The U.S. Department of Agriculture s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) announced on October 13, 2015, that a consortium composed of Madisonville Community College (MCC), Muhlenberg County High School (MCHS), and Muhlenberg County 4-H has been awarded an $89,479 grant through the Community Food Projects (CFP) program for development of local solutions to food insecurity and increased access to local and independent food systems for low-income communities.

The consortium will utilize the grant funding to build a hydroponic greenhouse on the West Campus of MCHS to provide fresh produce to the school cafeteria and for use in the Food for Kids Backpack Program and the Food Explorers Program, two 4-H programs aimed at providing nutritious food for low-income students. This service learning opportunity will give students an opportunity to contribute to their own nutrition and food security and that of their peers. Faculty members from MCHS and MCC will revise curricula to make connections between non-agriculture disciplines and activities related to food production, preparation, and distribution, fostering their students' understanding of the food system and their potential place within it. Dual-credit coursework will be developed for the MCHS agriculture program that will transfer into MCC s Advanced Integrated Technology program. The partners will also offer community education activities to promote more productive hydroponic agriculture techniques in the community and provide assistance through the MCC Business Synergy Lab to incumbent farmers and agriculture entrepreneurs who wish to implement these techniques commercially. Wider adoption of such techniques will increase the availability of fresh produce, making it more accessible to Muhlenberg County's population and making the area more attractive to grocers, restaurateurs, and food processing and distribution companies, consistent with the county's economic development strategy. The Muhlenberg County Fiscal Court and the Felix E. Martin, Jr. Foundation have committed cash matches to the project, and Muhlenberg County Schools have committed in-kind contributions of land and labor. The grant award was effective September 1, 2015 and ends August 31, 2017.

Funding for the Community Food Projects program is authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill. The Farm Bill builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past six years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers. Since enactment, USDA has made significant progress to implement each provision of this critical legislation, including providing disaster relief to farmers and ranchers; strengthening risk management tools; expanding access to rural credit; funding critical research; establishing innovative public-private conservation partnerships; developing new markets for rural-made products; and investing in infrastructure, housing and community facilities to help improve quality of life in rural America.

For additional information about the hydroponic greenhouse project, contact David Schuermer, Madisonville Community College; Jay McElwain, Muhlenberg County High School; or Mackenzie Pogue, Muhlenberg County 4-H.