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Grant goes to Garrett for culinary event, guide

Elaine Blaisdell Cumberland Times-News

OAKLAND — The Garrett County Department of Economic Development received more than $20,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, which was authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill.

The $20,120 grant will be used to increase public awareness of the culinary heritage of the area, to develop a local foods guide and to host a culinary heritage event similar to the Cast Iron Cook-Off at the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., according to Cheryl DeBerry, natural resources business specialist.

“I’m very excited to highlight the crops that grow very well in Garrett County. We have a high quality of crops and plenty to harvest,” said DeBerry. “We have a wonderful berry produce that has been here for generations. There are a few benefits to living in the mountains.”

The grant must be used on noncommodity foods and can’t be spent on wild foods like ramps, DeBerry said during a county commission meeting on Tuesday. Specialty crops are defined as fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture and nursery crops, according to a news release from the USDA.

Nicole Christian, president and CEO of the Garrett County Chamber of Commerce, indicated that there may be Heritage Area money available to help support the local foods guide.

During the commission meeting, DeBerry said that she hoped the grant would help local farmers, increase farm sales and get people interested in farming.

“There was a study out last year that said Appalachia was the most diverse foodshed in the whole U.S.,” said DeBerry during the commission meeting. “There are over 15,000 indigenous plants that include edible fruits and vegetables. I think we need to celebrate that.”

This is the first time that the Department of Economic Development has gotten this grant, said DeBerry, who noted she requested $22,500 when applying for the grant. The Maryland Department of Agriculture announced that $354,466 in grants were funded in the state.

This will likely be the last of the Specialty Crop grant program, pending the U.S. Congress passage of a new Farm Bill, according to a news release.

“The 2008 Farm Bill provided significant grant funding dedicated to specialty crops to become available,” said Agriculture Secretary Buddy Hance. “These funds are a great opportunity to help farmers and value-added producers advance and promote local specialty crops in the marketplace, spark new markets, job creation and help keep Maryland smart, green and growing.”

Of the USDA’s $101 million in Specialty Crop grants, approximately $55 million will be invested in 56 specialty grants to states that fund 748 initiatives across the country to strengthen markets and expand economic opportunities for local and regional producers, according to the news release.

An additional $46 million will go to support new and continuing research and extension activities to address challenges and opportunities for growers and businesses that rely on a sustainable, profitable specialty crops industry.

Contact Elaine Blaisdell at eblaisdell@times-news.com.

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