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small grants can help us

Posted: April 22 2010

A nice little piece in the NYtimes by Benjamin Shute - greenhorn + one of the co-founders of our new National Young Farmers Coalition!  His piece is part of a lengthier commentary on "Making It Easier to Eat Local Food".  Several great writers are featured.

Small Grants Can Help Us

Benjamin Shute is the co-owner and manager of Hearty Roots Community Farm, where he grows vegetables on 23 acres in New York’s Hudson River Valley. He is a co-founder of the National Young Farmers’ Coalition.
To help farmers meet their needs for local distribution systems, the federal government should start by building on its own good idea: the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education farmer grants program.
This program offers farmers small grants to carry out on-farm, practical research, and then to make the results available to their peers. These small expenditures of federal dollars can have a big impact, since they enhance the knowledge and resources that farmers already have, while providing incentive for sharing these with the wider farm community.
My farm has participated in this program as a grantee, but more important has benefited from the results of other farmers’ projects; we even converted one of our tractors to run on electric power thanks to the do-it-yourself guide produced by a fellow vegetable-grower.

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The Department of Agriculture should expand and adapt this program to incorporate infrastructure projects. For example, the program could help finance the establishment of a processing facility, slaughterhouse or cold storage facility by a farmer, provided that it be made available to nearby farms to help meet their needs as well.
Coupled with changes in policy that provide incentives to distribute and process food locally, this would encourage farmers to share resources and create stronger local networks and partnerships, multiplying its impact. Farmers would plan and carry out these projects themselves, ensuring that the needs identified are real, verified by their on-the-ground experience.
The people of the United States would see a good return on their investment of money spent toward these grants, thanks to increased economic activity on small, locally oriented farms; farms like mine tend to have much higher revenue per acre than larger commodity operations. Better still, funding for this program could be generated by re-allocating money from commodity crop subsidy programs, which currently encourage unsustainable monoculture production over vibrant, sustainable, diversified farming.

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