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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI Cooperative Extension awarded $150,000 grant to expand technical support for Rhode Island farms

Media Contact: Todd McLeish, 401-874-7892

KINGSTON, R.I. -- May 23, 2005 -- Over the past 20 years, nursery and turf have displaced food crops as the dominant agricultural cash crop in Rhode Island. Yet Rhode Islanders increasingly value the state’s remaining food farms as a source of fresh produce and seasonal products, and for their important role in preserving open space, maintaining rural community identities, and enhancing tourism.

To help ensure the viability of food farming in the state, the University of Rhode Island’s Cooperative Extension has been awarded a $150,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture aimed at providing farmers with the technical assistance and timely information they need to increase production and adopt new sustainable agriculture practices. While the initiative will serve all farms in the state, the project will undertake special outreach efforts to the small-scale farms where assistance is needed most.

“This grant will help us provide farmers with consulting services and easy access to information to help them with their crop production, marketing, viability issues, and development of new products,” said Ernest Morreira, a URI Cooperative Extension specialist who will oversee the program in partnership with the R.I. Department of Environmental Management’s Division of Agriculture and the R.I. Center for Agricultural Promotion and Education. “It is a tremendous benefit to the state to keep these small-scale farms in operation.”

The two-year grant will allow URI to hire a project manager with farming expertise to develop a commercial agriculture technical support system, including consulting services, farm viability assessments, and the formation of farm improvement intervention teams. “The new staff member will provide on-the-ground, boots-in-the-field assistance to underserved farmers,” Morreira said.

In addition, an interactive website and listserv will be created for farmers as a communication resource for information and referrals. A toll-free hotline will also be established as another way of answering farmers’ questions and solving their problems.

“There are a number of positive and collaborative initiatives in Rhode Island to maintain and enhance agriculture as a permanent and viable component of the state’s economy and quality of life,” said Kenneth Ayars, chief of the DEM Division of Agriculture. “Enhancing extension and technical support services to farmers is vital.”

“This initiative is part of a growing list of support services for Rhode Island's farmers,” said Stuart Nunnery, executive director of RICAPE. “The interest in the agricultural community to reinvigorate the state’s agriculture in a variety of ways is very exciting. Meeting farmers’ technical support needs is critical and will continue to be a primary focus of our collaboration.”

It is expected that 250 farmers will receive assistance through the program. At the end of two years, the program’s effectiveness will be evaluated and a recommendation will be made for creation of a permanent program.