BEND, OR -- The USDA is working to support local fruit and vegetable farmers with more than $90 million in new grant money. Bruce Pokarney, with Oregon's Department of Agriculture, says a lot of the state’s smaller growers – like many in Central Oregon – aren’t able to take advantage of big national marketing opportunities. "Oregon is a specialty crop state. Generally speaking, these are crops that don’t fall into the program-type crops like corn, soybeans and wheat and some of those very large federal programs you see in the Midwest. Oregon, of course, grows a lot of fruits of vegetables and the types of things you see in a farmers market."
Pokarney tells KBND News grants can be used to promote farmers markets, which are growing in popularity. "We’re seeing new farmers markets crop up everyday. We have a lot more smaller, beginning growers who want to grow locally. And, it goes beyond the farmers markets; some of this farm-direct marketing is aimed at farm to school programs, getting into the school lunch programs." Available grants include the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program and the Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program.
The number of farmers markets has grown exponentially over the past 20 years. Pokarney says there are now 150 in Oregon, with many of the new markets east of the Cascades. Those local markets are a key opportunity for small farmers. "It gives a lot of small and local growers an opportunity to market their product. They may not be into the export market, or growing things that end up very far away, in terms of geography, but they do find the local markets very important and sustaining to them. And, it’s a great way to just bring the urban folks and rural folks together." Bend’s Farmers Market is slated to open June first.
The ODA manages many of the grants in Oregon for the USDA. Applications for the competitive process are due May 12. For more information, visit the USDA's website