USDA grant benefits Valley growers

September 27, 2013 3:00:05 PM PDT
Valley farmers are among those who will benefit from an $18.2 million grant from the US Department of Agriculture. The funds are designed to strengthen the market for California-grown specialty crops.

For the very first time figs were included in the USDA specialty crop grant. California Fig Advisory Board CEO Karla Stockli said the $237,000 grant will be used for a comprehensive ingredient program.

The board will use the money to reach out to chefs, bakers and food scientists. The idea is to encourage them to try fig paste, powder and concentrate in their dishes.

Stockli explained, "We want to get into high value specialty food categories like the sauces, the chutneys, the condiments and things that you see in the retail markets that are exploding. That's where we see great value because of the versatility of figs, the great flavor."

The USDA grant funds will be used for everything from food safety measures for leafy greens to marketing for crops like pistachios. 65 projects were approved.

California Grape and Tree Fruit League president Barry Bedwell said, "When you talk about fruits and vegetables, dried fruit, nuts, horticulture, nurseries, all of those are specialty crops that look at portions of the farm bill like these specialty crop block grants as being a means to produce some very important projects."

Bedwell said all of the projects are designed to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables.

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