Illinois Dept. of Agriculture gets grant from USDA - WREX.com – Rockford’s News Leader

Illinois Dept. of Agriculture gets grant from USDA

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SPRINGFIELD (WREX) -

Twelve projects throughout the state will benefit from $634,000 in grant money given to the Illinois Department of Agriculture by the United States Department of Agriculture.

The USDA's Specialty Crop Block Grant Program will help the IDOA increase the availability of fresh, local produce as well as strengthen Illinois' specialty crop industry. Although the state is most known for corn and soybeans, it is also among the top ten states for the growth of specialty crops like asparagus, cauliflower, green peas, and lima beans. Illinois is also the nation's top producer of pumpkins and horseradish.

"I'd like to thank the USDA for recognizing the importance of expanding access to nutritious, locally-grown foods and providing us these funds," Acting Director of Agriculture Bob Flider said. "They will raise awareness about the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables that are available here and help consumers make food choices that improve not only their health, but also the health of their local economy."

If Illinois increases the amount of money spent on state-grown food to ten percent of the statewide total, an additional $20 billion would be generated in new economic activity every year, according to the Illinois Food, Farms and Jobs Council. The council also says the increase in spending would create jobs in farming and the food industry that would help revitalize rural and urban communities.

The following recipients will benefit from the grant through partnerships:

  • The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to help enhance the safety of locally-grown produce by assessing microbial profiles on produce farmers' markets and recommending practices for handling to help minimize the risk of microbial contamination
  • The Land Connection to implement a social media campaign that will use blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms to educate consumers on specialty crop growers
  • The CBS Community Partnership Division for a targeted multimedia campaign focusing on the importance and availability of local specialty crops
  • The Illinois Stewardship Alliance to created a campaign to promote local specialty crops to restaurants and help develop resources for farms to understand regulatory requirements
  • Illinois grocers and farmers' markets to start a marketing campaign for Illinois specialty crops through the buy local program, "Illinois Where Fresh is..."
  • The Illinois Specialty Growers Association to hold a conference to educate Illinois specialty crop growers on current food safety requirements, matching funds will also be used to cover expenditures for non-specialty crop commodities
  • The Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association to teach best management practices to grape growers through hands-on and online continuing education opportunities
  • The Experimental Station to educate low-income urban residents how to grow, prepare, and enjoy specialty crops by giving at-market, in-school, after-school and summer educational programming
  • The Gary Comer Youth Center to give urban youth additional education on the nutritional value of specialty crops
  • The Ag in Progress Partnership to facilitate and educational program for FFA members to discuss the intricacies of honeybee biology and behavior
  • Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom to support development of a new "Specialty Crops Ag Mag"
  • The Illinois Horseradish Growers Association to identify new, viable varieties that are whiter, bigger, and last longer without sacrificing flavor
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