Applying for grant money may be one of the tasks that made Old MacDonald feel old. Few people go into farming because they love doing paperwork. Grant money can, however, further your farming plans without the burden of repayment. Fortunately, online or relatively local resources can make the grant application process clear and efficient. Grants exist at federal, state and county levels.
Contact your USDA County Extension Agency or Farm Service Agency to get information on federal grants available to your farm. Federal grants tend to have limits as well as opportunities built into their structure; applicants for many grants, for example, must be agencies or nonprofit organizations which then select individual recipients. Your county agent will know what grants have been applied for and the administering organizations in your area.
Ask your county agent for information on USDA-linked agencies. ATTRA, the organic arm of the USDA, offers research grants through its regional Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) offices. Grant money may help you test out a new technique or compare several approaches to solving a farming problem. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) branch of the USDA writes grants to groups, businesses and individuals through its Conservation Innovation Grant Program. Full descriptions of SARE and NRCS grants can be found online.
Seek out the local branch of your state's Department of Agriculture. Grants for specific crops or concerns may be available through state funds. Kentucky, for example, offers cost-sharing grants to producers participating in the revival of the grape and wine industry. Grants may be available to small businesses, nonprofit organizations or individuals.
Explore local possibilities as grant sources. Many families all over the country are aware of the work Farm Aid does to help small farmers hold on to their farms. The development grants available from the Frontera Farmer Foundation, however, are well known and available only to farmers close to Chicago, growing the specialized crops needed for chef Rick Bayless's Frontera restaurants. The Organic Farming Research Foundation in Santa Cruz may offer grants to farmers outside California. Environmental groups in your area may offer grant money for habitat restoration or a new power source. Green concerns are reshaping how business is done, including grant making.
Take the broadest view of grant-seeking that you can. Just because your property is a farm does not mean that it's just a farm. State programs relating to water conservation, prairie restoration, erosion prevention, reforestation and community development all contain program areas that may make grants available. To build a local green market, you may have to partner with others; the grant is not made personally, directly to you, but it's still money you don't have to spend. Think big, think broad.
Since all grants have a competitive component, make certain you follow all directions and meet all deadlines required by the application. Lateness or missing information can disqualify your hard work.
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