WESTERLY — The Southern Rhode Island Conservation District will use an Urban Agriculture Conservation Grant to assist citizens and groups engaged in urban agriculture in their backyards and at community green spaces in Westerly.

The Kingston-based district received a $50,000 grant through a partnership with the National Association of Conservation Districts and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service to boost technical capacity.

"We are thrilled to have been awarded this grant, which is intended to build the capacity of the district to work with nontraditional partners," Gina Fuller, district manager for the Southern Rhode Island Conservation District, said in a news release.

"The district has a long history of providing conservation assistance to traditional farmers. This grant will allow us to expand our partnerships to include backyard gardeners, businesses and the town."

The Westerly Land Trust plans to move its community garden from 177 Main St., where it's been since 2008, to 145 Main St. The conservation district will help with the design and installation of the new garden. The district will also design and install an interpretive sign and develop and deploy a walking app related to the garden.

The district will also install a pollinator plant garden adjacent to the community garden. "Pollinator plants and pollinators are critical to developing crops that we eat," Fuller said during an interview Friday.

The grant will also be used to help the Bricks and Murals organization with two of its proposed Harmony Trail sites. Once the sites are determined, the district will design and install conservation practices, including pollinator plants. It will also design and install interpretive signs and videos and develop and deploy a walking app. The district will also likely provide technical drawings and planting schemes for the sites, Fuller said. The Harmony Trail will consist of large musical instruments installed at several sites, mostly in the downtown Westerly-Pawcatuck area.

Additional outreach by the district will include meeting with veterans groups and with neighborhood and business associations to assess needs and develop workshops on soil health, water management and pollinator habitat. A training session will be offered to the municipal land use staff. The district will also consult with town and business groups to identify other potential sites for urban gardening.

The Southern Rhode Island Conservation District was one of 20 districts across 14 states to receive grant funding to boost technical capacity. The National Association of Conservation Districts and the Natural Resources Conservation Service established the Urban Agriculture Conservation Grant Initiative in 2016 to help conservation districts and their partners provide technical assistance for agricultural conservation in developed or predominantly developing areas. Since July 2016, three rounds of grants have been awarded, totaling $4 million to 81 conservation district projects across 34 states.

Conservation districts were established in Rhode Island by state law in 1944. The function of the districts, Fuller said, is to focus and coordinate resources to meet the needs of local land users for the conservation of soil, water and related resources.

The Southern Rhode Island Conservation District works with towns in Washington and Kent counties as well as municipal and private land trusts in the two counties. It also works with state and federal conservation and environmental agencies.

There are about 3,000 conservation districts in the country. They work closely with USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and develop programs established by the U.S. Congress through the farm bill.

Jennifer Fusco, Westerly Land Trust executive director, was not available for comment.

dfaulkner@thewesterlysun.com

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