New Farmer Grant Program

I’ve never applied for a grant before, but when I recently heard of the New Farmer Grant Program in New York State  –  I knew that this would be the first time!

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.

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.”

At the time when we first started our farming project all of the grants and funding opportunities seemed to be targeted more towards existing operations with established histories.

This grant however is specifically targeted towards beginning farmers.

New Farmer Grant Program Purpose

New York State’s Empire States Development (ESD) says “the New York State New Farmers Grant Fund was created 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 for early stage farmers.

Who is eligible?

Here’s a basic overview:

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  • You own or lease 150 acres or less all within New York State
  • You’ve 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:” things like organic farming, specialty crops, environmental stewardship or other tech
  • Your farm operation is a legally formed business in New York State

Be sure to read all of the finer details on eligibility here in the guidelines (PDF).

I’m pretty sure that our beginning farm operation (Triple Green Jade Farm) fits the criteria,  which is why we’re going to apply.

Hopefully this seems like a good fit for you as well!


So 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,” which is perfectly suited for me because it is part of “Grant Writing for Dummies.”

More advice I’ve found on is “make sure your mission and purpose fits closely with the funding entity’s mission and purpose.

So as we go through the process, it’s important to keep checking back that visions are aligned and that what we write in the grant application does not stray from the mission.

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 another task altogether. I think it will be worthwhile to spend the most time and effort here in the grant application.

Breaking down the application

Because this whole process can seem overwhelming, I think it’s best to break it down into smaller parts. Then try to accomplish each part to the best of your ability. That way when you’re finished you will be 100% confident you are submitting a solid app.

If you rush and try to complete too many parts at once, you might not feel so confident.

OK. We 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.


The Checklist

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 – then they do have to be included with the application.

A big one for us is the “matching funds commitment letter” and this needs to get started ASAP in order to make the deadline.

I am planning to talk to my credit union soon to see if they would sponsor us (meaning: give us a loan) for matching funds in the event that we are awarded by the program.

When the checklist is completed, you’ll probably have in the end a fat stack of scanned and photocopied papers ready to be shipped to Albany.


The Application

After the checklist is reviewed and sorted out, we can then jump into the application itself.

Section 1 is all about your farms operation and information. 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:

3. 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 you’re 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 some level of detail 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.

In this section you’ll need to include all details that “surround-sound” the proposed project. Details such as:

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  • 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
  • Budget
  • Workplan

In Section 4 you will include the dollars and cents to be used in the Estimated Total Project Budget. This also includes 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. Enough said.

Section 6 is probably the easiest part. It’s where you sign away on the dotted line.

What’s Next

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.

Again I think the key to this grant is innovation. I’m looking forward to seeing what new innovations come over the next few years based on over a half a billion dollars of seed money for new and beginning farmers!

I haven’t finished my application yet,  but I’ll be documenting the process in more detail over on my blog as we go through the steps and checklist of requirements.

Other Funding Opportunities

Obviously this is a New York State only program, but there are many other sources of funding available nationwide.

Maybe you’re interested in seeing what other types of grants are available? The Cornell Small Farms Program website, not only is it a great resource, it is also full of grants and other funding opportunities for New York State as well as Federal programs.


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