Funding Resources and Opportunities for Farmers and Small Businesses
There are an abundance of financial resources available to farmers and food-related small businesses in Colorado. Some are offered through federal funding such as U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE), Colorado State University (CSU) related grants, etc. Others are offered through businesses, independent foundations, non-profits, rural development organizations. Some grants are offered an annual, others on a rolling basis and others, and sometimes one-time grants are available.
In this blog, I will explore some of the different types of grants that are available and also briefly cover the grant-writing process. It is actually much easier than many folks think! Resources for a variety of grant programs and resources related to small farm and business funding can be found at the end of this post.
Federally funded grants include those from the USDA, CSU, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other federally funded research institutions. Some of the resources in this category included Specialty Crop Block Grant, Local Food Promotion Program, Value Added Producer Grant, Young Farm and Ranchers Grants and many others. These usually range from $10-50,000 and usually consist of a fair amount of research. Typically, the institutions that are providing the funding will also provide the components and survey data to conduct their research goals.
You may need to maintain a monitoring system and allow researchers access to your property on a regular basis. The benefits of these programs are that you can obtain a sizable grant sum and also contribute to valuable research that will improve the local food economy and offer teachable examples for others who are eager to join the league of producers in the region.
Other grants are funded independently, through family or private business foundations. These grants are offered by philanthropists who are hoping to contribute to goals of food security and access in rural communities. Some of those that are available to small farmers and business owners include Women’s Net Small Business Loans for Women, The McGowan Fund and Mabel Y Hughes Charitable Trust. These grants are often offered with a goal of programming or some other kind of community engagement so these are especially good if your plans include a community garden, Pick up your CSA Box at the Farm Program, gardening classes, internships or some other community activity.
Some of the other grants offered to farmers and small businesses are funded by non profits, rural business development centers and other organizations whose goal is to empower, educate and inspire local producers and business owners. These grants are often offered with the goal of increasing access and affordability of fresh local foods in rural and food desert communities. Some of these grants include Farm Aid, Caring for Colorado, Colorado Fresh Financing Fund, VOGA Animal Welfare Grants, FARMS Project and many many more. At the bottom of this blog, you will find a list of resources for different grants that are available with links so that you can learn more about eligibility, offerings, deadlines, application process and more.
Finally, some grants are offered from businesses. These are a give back approach from corporations to support local farms and small business development. Some of these include the Patagonia Retail Grant, Simply Organic, Finish Line Youth Foundation, Dr, Scholl Foundation, Walmart Community Grant Program and Home Depot Foundation’s Community Impact Grant Program. These programs provide good publicity for businesses and provide them the opportunity to give some of their profits back to improve the community through education, food access, volunteer programs and small business development.
Applying for a Grant
Most grants will require an application, and many have their own specific guidelines that you must follow to have your request considered. In addition, successful grant proposals answer the questions in the application concisely and completely. Oftentimes, once you have written one grant you can use much of that information to apply for other grants. But spending time to understand the donor’s priority and past funding projects can help you shape each proposal to that granter’s needs. Supporting information, such as business and project plans, farm and/or business descriptions, record of sales, etc. can be saved and accessed for all kinds of opportunities including grants, as well as investors, credit loans, etc.
Understanding what the donor is looking for, and having your own plans in order are necessary to apply for a grant. But grant-writing is not a super complicated process. The basic steps are to narrow down your search list to those grants that meet the criterion of the project you are hoping to fund. For instance, if you are hoping to build a barn or put up high tunnels, you would want to narrow down your search to grants that are offered for infrastructural improvements, season extension, etc. If you want to start an after school garden program for children, you would want to look for grants related to education, childcare and supply costs for educational farming equipment like shovels, seeds, soil, materials to build raised beds, etc.
After you have selected several grants that you would like to apply for, make sure that the application deadlines are in order with your timeline for application process, desired installation dates, etc. Starting a few months before an application is due allows you time to make sure you have your materials together, a well-defined project, and time to learn about the funder’s priorities. You can also usually learn more about the type of projects a particular grant funds with a little research into what it has supported in the past.
Most grant applications are composed of a section for personal and contact information and another for short answer questions. Many applications have word or character limits, so learning to make your case in detail without redundancy is important. When you are answering questions on an application, keep your answers short and concise but provide as much information as possible. For instance, stating “We are applying to build 2 chicken tractors to house 150 chickens and gross profit $2,000 that we can then reinvest into building a third tractor to increase production and profits by an additional $1,000 for every round of chickens raised.” is stronger than stating “We are applying to build chicken tractors on the farm.”
Colorado Farm & Food Alliance
The Colorado Farm and Food Alliance works to share information, find collaborations, provide service and facilitate action to support Colorado’s amazing small businesses, farms and entrepreneurs!
Hopefully this blog provides some insight and also some good resources as a jumping off point. Writing your own grants for projects and developments on your farm and in your small business may help your enterprise prosper with the changing times.
I have written and received several grants and would be happy to read over your applications before you send them out to provide feedback. Please provide at least one week prior to application deadline, and send to Elizabeth at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Colorado Farm & Food Alliance relies on the contribution of individuals, businesses, and private foundations – and we welcome your support at http://www.coloradofarmfood.org/contact-us/
And we hope your spirits are uplifted by this spring, with much opportunity to grow a healthy and prosperous future.
A list of resources and links follows on the next page.