Farmers across the US vied for $75,000 in grant money through Cultivating Change, a local farm grant program that's empowering the future of farming. Cultivating Change is a local farm grant program offered by Greener Fields Together (GFT), to fund projects and initiatives to help farmers do what they do best: grow great food.
Applications received across the US, more than double last year
2018 marks the third year of the program, which has grown considerably with more people applying each year. The first year received 30 applications for grants and this year 100 submissions were sent in from 25 states. The range of submissions and projects varied widely, according to Anne Nichols, including hydroponics and aquaponics, organic growers, field-grown farms and more. Each state had at least one grower representing. Winners were announced on February 5.
Funds awarded by merit and popular vote
Nichols says winners were chosen through merit and by online votes from the public. Applications were reviewed by a panel which divvied up $55,000 based on budget, strategy, timelines the project will undertake, its purpose and whether the project can be sustained over time. Based on the online peer votes, farmers could receive a portion of the $20,000. “This is our way of putting it back to the community. These are the people who are feeding you and to (vote) support them," she says.
Investing in local
Choctaw Fresh Produce received a $20,000 grant. In 2012 the only Indian tribe in the state of Mississippi formed the farming company as a way to rebuild the local food system, address some of the unhealthy eating habits of the community as well as create employment opportunities for the tribe. Since establishing the organization, John Hendrix says they have been building out the farm infrastructure, growing and selling locally and regionally primarily to tribal members and schools but also to the non-Indian community within a 75-mile radius (including Whole Foods). “We’ve developed a series of high tunnels and greenhouse and all the infrastructure that goes into place for that,” he explains of the five community farms that grow produce. “We want to expand off the reservation selling wholesale in larger volumes.”
Certified organic produce
Everything grown is certified organic and the operation is GAP certified. They also run a CSA program. Currently leafy greens kale, collard greens are in season. Spring crops were seeded about two weeks ago, which included tomatoes. They also grow and harvest squash, zucchini, romaine lettuce, herbs, cucumbers and bell peppers.
Changing dietary health
Prior to being formed practically none of the food consumed in the community was actually grown in the community. “We’ve definitely changed that. We feel like changing people’s diets is key,” says Hendrix. Nothing goes to waste. Any unsold produce gets donated locally. “It’s gotten us motivated to be a good host for the grant funds and make sure that we deliver a great product. The whole process was very exciting.”
For more information:
Choctaw Fresh Produce
Ph: (601) 416-0378