With U.S. consumers increasingly interested in organic farming, the small businesswoman today has many opportunities to capitalize. Organic farming provides a niche that most large farms cannot fill, and a wealth of help in the form of grants makes launching into an organic farming business relatively simple for any woman. Available grants run the gamut, but they fall into a few main categories.
Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) provides grants designed to promote sustainable farming in the U.S. Some grants specifically target farm producers, and SARE considers start-up organic farms because they share the SARE mission, which is to advance innovation in agriculture. One focus area is education and research. SARE hopes the grants it gives to organic farmers helps other farmers run their own organic farming businesses.
Federal USDA Grants
The U.S. Department of Agriculture funds several grant programs, including some state-level programs that distribute federal dollars to specific projects. The Beginning Farm Loan Program provides loans to beginning farmers. Meanwhile, the 2009 farm bill passed by Congress designated $50 million in funding for new organic farming financial assistance. A portion of the funds were earmarked for federal grants for organic farms, including start-up farms. The federal Farm Service Agency (FSA) also features a special Women’s Outreach Program. The FSA outreach program uses various methods, including grant support, to encourage profitable farming by women. In addition to grants, the outreach program provides loans to farm owners.
State and Extension Grants
State governments and local cooperative extension offices provide grant funds for farming. In Illinois, the Illinois Department of Agriculture features the Illinois AgriFIRST program, which provides grant funds to farmers. The growth of organic farming makes it a target area for the AgriFIRST program, which primarily seeks to help economic development in the state. Specific programs vary from one region to another, but many cooperative extension programs today focus on organic farming, which has gained popularity among backyard farmers. Cooperative extensions provide a face-to-face communication, and the extension experts often possess information about state and local grants that support organic farming and small businesses. In fact, North Carolina State University launched the New Mountain Organic Research and Extension Unit in 2010 to provide assistance specifically geared toward organic farmers.
Organic farming grows each year, and many organizations dedicated to organic crops support these farms with grants. These entities are often nonprofit organizations, and they give grants to individuals who start organic farms. One key organization is the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF), which awards research and education and outreach grants twice each year. The organization’s board of directors votes on which grant proposals to approve. The funding generally is for one year. Grant recipients must submit end-of-year reports to OFRF. In March 2011, OFRF awarded seven grants totaling $74,849 for organic farming. Some of the funds are used to study ways that organic farmers can overcome common difficulties, such as insects and disease that harm crops.
From an article by Ron White for the Houston Chronicle