(UPDATED COVERAGE, Nov. 20) NC MarketReady, a North Carolina State University program promoting value-added and alternative agriculture focusing on fresh produce, recently received a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Rural Cooperative Development Grant program grant funds NC MarketReady’s efforts in 2010 to assist North Carolina agriculture producers in feasibility studies and business and marketing plans, according to a release from NC State and its cooperative extension.

“We serve as a catalyst to identify and secure critical resources for agricultural business development and growth in North Carolina,” Rod Gurganus, NC MarketReady director, said in the release. “With the RCDG grant, NC MarketReady is able to help producer groups better prepare for long-term sustainability and success.”

The main idea of the MarketReady group, which was established in 2006, is to package education resources in several disciplines including horticulture, fresh produce safety, and market and business management, targeted primarily at the fresh produce industry. The goal is to provide growers with comprehensive information to address relevant problems.

This is the second year NC MarketReady has been awarded RCDG funding.

Food safety programs

MarketReady is preparing to train the state’s growers on food safety with its new Fresh Produce Safety — Field to Family training curriculum. Training manuals were sent to extension agents across the state mid-November in preparation for training programs.

The training program addresses good agricultural practices guidelines, procedures and certification, as well as risk identification and management issues, through a two-tiered approach to training. North Carolina State University, Raleigh, and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, Greensboro, were responsible for the training’s contents.

Funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency, the Southern Region Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program and the North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund Commission supported the Field to Family training’s development.

Ashley Bentley, staff writer for The Packer, contributed to this article.