FARMER/GROWER GRANTS: HELP  FOR ‘THE LITTLE GUY’
by Vern Grubinger
Vegetable and Berry Specialist
University of Vermont

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 such things.

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 been initiated.

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’ solve problems.”

For more information, or to get an application form, visit the web site: http://www.nesare.org
Or call the SARE office at (802) 656-0471.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                11/03

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