Michael Fields Agricultural Institute (MFAI) in East Troy, WI, recognizes the importance of the connection between soil, water, biodiversity and human health and conducts research and education that fosters an understanding of this interconnectedness. The Institute’s founders felt it was their responsibility to not only be stewards of the land, but also that farmers and agribusiness professionals share their agricultural knowledge, experiences and best practices of organic, biodynamic, regenerative and sustainable agriculture to improve farming systems already in place.
MFAI has a unique ability to take action through its three arms: education, research and policy, at the state and federal levels. They are a proud leader of the growing movement that understands that nurturing healthy soil is important to agricultural resiliency in the face of climate change, broken food systems and carbon loading in the atmosphere.
One of the programs that Farm Aid grants have supported at MFAI is their free Grants Advising Services. This program 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.
In one instance, 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. 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 funding like this would enable her organization to communicate with more than 70 market vendors and the city to reach mutually-beneficial, but previously hard-to-achieve, goals.
Over two phone conversations, the MFAI Grants Adviser helped Amber clarify her intentions for the proposal. Upon submitting it, 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 Amber’s organization has a noteworthy track record of 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.