This past week, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) announced 12 new grants totaling $35 million for science-based solutions and new technology for the specialty crop industry. Funding is made through the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI), authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill.
One of the grant recipients is the National Initiative for Consumer Horticulture (NICH), which received a planning grant for $47,470 to help develop strategies, tactics, and priorities to stimulate consumer horticulture in the U.S. The industry-wide grassroots movement plans to grow the practice of gardening, both indoors and out, by 20% by 2025.
The grant was co-authored by Dr. Ellen Bauske, Senior Public Service Associate in the Department of Plant Pathology at the Georgia Center for Urban Agriculture, and Dr. Gail Langellotto, Associate Professor and Extension Specialist in the Department of Horticulture at Oregon State University.
“By creating one cohesive voice, NICH will raise awareness of consumer horticulture and help those in all segments of horticulture be more successful in leveraging public funding to help stimulate the entire industry,” Bauske says.
Currently there are five legislatively mandated SCRI programs, including pollinator protection, focused on production of ornamental, nursery, and food crops. However, there are no legislatively mandated programs that specifically support end-use consumer horticulture. NICH wants to change that.
According to Langellotto, NICH plans to echo and capitalize on the success of the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance, a national coalition of more than 120 organizations representing growers of fresh fruits and vegetables, dried fruit, tree nuts, nursery plants, and other products.
“The Farm Bill Alliance was organized in advance of the 2007 Farm Bill to ensure that Congress heard the message that specialty crops were important and that federal funds were needed for research and Extension in specialty crops,” Langellotto says. “NICH aims to do the same.”
NICH’s vision is to increase consumer horticulture by 20% in 2015 by cultivating a passion and deeper appreciation for plants in our daily lives, and increase a universal demand for gardening from research and Extension grants at universities to attendance at public gardens and foot traffic in garden centers.
“This is a major step to move NICH closer to its goal of increasing all aspects of horticulture and get 90% of U.S. households gardening by 2025,” says Casey Sclar, Inaugural Chair of NICH and Executive Director of the American Public Gardens Association. “We are working now to educate consumers and decision makers on the social, economic, and environmental benefits of consumer horticulture.
“Preliminary research estimates our sector contributes $196 billion to the U.S. economy and creates more than 2 million jobs annually,” Sclar says. “We plan to further define this contribution in terms of wellness and environmental benefits.” This infographic shows how plants contribute to the economy.