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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Iowa specialty crops — including hazelnuts, melons and cold-hardy red wine — got a boost this week with $300,000 in federal money awarded by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.
The grants, funded through a Specialty Crop Block Grant provided by the United States Department of Agriculture, went to 14 Iowa organizations or projects to develop specialty crops or expand use of locally grown produce, the state announced Wednesday.
Field to Family, an Iowa City-based nonprofit, will use its $24,000 grant to expand outreach to Eastern Iowa school districts about putting local foods on their school lunch menus, said Executive Director Michelle Kenyon.
“We have a really strong farm-to-school focus,” Kenyon said.
The program works with Iowa City, Clear Creek Amana, Solon, College Community, Union Community and Vinton-Shellsburg school districts, connecting them with farmers who can produce foods for school lunches. Locally grown foods include apples, zucchinis, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, watermelons, cantaloupes and cherry tomatoes.
“We do want to expand,” Kenyon said. “Part of getting this grant will allow us to reach out to the school districts to add education to the work they are doing.”
Iowa State University, which houses the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and ISU Extension, received funding for four projects, including $11,577 to develop best practices for improving the quality of cold-hardy red wine in Iowa.
Iowa has more than 60 wineries that grow dozens of varieties of cold-hardy grapes. But some Iowa winemakers have faced challenges developing high-quality wine from the red grapes that grow here.
“The largest problem we are seeing is lack of tannin and tannin stability in the varieties of red grapes that we are growing,” Zach Bott, winemaker at Fireside Winery in Marengo, said in an email Wednesday. “Iowa State is working on understanding why this is, and to help us to develop growing and winemaking practices that will help us overcome this problem.”
Other grants went to the following programs:
- Des Moines Public Schools — Central Campus Environmental and Agricultural Sciences Academy: $24,000 to build a formal fruit orchard and 10-hive apiary to teach students and supply local food banks.
- Golden Hills Resource Conservation and Development — Perennial Native Seed Production for Rural Resilience: $23,987 to train growers to develop seed plots of native plant species to be used for local restoration projects.
- Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation — Teaching About Christmas Trees: $9499 to raise awareness and understanding of Christmas trees as a specialty crop in Iowa through the development of lesson plans, hands-on activities and virtual field trips for educators and students.
- Iowa Department of Agriculture — Farm to Summer Campaign: $34,895 to partner with the Iowa Department of Education, FoodCorps and ISU Extension and Outreach to increase the support of the specialty crop industry by expanding access and demand for Iowa’s specialty crops during the summer months.
- Iowa Farmers Union — Assist Iowa Schools and Childcare Centers with Local Food Procurement Plans: $24,000 to help Iowa schools set local food procurement goals and create a procurement plan, as well as certify more individuals as Farm to School and Early Care Network coaches.
- Iowa Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association and Iowa Wine Growers Association — Specialty Producers Conference: $24,000 to provide networking and education opportunities to specialty producers at a combined specialty producers conference Feb. 9-10 in Ankeny.
- Iowa Nut Growers Association and ISU — Develop Infrared Radiation Processing Technology to Produce High Quality and Safe Hazelnuts: $21,882 to develop an infrared radiation drying technology to dry in-shell hazelnuts, evaluate its benefits and produce hazelnuts free from allergens.
- ISU — Addressing Product Development and Food Safety Needs for Value-Added Producers in Iowa: $24,000 to adopt a short course and interactive curriculum for food product development and food safety practices in specialty crop products.
- ISU — Expanding Production and Markets for Specialty Melons: $23,968 to identify, introduce and evaluate new and novel specialty melon cultivars under Iowa growing conditions.
- Lutheran Services in Iowa — Visual Education Resources for New American Specialty Crop Farmers: $24,000 to adapt key components of production, marketing and record keeping training for refugee farmers into virtual formats in a variety of languages and make them more accessible.
- Practical Farmers of Iowa — Farmer-Led Research and Outreach on Honeyberry: A New Specialty Crop Opportunity for Iowa: $24,000 to lead a farmer-led research trial on honeyberry varieties and shade-tolerance and share the results through farmer-to-farmer education events, publications and media.
- University of Northern Iowa — Expanding Grow. Eat. Play Awareness Campaign: $23,810 to boost demand for and consumption of specialty crop products and promote local farmers by expanding on the Grow. Eat. Play campaign created by Healthy Harvest of North Iowa.
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