Have you ever had a great idea for a better way to grow a crop, market
a product, or engage members of your community in strengthening local agriculture?
Would a little more time (or money) help you to follow up on that idea?
If so, then check out the farmer/grower grants offered by the Northeast
Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program (NE-SARE). In a
nutshell, the goal of this program is to provide funding to help farmers
with a good idea to figure out if it works.
In a farmer/grower grant proposal you can request funds to pay yourself
or employees for time spent on the project, or to buy materials or rent
equipment needed for the project. Travel expenses, telephone, postage,
and services like soil testing or consulting are also fundable if directly
related to the project. However, these grants will not pay for normal operating
expenses, or for capital expenses like buying land, tractors, machinery,
or improvements to buildings.
Farmer/grower grants are intended to generate information that lots
of farmers can use. They are not meant to help an individual farmer develop
something solely for their own benefit. After testing their ideas, farmers
are required to share the results. Funding is available for this ‘outreach’
portion of a farmer’s project, too. It doesn’t have to be fancy – in most
cases we’re talking about a field day, a newsletter article, or a presentation
at a grower meeting. Extension personnel are happy to work with you on
To apply for funding, you have to be a farmer in the Northeast Region,
which is made up of Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine,
New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont,
West Virginia, and Washington, D.C. You don’t have to be a full-time farmer,
but your operation must be engaged in commercial agriculture and sell product(s)
on a regular basis.
Unlike most grant applications, this one is short and sweet. There’s
no need for a lengthy literature review, and no requirement to submit 20
copies of the proposal. You just have to provide well-thought out answers
to 6 simple questions. 1) What do you want to do? 2) How will your project
fit in with your farm operation? 3) What will your methods be? 4) How will
you measure your results? 5) How will the results of your project help
farmers in the Northeast? And 6) What is your outreach plan? You’ll also
need to fill in the one-page budget sheet to show exactly what you will
use the money for.
In 2003, NE-SARE received 132 farmer-grower grant applications, and
52 of these were awarded a total of $268,744. The individual awards ranged
from $1,555 to $10,000 (the maximum you can request). The average grant
was for $5, 200. Many of the successful applicants had worked with local
Extension or other agency personnel on their proposals, to get help thinking
through what techniques they would use, and how they would document their
findings. These folks are also listed as collaborators on many projects.
Farmers are remarkably creative people and the grants awarded since
the program started in 1993 sure prove that. You can see a listing of all
previous grants by clicking on ‘funded projects’ at www.sare.org.
Below are some of the projects that were funded this past year.
In Connecticut, one farmer is studying the preference of Mexican
bean beetles for different green bean varieties. Another farmer is working
to start a local farmers’ market. In Maine, one farmer is looking at a
new way to plant ginseng, another is building a portable sheep milking
parlor, and someone else is developing a marketing plan for organic yogurt.
In Maryland, one project will assess how much value is added to pork by
offering a pastured, additive-free product, and another is looking at the
different grazing strategies to decrease internal sheep parasites.
In Massachusetts, farmer/grower grants are supporting the study of
scallop aquaculture, the selection of heirloom tomato varieties for disease
resistance, and a comparison of a flex-tine harrow, a star-hoe, and more
traditional implements for weed control in vegetables and berries. New
Hampshire’s projects are looking at ways to reclaim pasture for fruit and
maple production, and the development of a handbook explaining safe and
creative ways of selling dairy products at farmers market.
New Jersey farmers are studying different no-till covers in blueberries,
and developing a mobile poultry processing unit that will serve a consortium
of producers. New York farmers are trying compost mounds for no-till pumpkins,
vinegar as an herbicide in garlic, and conversion of an Allis-Chalmers
G tractor to electric power. In Rhode Island, work will be done to test
vegetables from Nigeria and to develop a database of seed sources.
Vermont farmers are determining the cost of producing fuel from waste
vegetable oil to heat a greenhouse, evaluating the suitability of hardy
grape cultivars developed in the upper Midwest, and comparing different
methods of sweet corn transplanting to see which is most economical. In
West Virginia, a comparison of shitake mushroom production methods has
The farmers receiving these grants are not expected to do replicated
scientific research. They are expected to have clear goals that relate
to sustainable agriculture, a good plan of action, and a commitment to
document what happens and share those results.
As Bob Muth, a vegetable farmer in Williamstown New Jersey, and a
member of the Administrative Council of the Northeast SARE program told
me: “these SARE grants are a great opportunity for farmers-- unlike so
many other programs, this one is really aimed at helping ‘the little guy’
For more information, or to get an application form, visit the web
site: www.nesare.org or call the NE-SARE office at (802) 656-0471.