Shapiro, GIANT Company announce increased investment in PA agriculture

Gov. Josh Shapiro toured York Fresh Food Farms Tuesday with Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding and The GIANT Company Vice President Dave Lessard to announce GIANT’s $200,000 to support 2023-24 PA Farm Bill Urban Agriculture Infrastructure Grants. 

GIANT’s commitment increases funding for the state’s program to $700,000. The program is designed to increase fresh food access in urban food deserts and address inequities. 

Noting Pennsylvania’s agricultural heritage, Shapiro said the industry helps fuel the state’s economic progress and contributes $132 billion to the economy. 

“We must do more to close the gaps between Pennsylvania’s world-class agriculture industry and the kitchen tables of those most in need of healthy, affordable food,” Shapiro said in a statement. 

The governor pledged his administration’s support of Pennsylvania agriculture and the PA Farm Bill and said he will “continue to work with partners like GIANT to make our investments go even further.” 

Redding remarked that since many Pennsylvanians live in communities where the nearest fresh food is miles away, grants will help these communities reverse poor nutrition and fund new opportunities. 

“We deeply appreciate The GIANT Company’s longstanding partnership with the Department (of Agriculture), and together with local partners like York Fresh Food Farms, their support is making gardens bloom in vacant lots and repurposed warehouses, and connecting neighbors long separated by ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic barriers around new opportunities to thrive together,” said Redding. 

Since 2019, Pennsylvania has invested more than $2 million in urban agriculture. An additional $2 million has been leveraged by the state’s investment. A total of 113 projects in 19 counties across Pennsylvania are expanding fresh food access in locations that are sometimes served by only a single convenience store. 

The GIANT Company’s support is part of its 100th anniversary celebration. 

“Strengthening our food system is critical to The GIANT Company’s purpose of connecting families for a better future. And urban agriculture is critical to this narrative – it is growing food security, creating healthier communities, addressing food system inequities, and connecting families around the dinner table,” Lessard said. 

“We are so proud to support this year’s Urban Agriculture Infrastructure Grant Program as part of our 100th anniversary celebrations, as these dollars will help grow resilient, food secure communities for generations to come.” 

York Fresh Food Farms have built their production capacity, funding equipment, and cold storage with the aid of PA Farm Bill Urban Agriculture Grants of $15,000 in 2020-21 and $21,850 in 2021-22. GIANT’s Healing Our Planet initiative donated $8,000 in 2020-21 to support York Fresh Food Farms’ Mobile Produce Market. 

CARES Act federal funds, along with a partnership with the local housing authority, allow York Fresh Food Farms to supply more than 200 shares of fresh produce throughout the year to York’s low-income families.

PA hemp industry awarded more than $390k from Shapiro Administration

To fund projects aimed at growing fiber and food hemp markets, sales, and awareness in Pennsylvania, three agricultural nonprofits have been granted a total of $392,265. 

Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding announced the funding Thursday. 

“Pennsylvania has been making history, building a new hemp industry from roots up,” Redding said in a statement. “These grants feed the growth of an industry that was once a staple of Pennsylvania’s economy and is once again growing opportunities for new businesses, farm income, jobs, and climate-smart, environmentally sound projects.” 

Following are the grant recipients, amounts, and their projects: 

  • Pennsylvania Hemp Industry Council, $56,000 – Funding will be used for a campaign to promote the benefits of hemp and create markets for hemp-based products. The council is building a collaboration among farmers and other businesses, investors, government agencies, and communities to bring hemp back to Pennsylvania’s farms. 
  • U.S. Ecological Advanced Research & Conservation Hub Hemp Certificate Program for Disadvantaged Communities (USEARCH), $20,500 – Funds will be used in the development of an educational program for disadvantaged communities including youth, veterans, and women to enable them to get involved in the hemp industry. USEARCH is a Mayfield, Lackawanna County-based nonprofit focused on researching agricultural technologies and products derived through them. 
  • Vytal Plant Science Research, $315,765 – Funds will be used to introduce a STEM curriculum to high schools and universities to effectively engage in industrial hemp production, management, and cultivation by promoting and marketing industrial hemp for its many uses such as food, fiber, fuel, industrial, and personal care products. 

Up to half of the project costs are reimbursed through grant funds. Funding was awarded in a competitive process, with special consideration for projects that leverage other funding and public-private partnerships. 

Matching grants represent one way Pennsylvania is feeding growth in the hemp industry. Other support includes creating state-level Specialty Crop Block grants through the PA Farm Bill when federal funding for hemp was not yet available, funding key research and development at state higher education institutions and convening the PA Hemp Steering Committee to foster relationships among colleges and university researchers, growers, processors, investors, and insurers. 

As more than $500,000 has been awarded since the beginning of the Shapiro Administration, the Agriculture department’s grant investments in growing a hemp industry surpass $1.5 million.

PA dairy farmers encouraged to manage risk with federal coverage

Pennsylvania dairy farmers were encouraged Monday by Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding to enroll in USDA’s Dairy Margin Coverage Program and take advantage of federal risk-management protection. 

The USDA Farm Service Agency provides a safety net for dairy farmers when the price difference for milk and feed falls below the amount selected at enrollment by the producer. Dairy Margin Coverage was created under the 2018 federal Farm Bill. In 2021, one-third of Pennsylvania’s dairy farms were enrolled in the program and received $88,861,920 in payments averaging $51,936 per farm. 

“Protecting your bottom line against price fluctuations you can’t control just makes sense,” said Redding. “Dairy Margin Coverage is a smart part of every dairy producer’s risk management strategy.” 

Producers wishing to receive coverage in 2023 must enroll between Oct. 17 and Dec. 9. Those interested should visit Dairy Margin Coverage program information on the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) website, fsa.usda.gov. PA dairy producers can visit their county FSA office by Dec. 9 

Information on funding and additional resources to support financial planning for agricultural operations can be found at agricultue.pa.gov.

High priority placed on hemp sales, exports in PA

Proposals for nonprofit marketing and promotion organizations for projects designed to increase sales, export or consumer awareness of Pennsylvania hemp products were called for Monday by Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding. 

The minimum grant is $1,000. Eligible projects may include regional or national promotion, and those that leverage other funding and public-private partnerships will receive special consideration. Projects must have started on or after July 1, 2022, and must be completed prior to or on June 30, 2023. A competitive process will be used to select applications. 

“Hemp has presented a unique opportunity to grow an industry from the ground up, supplying seemingly limitless sustainable construction materials, fiber and food products,” Redding said. “These grants will feed a new industry that was once a staple of Pennsylvania’s economy and is again presenting opportunities for farm income and jobs as well as new possibilities for climate-friendly, environmentally beneficial products.” 

To apply for grants, qualified nonprofits can visit the PA Department of Community and Economic Development online application system. Applications will be accepted up to December 2, 2022, at 5 p.m. EST. Grant guidelines are listed in the October 15, 2022, issue of the Pennsylvania Bulletin. 

More than $157,000 was awarded in 2021 to three projects aimed at increasing consumer awareness of hemp products in PA and increase fiber and food hemp markets and opportunities in the commonwealth. The Wolf Administration has used matching grants to feed growth in the hemp industry. To date, hemp-specific grant investments total more than $923,000. 

Additional information regarding hemp in Pennsylvania can be found by visiting Agriculture.pa.gov/hemp.

Hemp is big business in Pa.

This year, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture issued more than 300 permits to grow hemp on nearly 600 acres at more than 800 locations around the state, according to a press release.

Gov. Wolf visiting a hemp farm in Blair County (Photo: Submitted)
Gov. Wolf visiting a hemp farm in Blair County (Photo: Submitted)

Hemp and marijuana are different species of the same plant, but unlike marijuana, hemp is grown mainly for fiber and seed and must maintain a lower concentration of the psychoactive chemical tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.

Gov. Tom Wolf and Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding highlighted the opportunities available to hemp growers and processors across the commonwealth at a recent visit to a hemp farm in Blair County.

Pennsylvania has a tremendous opportunity to capitalize on a new and in-demand market for hemp,” said Wolf. “This is a versatile product with many uses, and it’s a product that consumers want.”

Pennsylvania recently designated hemp as a controlled plant, which requires all growers to register and obtain permits through the Department of Agriculture.

“Hemp is a new/old crop that has the potential to make a big impact on Pennsylvania’s agricultural and economic landscape,” said Sec. Redding. “It’s a crop with both a rich history and a bright future here in the commonwealth.”

This summer, Wolf signed a state farm bill that created a state-level grant program to invest in and encourage farming of hemp.

Hemp was grown in Pennsylvania and throughout the United States until after World War II but became regulated along with marijuana and its cultivation was prohibited.