By TRACEY Oâ€™NEILL
Special to the Standard
SOUTH KINGSTOWNâ€“ Congressman James Langevin, (D - RI), and local agriculture leaders converged this week to discuss receipt of an $85,000 grant by the Rhode Island Center for Agriculture Promotion and Education, (RICAPE), garnered to provide much needed funding for agri-tourism.
Aimed at attracting local and out-of -state visitors to area farms, while supporting grow local and farm-to-table initiatives, agri-tourism is a boon for the local farm community. Supportive of educational and marketing initiatives, the grant awarded by the USDA Rural Business Enterprise Grant Program, will provide a web-based video training program to Rhode Island farmers exploring new ways to bring visitors directly to the farm.
The program, known as the â€śDestination Farm in Transition,â€ť is a learning tool that encourages the promotion of visitor-friendly activities, experiences and amenities. An approach developed expressly for economic development in agriculture, the program encourages involvement by both terrestrial and aquaculture farmers supportive of Rhode Islandâ€™s unique landscape and natural bounty by the sea.
Stu Nunnery, speaking to the group gathered at the Farmerâ€™s Daughter in South Kingstown, conveyed the importance of agricultural growth in the local economy. â€śBetween 2002 and 2007, Agri-tourism in Rhode Island grew sevenfold and has become a principal source of new revenues for farmers not only here but throughout New England.â€ť
A total economic impact to the State estimated at $1.7 billion, the agriculture industry in Rhode Island provides more than 12,000 jobs throughout the state, per a recent study released by the Rhode Island Nursery and Landscape Association. The grant received by RICAPE is expected to create 15-20 full-time jobs, as well as generating part-time employment.
Coming on the heels of passage by the House Agriculture Committee of the Federal Farm Bill, the RICAPE grant is another win for the local farm community. The House bill, inclusive of key portions of the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act, cosponsored by Langevin, ensures adequate support for specialty crops and local and regional farms that predominate in Rhode Island.
Langevin, who has been supportive of agricultural growth initiatives throughout his career, cautioned the group as to the work yet to be done. â€śI hope we can continue to expand these and other efforts to buy local,â€ť said Langevin. While we have been making progress, there is certainly more work to do to level the playing field for our famers.â€ť
Warning of the cuts to the federal food assistance SNAP program, Langevin spoke about the present economy and struggling families in the state. â€śI am also concerned about the major cuts to food stamps in the committeeâ€™s bill. This is a vital program for people struggling the most and it has proven to help the economy. We can address this issue in a fiscally responsible way that also reduces the deficit by eliminating more unnecessary subsidies that big corporate farms receive.â€ť
The House bill also includes initiatives to diversify crop insurance benefits to small farms that grow a range of products and further supports organic crop insurance, which treats organic farmers more equitably. By lending additional support through value-added producer grants, the bill will allow farmers to make investments that will increase the value of their products.
Tracey Oâ€™Neill is a reporter experienced in the South County area and is an independent contractor with SRI Newspapers.