DOAG: Agricultural Viability Grants: Making a Difference

This article appeared in the March 27, 2013 edition of the Ag Report
 

Agricultural Viability Grants:  Making a Difference

By Ron Olsen, Bureau of Agricultural Development and Resource Preservation

 

Grants are an integral component of the Connecticut Department of Agriculture’s Connecticut Grown Program and have been well utilized since their inception in 2005.  These annual grants help finance on-farm improvements and fund many programs that support and promote Connecticut agriculture. 

 

A total of 214 Agricultural Viability Grants totaling $6.3 million have been awarded for projects having a combined total budget of $16.3 million. 

 

Funding is not limited to production farmers; non-profit organizations and municipalities also are eligible. 

 

Agricultural Viability Grants are awarded on a competitive basis and matching funds must be supplied by the recipient.  Grantees may receive up to $49,999 in matching funds and have one year to complete their projects. 

 

Recipients fall into one of two grant subcategories: the Farm Transition Grants (for producers and agricultural co-ops) or the Farm Viability Grants (for municipalities and agricultural non-profits).  Each subcategory has a dedicated fund. 

 

These grants have been made available through Public Act 05-228, An Act Concerning Farmland Preservation, Land Protection, Affordable Housing and Historic Preservation, also known as the Community Investment Act. 

 

This landmark legislation protects and preserves Connecticut for future generations by funding municipal open space grants, farm viability and preservation projects, historic preservation and new and existing affordable housing programs, and new infrastructure to support and promote Connecticut agriculture. 

 

This funding is generated from a $40 fee collected by municipal clerks for recording documents into land records.

 

A few shining examples of wisely spent Farm Viability dollars are grant-supported projects undertaken by Harbor Watch in Westport, The Community Farm of Simsbury, and Massaro Farm CSA in Woodbridge.

 

Harbor Watch is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with the mission of protecting and re-establishing the biological integrity of coastal waters and freshwater streams.  It accomplishes this goal by testing water quality throughout Fairfield County, locating and sourcing pollution discharges, and analyzing the worst impacts. 

 

Harbor Watch’s Farm Viability Grant enabled the hiring of five employees along with the purchase of laboratory supplies and equipment to aid in the surveys. 

 

Continued monitoring of these waters is important not only for recreational purposes but also for the commercial shellfish businesses that operate here. 

 

Harbor Watch supplies affected towns with reports that have been used to stop pollution discharges and fix problems at the source.  Their excellent work has been cited by both state and municipal agencies.

 

The Community Farm of Simsbury, another 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, is an example of how partnerships can thrive during uneven economic times. 

 

This town-owned farm was home to an organic dairy business until 2008.  A partnership was formed between the town of Simsbury, the Ethel Walker School, and Hartford’s Billings Forge Community Works to create the Community Farm of Simsbury, which became responsible for management of the farm by leasing 77 acres, 38 of which are tillable.

  

Their Farm Viability Grant has helped to expand and enhance summer and school-year educational programs, augment volunteer opportunities, and establish the farm’s Incubator Farmer Program.  It has also helped to finance infrastructure, including coolers, root cellar storage facilities, irrigation systems, and barn renovations.

 

Last year, the Community Farm of Simsbury grew 12,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables that it donated to various social services.  Farmers from the Incubator Farmer Program have gone on to establish their own farms or work as managers of existing farms.  Educational hands-on programs have been developed for all age groups, supporting school curriculums in math, reading, writing, and social studies.  An onsite seasonal farm stand offers the community fresh fruits and vegetables.  This project is a prime example of a municipal farm that works. 

 

Massaro Farm began in 1916 as a private family farm.  In 2007, 57 acres were deeded to the town of Woodbridge, and in 2008, the 501(c)(3) non-profit Massaro Community Farm was formed to restore the farm.  The organization received a Farm Viability Grant to help refurbish the existing old dairy facility and turn it into a central workplace with a sorting area, refrigeration, and storage needed for a working fruit and vegetable farm.  Another Farm Transition Grant helped the farm establish a community supported agriculture (CSA) program in 2010 on four acres, with funding used to fence in the entire production area for wildlife protection and to purchase an irrigation system.

 

In 2010, the farm harvested more than 18,000 pounds of produce, benefiting 125 CSA members.  In 2012, the CSA expanded to 155 members, harvesting more than 48,000 pounds of produce on five cultivated acres. This year, the farm is increasing its production area to seven and a half acres and preparing another acre and a half for future use.  In addition, the farm has made weekly donations in season to local hunger relief organizations and sold to area restaurants. This municipal farm is definitely back into production agriculture as the original owners intended it to be.

 

Agricultural Viability Grants—both Farm Viability (nonprofits and municipalities) and Farm Transition (producers and co-ops)--are offered annually with applications due the second Friday of each November.  For more information, please contact Ronald Olsen at 860-713-2550 or Ronald.olsen@ct.gov, or visit the Connecticut Department of Agriculture’s website, www.CTGrown.gov, and click on “Programs, Services, and Grants” at the left of the page.