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FreshConnect state funding aimed at boosting farmers markets

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Farmers markets are considered one of the best venues for producers to showcase healthy, locally grown food. Marketplace organizers now have a chance to do that job better, thanks to $285,000 in grants made available in 2013 from the state’s FreshConnect program.

Announced last week, the funding aims to support initiatives that promote and bring more locally grown food products to underserved communities. Grants for up to $10,000 are available for projects aimed at improving farmers markets, for example, while microgrants for up to $2,500 are aimed at improving access to fresh farm products in underserved communities; those microgrants will be awarded on a first come, first served basis. Applications for all grant programs are due April 3.

Jefferson County Agricultural Coordinator Jay M. Matteson said there’s plenty of potential for community leaders in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties to capitalize on FreshConnect funding to expand farmers markets and increase community outreach.

“Our farmers markets are busy during the height of the growing season, and in Jefferson County there is a farmers market available every day of the week except for Sunday,” he said. “There are opportunities for our communities to have access to nutritious food and to make that locally grown food available to as many people as we possibly can. We know that it’s better than eating boxed food; it’s better for the economy, farmers and everyone involved.”

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County plans to apply for a FreshConnect grant this spring, and its staff will seek to collaborate with organizers of farmers markets in the community to develop a plan, said Amanda R. Root, community nutrition team coordinator.

“It’s a great initiative to expand our markets, and that’s why we would seek to work with community partners or a group of farmers who have ideas,” she said. “We’re open to having this be a multicounty effort.”

FreshConnect grant applications and more information are available at the state Department of Agriculture and Markets website, www.agriculture.ny.gov/RFPS.html.

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