Hop the beers! Grow the grapes! Plant (Christmas) trees! Save the bees! Are any of these your rally cry? If so, you may want to note that Virginians like you just scored quite a bit of cash from the Department of Agriculture to make it happen. Gov. Terry McAuliffe released the list of grant recipients of the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program on Monday, explaining in a press release that more than $503,000 in funding will “promote and enhance the competitiveness of Virginia’s specialty crops and create more economic development opportunities across the Commonwealth.” The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, in partnership with the USDA, made the selections, choosing 15 projects from a highly competitive stack of applicants.
Projects must meet specific criteria to be considered: They must focus on specialty crops (fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture and nursery crops), show potential for increasing net farm income, look for new ways to market or add value to specialty crops, and/or develop pilot or demonstrative programs. This year’s winners are diverse, diving into everything from herbs (Virginia Tech’s Balancing Microbial Safety and Disease Management of Virginia Fresh Herbs) to wine (Establishment of The Vine to Wine Co-op to Reduce Overall Grape and Wine Production Costs and Enhance the Competitiveness of the Virginia Wine Industry by the Virginia Wineries Association Cooperative) to bees (Old Dominion University’s Sustainable Development of Native Mason Bee Populations for Berry Pollination).
“There’s a lot of talk about Americans only wanting beautiful fruits, free of blemishes," says Elaine Lidholm, the director of communications for VDACS. "Even apples that aren’t as colorful, for example, may go to waste. Appalachian Sustainable Development in Abingdon is trying to develop a market for the ‘seconds.’ In the apple example, they could take them and make apple sauce. Another project close to my interests is Virginia Tech’s establishment of green tea production in Northern Virginia. I used to live in Kenya, a huge producer of tea — but there the tea plantations are at an altitude of 5,000 to 7,000 feet. I’m very curious to know if it’s a viable crop here.”
It’s good news all around for the farming industry in Virginia. The cash infusion will help the state stay competitive by allowing farmers to diversify crops and opening up new employment opportunities on both the farm and research fronts. For more information on how you can apply for the 2016 cycle, visit the program's site and contact Melissa Ball, the special projects coordinator for VDACS, at firstname.lastname@example.org.