For the ninth year in a row, Idaho Preferred — managed by Idaho State Department of Agriculture — has won a USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant, and it’s the largest ever.
At $213,990, this year’s grant represents more than half of the Idaho Preferred’s total average annual budget and will be used to promote Idaho specialty crops.
The grant funding will facilitate television and online advertising and retail promotion, said Leah Clark, Idaho Preferred program manager.
It also provides funding for one full-time employee who handles the program’s website, social media, events planning and retail, foodservice, consumer and educational programs, she said
To date, Idaho Preferred has received more than $1.3 million in USDA Specialty Crop grants, according to the state Ag Department.
The grant will be used only for the promotion of specialty crops, but Idaho Preferred mission is broader and also includes food and beverage products, Clark said.
The program is dedicated to identifying and promoting Idaho food and agriculture products through multi projects and events. In addition to fresh fruits and vegetables, the program promotes meats, wines, beers, spirits, specialty foods, forest products, and nursery plants and trees.
Idaho Preferred’s promotional projects increase consumer awareness of what is available, Clark said.
More than 300 members include farmers, ranchers, fruit growers, winemakers, bread bakers, specialty foods companies, nurseries, restaurants, farmers markets, and retailers.
Through its promotion of Idaho crops and foods, Idaho Preferred supports local farmers, food producers, processors, and suppliers, keeps proceeds in Idaho and raises consumer awareness of Idaho food and agriculture products.
In addition to ongoing promotion, Idaho Preferred staff and members take part in special events, such as producer meet-and-greets at retail stores, farmers’ markets and festivals; cook book signings; food and trade shows; and farmer/chef collaborations.
Staff is preparing for an upcoming chefs tour to expand chefs’ awareness and purchases of local foods and is rolling out a project with a major distributor to have more local product in stock, along with recipes and bar codes to better facilitate foodservice ordering, Clark said.
Idaho Preferred also just completed a project to provide large produce bins to retailers to showcase Idaho-grown produce with signage above and on the bins. It is also working on a big promotion with Walmart in September — Idaho Preferred Month, she said.
In February, it held a retail workshop bringing together more than 40 members and buyers from Whole Foods, Boise Co-op, Albertsons and Walmart, resulting in new markets for several products from hummus to butter.
It also just completed a partnership with Idaho State Department of Education to develop common core curriculums on Idaho’s top crops that teachers can use in classrooms. Another big piece of raising awareness is the farm-to-school program managed by Idaho Preferred in cooperation with the Department of Education to work with school foodservice personnel and local producers to get local foods in school cafeterias, she said.
Since its inception, more than 70 schools have implemented the program. A pilot study with Boise School District led to more than $1 million in local purchases during that school year, and a farm-to-preschool program is now in development.
"We feel awareness of local products is very high," Clark said.
A bi-annual consumer market research project by the University of Idaho to measure consumer awareness of Idaho Preferred will be conducted this fall. The latest result, from the 2012 research, showed growing awareness of local foods and the Idaho Preferred label, Clark said.
The research showed that more than 50 percent of consumers are aware of the Idaho preferred mark, 65 percent have seen the Idaho Preferred television ads and 40 percent have seen Idaho Preferred signage at retail locations.
Specialty Crop Block Grant funding to Idaho Preferred
Source: Idaho State Department of Agriculture