Fairbanks Daily News Miner: State announces agriculture grants

Alaska continues to receive federal funding for agriculture initiatives, including $2 million from the United States Department of Agriculture for the state’s food security micro-grant program.

According to a news release from Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s office, the $2 million will fund next year’s grant program.

Murkowski created the federal micro-grant program in 2018 “to ensure more Alaskans have greater access to healthy, affordable, locally grown options.”

The overall federal program provides funding to noncontiguous states and territories including Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico.

“The need for this program has only grown due to the continuing supply chain problems and high inflation, forcing more and more Alaskans to live off of cheaper, mass-produced imports rather than nutrient dense, fresh foods that could be grown at home,” Murkowski said in the news release.

Since its creation, Alaska alone has received $6 million and funded 770 individuals and 116 nonprofit projects.

The state awarded $1.5 million in projects alone for this year’s program for 441 individuals, out of a pool of 7,000 applicants. Individuals are awarded between $500 and $5,000, and organizations can receive up to $10,000 depending on the grant.

“Programs like this help Alaskans improve both the quantity and quality of locally grown food in food insecure communities,” said Governor Mike Dunleavy in a news release. “Small-scale agricultural projects are a key part of increasing the State’s food security.”

Another 59 applications from organizations are being reviewed.

Funding from the announced grants come from $2 million awarded to Alaska in Fiscal Year 2020 appropriations, said Lorraine Henry, communications director for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. The rest of the amount is being rolled into successive rounds of funding.

The state received $2 million in Fiscal Year 2021 for 500 projects. The amount announced by Murkowski will be spent after this year’s awarded contracts are complete.

Contracts for this cycle of grants run from March 2023 through Feb. 29, 2024. The first half of the funds are disbursed to recipients at the start of a contract and remain upon a project’s completion and submission of a final report.

Specialty crop block grant awarded

The USDA awarded grants for six specialty crop projects in a block grant totaling $255,740, including a project in the Interior for $52,884. 

The Interior project will be a joint project between the state agriculture division and the Fairbanks Soil and Water Conservation District to administer an education program for secondary school students.

The project entails a demonstration farm in the Nenana-Totchaket Agricultural Project Area and will “find organizations serving secondary school students within the Fairbanks North Star Borough and the city of Nenana.”

Student teams will be recruited to “to compete in a competition to write Farm Plans for a demonstration parcel in the Nenana Totchaket Agricultural Project Area.”

“These teams of students will have the opportunity to be trained by local natural resource professionals in the fundamental skills and knowledge needed to write a Farm Plan focused on producing specialty crops,” states the project description.

The state will use another portion of the grant to increase consumer awareness, purchasing and consumption of Alaska’s specialty crops via marketing programs that will extend current consumer outreach efforts and target new audiences.

“The projects awarded under the program will strongly benefit Alaska’s agricultural industry,” said Mia Kirk, Alaska’s interim agriculture director. “We’re excited these grants support the development of projects in Alaska focused on education and new evaluation techniques — as well as cultivation, preservation, conservation planning and market access.”

By:  Jack Barnwell
Source: Fairbanks Daily News Miner