Funding opportunities

Here is some information to help you find funding to support your local food systems work.

Producers

  • Practical Farmers of Iowa offers a comprehensive Beginning Farmer Resource Guide to Financing. Find the different loan options available federally or in Iowa, divided by what you are looking to finance (business loan, purchasing  farmland, purchasing a rural residence with an acreage, to expand, for land stewardship costs), as well as supporting organizations and contacts.
  • View a PowerPoint presentation titled “Financing Food Enterprises and Cooperative Businesses,” presented online as part of the USDA’s Rural Development Webinar Series in September 2016 by James Barham and Margaret Bau, USDA Rural Development, Rural Business-Cooperative Service.
  • Small Farm Funding Resources is a video that helps you navigate USDA’s online guide for small farm funding resources. Most federal financial assistance programs to start a farm or ranch are loans, not grants. However, there are a number of grant programs for specific projects once you are farming.
  • Farm Loan Programs is an online guide to the different direct and guaranteed loan programs available through the Farm Service Agency (FSA) (find a simplified chart p. 12-13).
  • Where Can I Find Agricultural Funding Resources? is compiled by USDA’s Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, and succinctly gathers information on different funding streams available for farmers.
  • Locate your local FSA county office at this link.
  • The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has an online overview of farm bill programs and grants that support farmers (farmer eligibility is delineated in the right hand column).

Local food coordinators/NGOs

Youth/F2S

National Farm to School Network has a great page of information on current funding opportunities and resources. For more ideas for supporting your farm to school activities, you can look at their Funding Farm to School factsheet.

You can also sign up for the Iowa Farm to School Network weekly email newsletter which includes new funding opportunities.

Other ideas:

  • Local hospitals and healthcare clinics often give away community grants or funding to support improving community health through gardening and healthy cooking programs. Check with the community relations staff.
  • Local banks or bank branches sometimes offer small community grants to support community projects like youth gardens. Give your bank office a call.
  • If you have an FFA chapter near you, you could apply to one of their Living to Serve grants. Chapters may apply for funding in four focus areas, including Hunger, Health and Nutrition.
  • Farm Credit Services of America offers grants of either $2,000 or $10,000 through its Working Here Fund. Both funding options are designed to impact agriculture education, young and beginning producers, hunger and nutrition, and essential services/disaster relief needs.
  • The Wellmark Foundation offers grants to nonprofit organizations or community groups that develop, implement and enhance local wellness and prevention projects with a focus on long-term sustainability.
  • Lowe’s offers up to $5,000 in Toolbox for Education grants for parent-teacher organizations working to improve their school in one of the following areas: technology upgrades, tools for STEM programs, facility renovations and safety improvements.
  • Annie’s Homegrown, Inc., offers a Grants for Gardens program to support school gardens; new applicants can receive $3,000, and returning awardees $5,000.
  • Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa, and other local and state soil, garden, and seed suppliers will often donate materials for your garden project.

Examples of other national grant opportunities:

  • USDA Farm to School Grant program
    The National School Lunch Act created a federal farm to school program. On an annual basis, USDA awards up to $5 million in competitive grants for training, supporting operations, planning, purchasing equipment, developing school gardens, developing partnerships, and implementing farm to school programs.
  • The Nature Conservancy: Nature Works Everywhere program
    The Nature Conservancy, as part of their mission to protect and conserve the environment, supports projects that implement green infrastructure to address local environmental challenges. These include access to healthy food, air quality, heat island effect, climate change, and storm water collection. In 2017, TNC awarded $2,000 grants to 60 public or charter schools across the US.
  • Whole Foods: Whole Kids Foundation School Garden grant program
    The Whole Kids Foundation, in partnership with FoodCorps, offers $2,000 for year-long student projects through its School Garden Grant Program, designed to help students learn about topics such as nutrition and health, sustainability and conservation, food systems, and community awareness.
  • Safer® Brand School Garden Grant 
    Safer® Brand (organic gardening supplies and products) created an annual school garden grant in 2017 to help kids build healthy habits through gardening, bring classmates closer together, and unite everyone in a common goal of better health. The $500 grant will be awarded to a school in the United States to start a school garden.
  • Project Produce Fruit and Veggie Grants for Schools
    The Chef Ann Foundation and Healthy Skoop’s Project Produce: Fruit and Veggie Grants for Schools helps increase kids’ access to fresh fruits and vegetables and create experiential nutrition education when and where students make their food choices: in the cafeteria. The $2,500 one-year grants support food costs to incorporate school-wide fruit and vegetable tastings into the school’s nutrition program. Grants will be determined on an ongoing basis depending on available funding; there is no application deadline.
  • KidsGardening Youth Garden Grants
    KidsGardenings’ Youth Garden Grants help establish new school and community gardens and assist in sustaining and renewing existing gardens. Grants are awarded on a yearly basis. The request for applications is usually issued each fall, with awards made early the following year, in time for building and planting in the spring.

Tips for grant-seekers

1. Define the need or problem you are addressing

Collaborate with appropriate partners to plan and develop your idea; funders prefer proposals that show you are working effectively with other organizations and agencies doing similar work. Give yourself plenty of time to build your coalition and develop your proposal; up to a year or even longer may be needed to create a strong project proposal.

2. Determine the best way to solve the problem. 

Solution = Project Idea. What evidence is there to support your solution? Why will it work? This is where your expertise about what will work best in your local community will shine through. Make your case in the grant narrative that your organization or coalition is best-equipped to deliver the solution you are proposing.

3. Find the right source to fund your program.

Rather than trying to fit your project to a specific grant, try to find the appropriate funder to support the work you are doing. Grants.gov is the online archive of available federal grants, which is searchable by category. The Foundation Center maintains a free database of 1700 funder websites (they do charge a fee to search for specific grants). Other resources are available from various nonprofit and government organizations; try a web search using your specific criteria.

4. Be professional as a grant-seeker!

Follow the grant requirements to the letter. Funders will disqualify applicants who do not follow their instructions for word/length requirements, budget forms, letters of recommendation, etc. Write clearly, check spelling and grammar, ask a colleague (or three) to review the proposal before you submit it. Plan to submit your proposal several days (better yet, a few weeks) before the deadline, to give yourself plenty of time to review and avoid last-minute online submission glitches. If your proposal is not funded, be sure to ask for reviewer feedback so you can strengthen your proposal for the next submission. Some funders will even recommend that you submit your idea for their next funding round, after reviewer comments have been addressed.

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