Most of the topics on this site deal directly or indirectly with federal grants for agriculture. Here we deal specifically with the government’s agriculture grants related to sustainability. SARE, or the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education organization, is supported by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). It defines “Sustainable Agriculture” as including three “pillars” or key components:
- long term profitability
- stewardship of U.S. land, air and water and
- farmers’, ranchers’ and their communities’ way of life.
SARE is committed to promoting and strengthening each of those pillars.
The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) organization provides grants to farmers, non-profit organizations, communities and others. They fund projects and research about how the sustainable farming effort can be profitable as well as well as good for us. Over 5,000 grants have been provided since the organization’s founding in 1988, with projects including such subjects as pest and weed management, renewable energy development, soil conservation and nutrient management, as well as more business-oriented projects such as marketing campaigns and research into the creation of sustainable communities.
The National Sustainable Agricultural Information Service provides a wealth of information about sustainable farming, including an extensive list of grants and funding available for a variety of purposes. “Ask an Ag Expert” is an especially useful tool, and the site features information about assistance with nearly every scenario you are likely to encounter. The organization offers workshops and seminars across the country, as well as online webinars. The site also features a “Sustainable Producer Spotlight” so you can see what works and what doesn’t for successful organic farmers and ranchers.
Millions in Assistance Available for Farms, Ranches and Communities
As SARE itself says, there are loads of financial assistance programs offered by the USDA but it can be very complicated to find the one that’s right for you — and to keep up with changes following every new Farm Bill. To help with that confusion they have announced an updated and comprehensive guide to all those funds and programs. It is called Building Sustainable Farms, Ranches and Communities: A Guide to Federal Programs for Sustainable Agriculture, Forestry, Entrepreneurship, Conservation, Food Systems, and Community Development (phew!). It is 86 pages long and covers 63 programs, each including a description, application instructions, and sometimes how the funding has been used in the past. The guide also offers tips about how to put together sound projects (which should increase your chances of winning funding!), how to find the program right for you and even how to write your grant application. (On that topic be sure to see this article about writing a good grant proposal.) The guide (which includes new programs resulting from the most recent Farm Bill) is unfortunately not available online. But you can download a free pdf or order a hard copy. Given the number and variety of topics included in its title this guide should be a benefit not just to farmers and ranchers but also to entrepreneurs, community service agencies, conservationists and many other non-profits related to community development.
Non-Traditional Funding Options
Though the government is an important source of funds it is not the only option available. There are new and creative sources of funding being developed and used today.
One such financial arrangement involved community financing both in terms of money and “social capital.” A Guide that offers examples of Vermont farmers using this approach to pay their operating costs capital investments is in fact a SARE “grantee-produced info product” called “Guide to Financing The Community Supported Farm.” It is also available free as a download.
Even more unconventional, and new to agricultural businesses, is crowdfunding. Crowdfunding involves publicizing your project via an internet platform and receiving donations from individuals who want to support your cause. Many business and arts-related crowdfunding sites have already become popular. Now there is a site called Barnraiser. Its goal is to match the popularity of Kickstarter, perhaps the best known crowdfunding site. They aim to help agriculture projects get funded. Its founder’s vision is specifically to get one billion dollars to “social innovators” who are advancing sustainable food and farming. And they are off to a good start! So far their projects get successfully funded 82% of the time and the typical amount raised is $12,000. Interestingly, most of the investors on the site are women and about half of the projects being done are by women. So if you’ve got a good story to tell — or a story that you can tell really well — this is definitely an avenue to try! You can find them at barnraiser.us.