By Daniel Rivera
The world needs more small farms and farmers, and I’m happy to say that New York State is investing in the future of local and regional agriculture.
New York State’s Empire States Development (ESD) President, CEO & Commissioner Kenneth Adams said, “The New York State New Farmers Grant Fund was created to invest in the future of our agriculture industry and will provide the support many of our farmers need to establish an agriculture operation or grow their business. With funding available for costs ranging from the lease or purchase of farm machinery and equipment to the purchase of supplies, the grant fund will help meet the needs of our next generation of farmers in New York.”
In the past, many farmer grants and funding opportunities have been targeted more towards existing operations with established histories. This grant however is specifically targeted towards beginning farmers.
New Farmer Grant Program Purpose
The stated purpose of the New Farmers Grant Fund is “to provide assistance to new and early stage farmers and encourage farming as a career path to sustain and grow agribusiness across New York State.” A total of $614,000 makes up the fund. Grants will be available in the range of $15,000 to $50,000.
Who is Eligible?
Here’s a basic overview:
- You own or lease 150 acres or less, all within New York State
- You have spent 10 years or less producing an agricultural product
- You actively participate in the production of an agricultural product grown or raised on your farm
- You use or plan to use “innovative agricultural techniques,” such as organic farming, specialty crops, environmental stewardship or new technology
- Your farm operation is a legally formed business in New York State
Be sure to read all of the finer details on eligibility in the New Farmers Grant Fund Guidelines.
How Do You Apply?
First off I’ve always heard that grants can be tough to win and that there is a lot of competition. So if you’re a newbie to this, like I am, there are lots of resources online to consider first.
My first stop was to read up on “How to write an application that wins grants,” in the book Grant Writing for Dummies.
More advice I’ve found on Inc.com is “make sure your mission and purpose fits closely with the funding entity’s mission and purpose.”
So as you go through the process, it’s important to keep checking that what you write in the grant application does not stray from the mission of the New Farmers Grant Fund
Thinking more about the mission, the one eligibility requirement that stands out above the rest for me is “demonstrating innovation.” I think this is the key to a successful grant application.
Many of us can talk about being innovative, but demonstrating it can be another task altogether. I think it will be worthwhile to spend the most time and effort in this section of the grant application.
Breaking Down the Application
Because this whole process can seem overwhelming, it’s best to break it down into smaller parts and work on it over a period of time. If you rush and try to complete too many parts at once, you might not feel so confident that you’ve completed each part to the best of your ability.
Start with the first part of the application: the due date. All apps need to be in the mail en route to Albany, NY by January 28th, 2015. So we have a date to be completed by and we probably want this completed a few weeks earlier, right?
Just to make sure I get mine in by the due date, I’m going to try to make my personal due date December 31st, 2014. If I can do that, then I have plenty of time for tweaks and editing.
A few pages into the application is the Attachment Checklist. It lists a total of 17 items. Not all of these items may apply to you, but if they do, they have to be included with the application.
A big one for my application is the “matching funds commitment letter” and this needs to be started ASAP in order to make the deadline. I need to talk to my credit union soon to see if they will sponsor my farm (via a loan) for matching funds in the event that we are awarded by the program.
By the time the Attachment Checklist is completed, you’ll probably have a large stack of scanned and photocopied papers ready to be shipped to Albany.
After the checklist is reviewed and sorted out, we can then jump into the application itself.
Section 1 is all about your farm’s operation. This includes routine details that you should have easily at hand or at least know where to get, like tax ID numbers, etc. Then, just as I referred to earlier, in Section 1 Part D Question 3, the “innovation” inquiry begins:
“Does the farm operation currently employ the use of innovative agricultural techniques or is the farm operation seeking to employ the use of innovative agricultural techniques as a result of this project? If yes, provide details.”
Now I’m not saying your application will get rejected for not being innovative and leaving this section blank, but because it is so prominent in the eligibility requirements and the application itself, I assume it is to your benefit to provide as much detail as possible here.
In Section 2 begins the fun part. Here you will fill in your project title and include an executive summary. You’ll also fill in the amount of grant money you’re requesting to make your innovative agricultural dream a reality.
In Section 3 you are promptly brought back down to Earth in the form of a business plan.
You’ll need to include details of the proposed project, such as:
- A description of your current business
- The scope of the new project activities
- Innovative agricultural techniques to be employed
- Economic and environmental impacts and benefits
- Management and personnel
- Work plan
In Section 4 you will specify the dollar amount of the Estimated Total Project Budget, and fill in a sub-section for estimated machinery and equipment costs, estimated construction costs and supplies costs, if applicable for your project.
For Section 5 you will attest that you are a law-abiding citizen in good standing or you will state otherwise and provide an explanation.
Section 6 is probably the easiest part. It’s where you sign away on the dotted line.
Now it’s your turn! I’ve given you a quick overview on what the program is all about and what’s to be expected in the checklist and application. It does seem like a lot of work to fit into your already busy schedule, but if you “chunkify” it into small pieces of info, I think you’ll find is not that hard.
Other Funding Opportunities
The New Farmers Grant Fund is a New York State only program, but there are many other sources of funding available nationwide.
Visit the Cornell Small Farms Program website for information on grants and other funding opportunities for farmers across the Northeast.