AUSTIN — As restaurateurs, retailers and consumers increasingly express interest in purchasing fresh, locally grown foods, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples today announced USDA is making $5 million available through its Farmers Markets Promotion Program (FMPP) in fiscal year 2010. The funds will be used to recruit new farmers to participate in farmers markets; develop business courses tailored to those who operate the markets; and improve access to fresh fruits and vegetables in rural and underserved communities.

"Now more than ever, Texans want to know where their food comes from, and farmers markets provide a way for consumers to re-establish personal ties with the people who grow their food," Commissioner Staples said. "Additionally, these funds will help bring healthy food choices to Texans in underserved areas and play a key role in helping combat obesity and other health problems associated with poor diets."

Besides being fresher, locally grown food retains nutritional value because it gets to the table faster. Many Texas restaurant owners see this value and have begun buying their produce at local farmers markets in order to offer diners the freshest and healthiest menu items.

Eligible funding applicants include agricultural cooperatives, local governments, nonprofit corporations, producer associations, regional farmers market authorities and tribal governments.

Information on how to apply for an FMPP grant can be found on USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Web site. AMS must receive grant applications and proposals no later than April 15.