by Naomi Rosen
Bear with us here. As I like to tell Jason McDonald (FiLoLi Tea Farms) every chance I get…”I’m a city girl”. What I mean to say is I know absolutely nothing about growing crops. Which makes me perfect for explaining what a Specialty Crop Block Grant is and why you should look into it.
What is the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP)?
Per the USDA website: “The purpose of the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP) is to solely enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops. Specialty crops are defined as “fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops (including floriculture).” Tea falls into this category. These monies can be used to determine proper cultivars for your region, crop feasability, long term financial impacts for the region, etc. This kind of information is a vital resource to the Ag community in your individual states and can impact the economic and physical health of your region.
As a side note, tea falls into the pre-approved specialty crop list because of the 1899 USDA Report Number 61 “Tea Culture: the Experiment in South Carolina” by Dr. Charles Upham Shepard, Special Agent in Charge Tea Culture Investigations. It was submitted to Hon. James Wilson, Secretary of Agriculture and has been considered a specialty crop for over 100 years. A free copy of Tea Culture can be downloaded, or you can find it in a local library as well.
How do I apply?
The first thing you need to do is contact whomever is responsible for Agriculture in your state. You can find the contact information here. As mentioned in previous posts, networking and getting to know your Ag representatives in your area is vital and wise! It is mentioned on the USDA site that funding is normally awarded to “state and local governments or nonprofits organizations, which then use the money to operate assistance programs locally”. That’s not to say that you can’t apply as an individual but I would encourage you to work with your local Ag representatives and universities to increase your chances of becoming a priority. There are two really HUGE reasons for not going it alone:
- Most states have elected commissioners of agriculture who administer the cash. Politicians aren’t huge fans of doling out large quantities of money on Ag concepts or trials. When presented as university research, it’s a safer gamble.
- In most states, the competition for these kinds of grants is huge. Aligning yourself with a university just makes sense. They will have the unending expertise and resources to see the project through to completion.
Once you have been in contact with your state representative, they can walk you through the application process. Jason McDonald, or FiLoLi Tea Farm, having partnered with Mississippi State University, was recently awarded one of these grants. Thank you to Jason, Dr. Bi and Dr. Nagel for sharing the submitted proposal: Bi_MDAC Proposal-2013.
We would encourage you to share your experiences with us if you have already applied for a SCBGP. We would encourage you to share questions/concerns you have about this program. We would encourage you to look over the proposal we provided and use the information to put together your own successful tea growing program. Alright…that’s enough encouraging…