Harrisburg, PA – Today, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture announced more than $2.45 million in federal grants awarded to 23 projects that will grow markets and increase the quality, safety and sustainability of the state's vegetable, fruit, nut and nursery specialty crops. Funding went toward projects in Berks, Centre, Chester, Dauphin, Indiana, Lawrence, Perry, and Philadelphia counties, all of which benefit growers statewide.
"Pennsylvania specialty crops feed our state, our nation and our planet," said Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding. "These grants increase profits and sustainability by increasing quality, protecting crops from pest, disease and climate threats, and helping growers attract and train the workforce they need to keep producing healthy, high quality crops to feed the world."
Federal Specialty Crop Block Grants are funded by the federal Farm Bill and awarded in a competitive process administered by the department. The federal definition of specialty crops includes horticultural products such as fruit, vegetables, tree nuts, culinary herbs and spices, medicinal plants and nursery crops.
The 23 projects funded include those that will grow the state's agriculture industry by improving food safety; battling disease, pest and climate threats; expanding farm markets in urban areas; assessing economics of growing hops to meet demands of the state's booming craft brew industry; protecting pollinators the state's agriculture industry relies on; harnessing the talents of youth and recruiting and retaining a culturally and ethnically diverse workforce.
Funded projects, grant amounts and project descriptions follow:
Rodale Institute -- $159,800 -- Evaluate yield and nutrient levels carried over and accumulated in soil, bean and broccoli crops in cropping systems that will include cereal crops. Rodale will disseminate results to stakeholders at grower meetings and field days.
Penn State Extension -- $58,472 -- Develop and deliver research-based training in English and Spanish for specialty crop growers focused on ways to reduce employee turnover and minimize contamination of fresh produce that can cause foodborne diseases.
Penn State University -- $216,943 – Evaluate effective biocontrols as vegetable and tomato crop protection alternatives to heavy reliance on synthetic pesticides that degrade the environment and threaten worker safety and public health.
Penn State University – $64,360 -- In partnership with PA Dept. of Agriculture Plant Pathology Labs -- evaluating pathogen threats introduced via international trade on crops including hops.
Penn State University -- $70,740 – Develop a technical tool to analyze the economic viability of and pelletized hops production and distribution on farms vs. centralized PA locations.
Penn State University -- $123,966 – Evaluating impacts of spotted lanternfly feeding damage including impact on grape yield, vine growth, and wine production.
Penn State University -- $63,288 – Heat-proofing and resilience for PA potato crops.
Penn State University -- $100,228 -- Enhancing mushroom yield and quality through farm modifications and novel pest management strategies.
Penn State University -- $147,753– Preparing Pennsylvania beekeepers for the spread and management of Africanized honeybees.
Penn State University -- $100,274 -- Develop an on-line bee identification expert system to be used by agricultural researchers, students, and government agencies to quantify the wild bee community pollinating fruit and vegetable crops in the Mid-Atlantic.
Penn State University -- $89,366 -- Investigate factors determining the chemical and sensory quality of ramps to maximize quality and understanding of consumer preferences.
The American Mushroom Institute -- $55,400 – Develop a new source of casing, the absorbent layer of peat that keeps mushroom soil moist, after loss of the primary North American and Canadian product source.
Pasa Sustainable Agriculture -- $85,575 -- Connect specialty crop growers with new and diverse markets by partnering with farmers as peer-to-peer educators to increase access to ecommerce technology, market discovery tools, and customer conversion solutions.
Pennsylvania Cooperative Potato Growers – $130,217 – In partnership with Penn State University and Sterman Masser Potatoes, Inc., evaluate and select potato varieties to replace Norwis for better yields and storage capabilities without sacrificing frying quality.
Pennsylvania Vegetable Marketing and Research Program -- $50,450 -- Further marketing strategies for Pennsylvania vegetables focused on PA Produce Month promotions partnering with restaurants, hosting Q&As with food experts and growers, creating educational and promotional web content for growers.
Good Agricultural Practices, Good Handling Practices and Mushroom-Specific GAP audit reimbursement – various growers -- $129,438 – PA Dept. of Agriculture will reimburse growers up to $500 for completing USDA's safe handling practices audits to decrease risks of food-borne illness in specialty crops.
Indiana County Conservation District -- $100,491 -- Demonstrate how to grow specialty crops by creating demonstration test plots at three locations to expand community knowledge of specialty crops and decrease food deserts.
The LEAF Project, Inc. -- $38,124 – Train youth from socially disadvantaged, diverse backgrounds to design, build and cultivate garden plots to increase neighborhood access to fresh foods in South Central PA.
The LEAF Project, Inc. -- $79,130 -- Implement the newly state-registered Diversified Vegetable Pre-Apprenticeship during the 2022 and 2023 growing seasons. Further develop curricular and training materials for youth in earn-as-you-learn, hands-on training.
Villa Maria Farm Center for Regenerative Agriculture -- $151,106 -- Project seeks to provide education focused on growing organic specialty crops to ten new and beginning farmers per year though in-person learning in demonstration gardens and virtual learning.
Juventud Campesinx del Futuro (Young Farmers of the Future) - $92,700 – Youth-led revitalization of El Batey urban farm, through the Norris Square Neighborhood Project, to increase community access to food celebrating Puerto Rican heritage.
The Food Trust – $50,000 -- Pilot the Pennsylvania Farm to Retailer Initiative to increase access to Pennsylvania produce at corner stores and school- and community-based farm stands in Philadelphia.
Strategic Contracting, Inc. -- $71,209 -- Plan and coordinate the 2023 PA Preferred Culinary Connection at the PA Farm Show, allowing local farmers and food suppliers to showcase their specialty crops to consumers.
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