With the growing number of farmers markets springing up in Northwest Ohio and throughout the state and other outlets for producers to sell directly to the public, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is focusing more resources to assisting the producers of specialty crops.
Local offices of the Natural Resources Conservation Service are hosting an informational meeting Nov. 13 at 4 p.m. at the Sanger Branch Library, Central Ave., Toledo, to acquaint growers with the assistance the USDA can offer them.
Short-term contracts to assist growers with integrated pest management, pollinator habitat, irrigation, and other conservation practices will be discussed as well as technical and financial assistance.
The Food Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 defines specialty crops as “fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops.” According to the agriculture department, eligible plants must be “intensively cultivated and used by people for food, medicinal purposes, and/or aesthetic gratification to be considered specialty crops.”
“We are trying to support the movement that is already under way,” said Cheryl Rice, of the Lucas County Tom Vilsack, Josh Gerwin, The Ohio State UniversityNRCS office in Maumee. “We’re hoping to get producers there that are in need of some kind of technical help. We have a lot of folks who are interested in the farmers markets and direct-to-customer selling of whatever they’re growing. The USCS wants to assist them with protecting the soil as well as maintaining clean water.”
She said the conservation service recognizes there has been a trend in growers and consumers interacting directly, noting Community Supported Agriculture and similar ventures have also become popular in many locales.
“We’ve had a 10 or 15 percent growth in Ohio in farmers markets in the last three years,” Rice said. “It’s kind of exciting to have producers be able to diversify their operations and see what we can do to help them out. If I have five new community supported agriculture operations where they’re using land for something different than it was in the past, then I can help them with water management, for example, or maybe some other area where they’re having trouble.”
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack last month announced $101 million in grants to support specialty crops producers.
Nine Ohio projects were awarded grants totaling nearly $643,000, including a partnership with The Ohio State University to study E. coli O157 and other foodborne pathogens found in various soils used to produce small fruits and vegetables.
For information about the meeting contact local NRCS offices: Josh Gerwin, 419 898-6421; Mike Weaver, 419 337-9664, or Ms. Rice 419 893-1966.