Farm Aid partners with organizations all over the country to work towards our mission of creating a family farm-centered system of agriculture in America. Since our first concert in 1985, we’ve granted over $24 million to more than 300 organizations, creating a strong network of allies to keep family farmers on the land. Each year, grantees report back on what they’ve accomplished.
This post features stories from two of our grantees, Michael Fields Agricultural Institute and the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. The stories highlight the continuing education opportunities both organizations have created for farmers in their communities.
We’ve condensed and edited each statement for clarity, but the following are our grantees’ own stories in their words. We hope you’ll be as inspired as we’ve been by the uplifting work to strengthen farmers that’s happening all over our country.
Michael Fields Agricultural Institute
The Michael Fields Agricultural Institute (MFAI) aims to foster the next generation of sustainable agriculture proponents. MFAI provides information and mentoring about government grants, loans and cost-share resources to underserved rural and urban farmer populations facing barriers to access.
Amber Daugs, the founder and CEO of Grow It Forward in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, sought assistance from the MFAI Grants Advising Team to help her develop a proposal to the USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP). A relatively new organization, Grow It Forward was initially formed to create and manage community gardens across Manitowoc.
In April 2018, Amber broadened the organization’s scope by assuming management of the Manitowoc Farmers Market. Amber knew that FMPP funding would enable Grow It Forward to communicate with more than 70 market vendors and the city to reach mutually-beneficial, but previously hard-to-achieve, goals.
MFAI’s Grants Advising Team helps individual farmers gain basic knowledge and skills in applying to any federal or state grant, cost-share and loan program. Federal grant proposals are cumbersome, and many farmers and agricultural non-profits cannot devote the time to researching and composing a proposal. This service makes it possible for under-resourced organizations and individuals to access programs.
“Honestly, if I didn’t have your help, I wouldn’t have submitted it.”
Over two phone conversations, the MFAI Grants Adviser helped Amber clarify her intentions for a FMPP proposal, and encouraged her to craft a proposal narrative that makes sure Grow It Forward gains benefits equal to those of the market vendors and the city of Manitowoc.
Upon submitting her FMPP proposal, Amber thanked the MFAI Adviser through an e-mail: “The advice you gave was critical in restructuring the grant into a cohesive narrative. Honestly, if I didn’t have your help, I wouldn’t have submitted it.” Although her organization has a noteworthy track record in being a catalyst for mostly small-scale food system interventions in Manitowoc, Amber recognized that future management of the farmers market will add new capacities, but also new levels of complexity to Grow It Forward’s operations. The MFAI Grants Advising Team helped Amber envision how to work through this important organizational shift so that both the organization and the market vendors have brighter futures.
Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association’s (MOFGA) mission is to serve as a broad-based community that educates about, and advocates for, organic agriculture, illuminating its interdependence with a healthy environment, local food production and thriving communities. One of their most effective programs is their New Farmer Training Program, which provides family farmers with ongoing resources to start farming, transition to more sustainable practices, and continue farming.
Every year there are new and evolving stories of farmers who have benefitted from participation in MOFGA’s Farmer Training Program. What follows is a retelling of one such story involving two farmers, and reflects on their ability to bring innovative solutions that address important challenges affecting the growth of their business.
“MOFGA was essential to my learning about farming.”
“I moved to Maine because of MOFGA.” New farmers tell MOFGA this so frequently that Ted Quaday, MOFGA’s former executive director, wasn’t surprised to hear it from Kate Harris when he visited Kev’s Organic, a MOFGA-certified organic farm in West Gardiner, Maine.
Kate migrated from Pennsylvania in 2009 to participate in MOFGA’s Apprenticeship Program. A few years after that, she enrolled in MOFGA’s two-year Journeyperson Program. “MOFGA was essential to my learning about farming,” Kate said.
In 2011, Kate joined Maine native, Kevin Leavitt, at Farmer Kev’s Organic. Leavitt’s mission is to sell affordable organic food to people throughout Central Maine. At the time, he was farming on a single acre of leased land, but he already had recognized the need to grow more food in order to develop a sustainable business. In 2015, Kevin and Kate purchased a 30-acre farm and built four large greenhouses, three of which are heated for year-round production. They have also developed a home (or office) delivery service, making their produce more accessible to busy families.
Kevin and Kate have formed an excellent partnership. Drawing on skills acquired through MOFGA’s business training programs. Kate has built a social media brand that includes publishing weekly online videos for the 400+ families who purchase food from Farmer Kev’s. On Facebook, they have maintained a 5-star customer rating and currently have over 4,500 followers – an online presence that many small farms would envy.
Kevin excels in growing high quality organic food. When he has technical questions about production or pest control, Kevin often contacts Eric Sideman, MOFGA’s organic crop specialist, or Dave Colson, MOFGA’s director of agricultural services.
The staff at MOFGA help Kev’s Organic and hundreds of other organic growers in Maine succeed. The staff derive great satisfaction from guiding and supporting farmers as they strive to develop viable businesses that deliver healthy, organic food to Maine families. Farmer Kev’s is just one of 530 MOFGA-certified organic farms and food processors throughout Maine.
MOFGA is inspiring and training a new generation of business-savvy farmers, as demonstrated by the experience of Farmer Kev’s and so many other farms like it. Not only are they playing a significant role in attracting more young people into farming, young farmers are acquiring valuable knowledge and skills through MOFGA education and training programs, and putting them to work in creative ways to market and sell their products in an ever-changing industry. The MOFGA staff is proud to see so many program graduates establish and grow successful farm businesses year after year.