The Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) today announced the recipients of federal grants that will fund projects designed to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops in Maryland. Specialty crops are: fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops. Funding for the grants came through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, which was authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill.

“We are pleased to announce awardees of the Maryland Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. The 2014 Farm Bill provided significant grant funding dedicated to specialty crops to become available,” said Agriculture Secretary Buddy Hance. “These funds are a great opportunity to help farmers and value-added producers advance and promote local specialty crops in the marketplace, spark new markets, healthy eating and job creation.”

MDA created a competitive grant process with a review committee to award these federal funds. The following is a snapshot of the funded projects:

Future Harvest – CASA – $48,222 – Future Harvest’s Foodshed Field School will offer on-site, peer-to-peer educational programming to improve the growing, marketing, and sourcing of specialty crops in Maryland. The school’s specialty crop educational track will begin with a series of sessions on fruit and vegetable production and marketing at Future Harvest’s annual conference in January 2015, and run through the year’s seasons with workshops, intensives, tours, field days, and trainings.

Maryland Department of Agriculture – $421,800

  • Continue to strengthen consumer awareness of local specialty crops and connect specialty crop farmers with markets through seasonal promotions of Maryland specialty crops via mass media,, direct partnerships with Maryland specialty crop associations such as the Mar-Del Watermelon Association and Maryland Apple Promotion Board, and other strategic promotional avenues;
  • Continue to mitigate specialty crop food safety risks by reducing barriers to implementing Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) programs though specialty crop producer technical assistance, training programs, one-on-one assistance on developing GAP programs, and USDA GAP and USDA Harmonized GAP audit certification cost share assistance; 
  • Statewide middle and high school cooking competition designed to offer youth the opportunity to learn skills in recipe development, food preparation, marketing, public presentation, demonstrations, organization, teamwork, community involvement and food safety of fruits and vegetables; 
  • Perform pre-award and post-award activities to administer Specialty Crop Block Grant Program funding and ensure that the State Agency and sub-awardees abide by Federal and State requirements and regulations.

Maryland State Horticultural Association – $18,247.58 – Increase consumer awareness of Maryland-grown peaches and their nutrient and dietary value through promotion/display materials, newsletters and the media.

University of Maryland – $16,247 – Test an innovative strategy for local lettuce production using heat tolerant romaine lettuce cultivars grown with a series of locally produced vermicomposts, composts produced using earthworms.

USDA announced a total of $118 million in specialty crops grants that will support 838 initiatives across the country and four territories to strengthen markets and expand economic opportunities for local and regional producers. For more information.