Thinking about grant funding? Multiple requests for applications released

Are you a small farmer, looking at expanding your operation to local schools or to a more regional focus? Or perhaps expanding into a farmers market?  Maybe you need some assistance to stay on the land in the face of financial crisis and natural disasters.  Well, read on, as there are multiple grant opportunities currently available.

Farm to School Grant Program:

Funded through the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, up to $6 million in funding is available via four different types of grants.  Planning grants are to assist schools is starting a farm to school program whereas implementation grants are to assist in expanding current farm to school programs.  Support grants are for non-profit, tribal nations, state and local entities, and producers to assist schools with further developing and providing broad-reaching support services to farm to school initiatives.  Finally, training grants are intended to support trainings that strengthen farm to school supply chains, or trainings that provide technical assistance in the area of local procurement, food safety, culinary education, and/or integration of agriculture-based curriculum.

Grant applications are due May 20, 2015 and training grant letter of intent is due April 30, 2015.

Farmers Market Promotion Program and Local Food Promotion Program:

Funded through the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, the Farmers Market Promotion Program and Local Food Promotion Program provide a total of $26.6 million, equally divided between the program.  The Farmers Market program is aimed at supporting direct marketing avenues, such as farmers markets, community supported agricultural programs, roadside stands, and agri-tourism.  The Local Food Promotion Program, on the other hand, is aimed at supporting intermediary supply chain activities for businesses that process, distribute, aggregate, and store locally or regionally produced food.

Grant applications for each program are due on May 14, 2015.  You may submit an application to each grant but, if your proposal is accepted for both grants, you may only be funded through one program.

If you are interested, grant writing workshops in every state are scheduled.

Farm Aid:

For non-governmental grant funding, Farm Aid’s annual grants to promote family farm system are open.  Letters of inquiry are due May 1, 2015 and fully proposals by August 1, 2015.  Grants are for non-profit organizations, from $3,000 to $10,000, that focus upon one of three areas: (1) Growing the Good Food Movement; (2) Helping Farmers Thrive; and (3) Taking Action to Change the System.  Growing the Good Food Movement supports program building local and regional food systems, direct marketing, and value-added markets.  Helping Farmers Thrive focuses upon projects for getting started on the land, accessing new markets, transitioning to more sustainable farming practices, production of renewable fuels, and staying on the land in face of financial crisis and natural disasters.  Finally, Taking Action to Change the System funds organizations promoting fair farm policies and grassroots organizing campaigns.

New Program to expand SNAP benefits for farmers markets and direct marketers

To continue the theme of discussing small/niche farmers, most of those in the know are aware that SNAP benefits (formerly known as food stamps) can be accepted at farmers markets.  The wrinkle?  The farmers market needed to find the appropriate equipment to connect wirelessly (which also meant a wireless plan), find and work with an approved USDA payment processor and understand various rates and rules of the processor.

But the last sentence is written in the past tense because the USDA has announced MarketLink, a new, one stop shop for direct marketing farmers and farmers markets to become authorized to accept SNAP benefits and acquire the equipment needed.  MarketLink also has an eligibility assessment to determine if you and/or the farmers market qualifies for free equipment.  MarketLink also includes information on how the program works and training presentations for farmers.

Is the program worth it?  This article indicates it is worth a serious look.  Not only have the number of farmers markets steadily grown with 8,000 in August 2013, SNAP redemption have almost doubled from 2011 to 2013.  In 2013 alone, SNAP accounted for $20.4 million in sales at farmers markets.

With spring approaching, it may be worth a few minutes of your time to determine if MarketLink is a good program for you.  It may just fit into your operation seamlessly and provide another consumer outlet.