Grant promotes Va. strawberries

Published 9:25 am Wednesday, October 6, 2010

RICHMOND—A Franklin-based marketing specialist for the Virginia Department of Agriculture has received a $47,574 grant to promote the sale of Virginia-grown strawberries.

The money will cover advertising costs in targeted areas across the state, mainly print media, said Gail Milteer, who is with the Department of Agriculture’s Division of Marketing.

“The money will also be used to print point-of-purchase materials such as a brochure we designed this year for use in the Tidewater area that included nutritional information, picking hints, recommended storage, availability information, as well as a conversion chart including how many berries are needed for a pie,” Milteer said.

Monday, Gov. Bob McDonnell announced more than $513,000 in Specialty Crop Grants for Virginia agriculture, which generates more than $55 billion in revenue annually and employs 335,000. Milteer’s program received one of 18 grants.

“These grants represent a half-million dollar investment in Virginia’s economy that will boost economic development and create jobs in agriculture, Virginia’s largest industry,” McDonnell said in a news release. “This is a diverse group of very innovative projects that include marketing, development, research and engineering projects, all of which are designed to increase the competitiveness of specialty agricultural crops in Virginia”

Last year, Milteer’s office received $25,000, which was used to promote strawberry growers in the Tidewater area. This year’s grant will be used to promote the industry across the state.

According to the 2007 Agriculture Census, 330 acres of strawberries grew in Virginia with a value of more than $6 million.

“I want people to know when local strawberries are ready and to buy local strawberries,” Milteer said. “Strawberries are a very expensive crop to grow. Most people don’t realize new plants are set out each year, in late September to early October, and those plants are carefully looked after the entire winter, until picking time begins in late April or early May.”

Milteer noted that without this grant there is no money in the budget to promote Virginia strawberries.

“I work closely with strawberry growers from Pungo to Emporia and wrote and received a grant for the 2010 year,” she said. “The growers were very appreciative of our support and soon growers in other parts of the state were calling asking if they could get materials to use at their farm.”

On a side note, the Southeast Strawberry Expo will be held in Virginia for the first time ever Nov. 8-10 in Virginia Beach. This meeting is coordinated by the North Carolina Strawberry Growers Association and attracts growers from Virginia, North and South Carolinas, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio and Maryland.