of Agriculture would like people to eat their veggies.

Under the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, the Indiana State Department of Agriculture received $382,302 to help support healthy eating and increase the production of specialty crops, which are defined as fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and horticulture and nursery crops.

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan recently announced the distribution agreements of a $49 million grant.

The purpose of the grant is to spur economic opportunity by developing local food systems for the “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative, Merrigan said in a press release.

Amy Eizinger-Ott, grants coordinator for the ISDA, said they already have the projects in mind that will receive the funds.

“We are awarded funds, and we try to find projects around the state that focus solely on specialty crops and award them funds to accomplish their goals,” she said.

Projects to receive the funds in Indiana include efforts to produce a tourism directory for visitors to the state that will list local farmers markets and wineries, as well as funds that were awarded to Christmas tree growers, Eizinger-Ott said.

Funds were also made available to the Local Growers Guild in Bloomington.

The Guild, a co-operative  of farmers and retailers dedicated to strengthening the local food economy, was awarded funds for its Backpack Buddies program.

Assistant Director Katie Zukof said the program will fill children’s backpacks with fruits and vegetables for the weekend, along with information on how to properly prepare the foods in order to improve healthy eating habits for children. 

“The program creates 10-pound packages that they can give to low-income children on Friday so that they can have a good food source over the weekend,” Board Treasurer Bobbi Boos said. “It will get more local produce into those backpacks.”

Boos said that a portion of the funds will also support the Bloomington Kitchen Incubator.

The BKI is a non-profit organization that emphasizes the need for producing fresh, local goods, she said. 

The BKI will use the money to influence local retailers and try to get them to sell more local, fresh produce, she said and they will conduct market research on how to get retailers to begin using local produce in their canned foods and deli foods. 

Eizinger-Ott said the USDA awards money to states based on the amount of specialty crops they produce, Indiana has a pretty low percentage, she said, but the money still helps.

“It’s a great resource for specialty crop producers to find some additional resources to support their production,” Eizinger-Ott said.

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