Effort to connect underserved farmers, local markets lands USDA grant

Posted by Jayme Blaschke
Office of Media Relations
October 11, 2016

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded at $150,000 grant to a Texas State University program that enables underserved farmers in Central Texas to access and utilize USDA resources, supply growing local markets and enhance their businesses.

The USDA grant will help the university’s Department of Agriculture’s Reaching Underserved Rural Agricultural Latinos and Veterans (RURAL-V) program to serve 45 funded workshop attendees and provide unlimited participation in an online webinar series and website hub. Matthew Eichler of the Department of Occupational, Workforce and Leadership Studies at Texas State is the project director.

“All of us on the project team have been small farmers, so developing a project to serve the needs of small, underserved and veteran farmers in our region was a natural fit,” said Nicole Wagner, project co-director in the Department of Agriculture. “In Texas the gap between consumer demand for locally- and sustainably-produced food and its supply is growing.” 

Texas has a large number of socially disadvantaged and veteran farmers and ranchers—many of whom are small producers—along with a growing consumer population in Central Texas that increasingly demands locally-sourced and organic agricultural products. RURAL-V will address the educational, communication and resource gaps to help develop market opportunities and connect underserved farmers with local demand for local produce.   

“Small and diversified farmers are particularly poised to fill these market opportunities but they need more access to technical, business and financial resources,” Wagner said. “RURAL-V’s goal is to help fill these gaps.”

Texas has the greatest number of Hispanic, African American and beginning farmers of any state. Between 2005-2012, the number of Hispanic producers in Texas has increased 21 percent (2012 Agriculture Census). Additionally, there are 1.6 million veterans in Texas, the second-largest veteran population of any state.

“Veterans are a unique demographic of individualistic, mission-driven people, which epitomizes the country’s agricultural ideals—and a large portion of the agricultural community are veterans,” said Ken Mix, project co-director in the Department of Agriculture. “Likewise, many of our students are veterans or Hispanic and many of these are interested in farming as a business.”

The grant was provided through USDA's Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program and administered by USDA's Office of Advocacy and Outreach (OAO). Since 2010, more than $83.8 million has been invested through the 2501 Program to leverage the work of local partners. The 2014 Farm Bill reauthorized the program and expanded the program mandate to include military veterans.

OAO works across USDA agencies to improve the viability and profitability of small and beginning farmers and ranchers; improve access to USDA programs for historically underserved communities; increase agricultural opportunities for farm workers; and close the professional achievement gap by providing opportunities for diverse, talented young people to support the agricultural industry in the 21st century.