The UCM agriculture department recently received a $745,823 grant from the United Stated Department of Agriculture to improve local farmers markets, provide internships and mini research grants, according to a press release.
This was the second year UCM applied for USDA funds under the same program, and the first time it was funded, according to the release.
Mark Goodwin, associate professor of horticulture, and Anil Giri, assistant professor of agriculture, wrote the grant. The grant is a joint collaboration with UCM, Powell Gardens, Warrensburg Farmers Market, Sedalia Farmers Market and Agri-Missouri, which represents farmers markets across the state.
Their grant proposal statement is “building partnerships between stakeholders involved in local production, marketing and education of vegetable production in Missouri,” according to the release.
“The idea is to build partnerships to strengthen vegetable production in Western Missouri, and to strengthen recruitment of students to UCM to learn how to grow vegetables,” said Goodwin.
Goodwin said their goals over the next three years are to increase local vegetable production by providing resources to farmers markets and their vendors, to increase participation in consumers and help vendor profits by educating them about new vegetable varieties that aren’t offered at farmers markets.
He said other goals are to recruit high school and college students into agriculture programs, specifically vegetable production, and give information to farmers markets throughout Missouri.
Through this grant, Giri will reach out to minority, urban and disadvantaged students who are not as exposed to agriculture to help diversify the pool of potential producers and workers in Missouri agriculture, according to the release.
“Mark and I will visit high schools to talk with students. We hope to increase enrollment (in the agriculture program) and increase diversity among agriculture students,” said Giri.
Goodwin said the grant will pay for bus transportation for high school students to travel to UCM farms and facilities for tours so students can learn about UCM’s agriculture program.
Goodwin said this grant will provide funding for providing sugar refractometers for high school biology and agriculture classes. Sugar refractometers measure sugar content in vegetables. Goodwin said UCM currently has one for agriculture research, but the grant will allow the department to purchase 25 of them and lend the refractometers to the high school classes.
“These $25 refractometers take only five minutes to learn, to use and are a great tool to teach students about vegetable characteristics that affect taste,” Goodwin said. “High school students will help us identify vegetable varieties, which may be profitable for vendors to offer at farmers markets.”
He said the grant provides educational opportunities for students by providing salary for undergraduate internships at Warrensburg and Sedalia farmer’s markets, Powell Gardens and Missouri Grow with the Missouri Department of Agriculture.
He said it will also help provide graduate assistantships to UCM students who will work on the research components of the grant, and will provide funding to develop an undergraduate course in vegetable and fruit production and an agriculture marketing course at UCM.
Goodwin said small vendors often shy away from trying new products and they are afraid of the risk involved by producing something that might be untested in their market.
“We are going to take the risk for vendors by figuring out which varieties might be popular or very profitable for them to offer,” Goodwin said. “We are going to provide this information to vendors and show them how they might be able to produce these new varieties in an efficient manner.”
This grant will also provide UCM 10 mini-grants with a maximum of $2,500 available annually, giving the program an opportunity to seek funding for research projects related to small-scale agriculture production, according to the release.
Dakota Newton, an intern for the Warrensburg Farmers Market, said the grant will help with developing a marketing plan to find different ways to advertise, expand targeted demographic segments and collect data to be used and shared by the USDA.
“I believe this grant will help the local farmers greatly. Not only is it giving our local farmers a way to look at data that will help them set their prices …but it is also educating the community on what a farmer must endure to provide you with farm fresh produce, baked goods, meats and crafts,” Newton said. “Being a farmer and a participant of the farmers market when I was younger, I know that marketing and managing would have helped us sell our produce more than what we did… I see this grant as bringing on great changes that will benefit all in the beginning.”
Newton said with the data they will be collecting, UCM will now be looking into other farmers markets around the country to see how they operate to improve their own farmers markets.
To learn more about the UCM agriculture program, visit ucmo.edu/agriculture/.