Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig today announced the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship has awarded over $220,000 in grants to help grow demand for Iowa’s specialty crops. The money will be distributed to ten partners to support programs that raise awareness about, drive demand or create new markets for Iowa’s specialty crops.
“The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of local food systems and increased consumer demand for locally-grown products,” said Secretary Naig. “The Department is pleased to offer grants that help specialty crop producers grow their operations, expand their distribution channels and diversify their product offerings to make it easier for consumers to purchase foods grown right here in Iowa.”
The specialty crop block grants will be awarded to the following organizations:
Ag Literacy Foundation – Promoting the Use of Lavender through Educational Outreach –To develop an agricultural curriculum, including hands-on activities, to teach students about lavender and help them understand how it can be used in a variety of bath and beauty products, including lip balm.
Iowa Food Co-op – Expanding and Diversifying Local Production of Specialty Crops through Increased Awareness, Education, and Sales – To increase the number of specialty crop producers participating in the food hub to provide a larger variety of produce to attract more consumers and drive sales.
Iowa Healthiest State Initiative – Increasing Consumption of Specialty Crops among Low-Income Iowans – To raise awareness about the Double Up Food Bucks program to encourage low-income Iowans to consume more fruits and vegetables.
Iowa State University – Enhancing Local Food Procurement and Education in Iowa SNAP-Ed Schools – To offer educational and technical assistance to help SNAP-Ed Schools connect with specialty crop producers so they can procure locally-grown produce and protein for their food service programs.
Iowa State University – Valorization of Cold-Hardy Grape Pomace – To optimize a sustainable drying method to convert cold-hardy grape pomace (residue) into grape pomace flour to create additional markets for Iowa grape growers.
Iowa Valley RC&D – “Choose Local” Campaign – To create a “Choose Local” social media and video campaign to educate and empower Iowa consumers to purchase locally-grown foods.
Iowa Wine Growers Association – Iowa Wine Country: Creating a Regional Wine Identity based on Locally-Grown Varietals – To make consumers aware of the varieties of grapes grown in Iowa, which will help create a regional wine identity and drive demand for Iowa-produced wines.
Lutheran Services of Iowa – Increasing Specialty Crop Grower Competitiveness through Collaborative Farming – To help farmers access land by creating collaborative farming models and working with landowners to develop unique lease agreements.
Practical Farmers of Iowa – Cultivating Knowledge and Shared Experience for Low-Till Vegetable Production in Iowa – To partner with Rodale Institute to research how low-till vegetable production affects soil health and weed pressure and present the findings to specialty crop growers during a two-day conference.
Rodale Institute – Cooperative Development and Demonstration of No-Till Vegetable Production in Iowa – To partner with Practical Farmers of Iowa to research how no-till vegetable production affects soil health and weed pressure and present the findings to specialty crop growers during a two-day conference.
The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship will also allocate funding to continue administering several specialty crop initiatives, including expanding its “Choose Iowa” marketing campaign. “Choose Iowa” helps boost sales of Iowa’s specialty crops, connects consumers to local producers, and highlights stories of producers who helped fight food insecurity in their communities during COVID-19 and beyond.
The Department will co-host the annual Iowa Specialty Producers Conference again in 2021. This event helps elevate the specialty crop industry, attract new partners, and share ideas to help growers develop more markets for their products.
The Department will also continue providing financial support to the state’s food hubs to help them expand direct-to-consumer sales and increase the number of participating producers.
These initiatives are funded through a Specialty Crop Block Grant provided by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).