The Illinois Department of Agriculture has received more than $600,000 through the latest federal Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. The funds, part of the 2014 Farm Bill, will be split between 16 projects that are intended to expand the availability of fresh, locally-grown produce.
“Thanks to grants like these we are able to strengthen our state’s specialty crop industry,” said Acting Agriculture Director Warren Goetsch. “The most recent census of agriculture showed that more than 106,000 acres of Illinois farmland are devoted to growing specialty crops on more than 3,200 farms. These grants will not only help bolster the industry, but also expand public access to nutritious, locally-grown fruits and vegetables.”
Specialty crops are defined as fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops, including floriculture. Illinois is the largest producer of pumpkins and horseradish in the nation, and Illinois ranks among the top ten states in acreage of cantaloupes, green peas, lima beans, and sweet corn. Illinois also is home to a flourishing grape and wine market, with 1,197 acres of farmland dedicated to growing grapes on 421 farms. According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, sales of all specialty crops in Illinois, including nursery and greenhouse sales, totaled almost $470 million in 2012.