MISSOULA, MT – The Community Food and Agriculture Coalition (CFAC) announced $100K in mini-grants to be given to Montana farmers to improve on-farm efficiencies and increased production through the purchase of new tools, small equipment and supplies. CFAC was awarded the funds used for this project from the Montana Department of Agriculture’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. The program not only awards Montana-based farmers the funding necessary to buy and test new tools, it also requires the farmer to report the impact that new equipment had on the efficiency and yields at their farm to be shared publicly with other farmers through written reports, videos and podcasts.
“Establishing a new farm can be a significant financial undertaking!” said Gillian Thornton of Thunder Road Farm in Arlee. “The Field Tested Mini-Grant allows us to take the leap without feeling like we’re in over our heads. We’ve been so grateful to the farmers and ranchers who have shared their knowledge and expertise with us as we work to start our operation, and we are happy to pay it forward by reporting on our own experiences and findings through this program.”
Since 2016, CFAC has awarded three full rounds of funding to local farmers, this year being the third. The competition for Field Tested mini-grants continues to grow each year. In 2020, the number of applicants was approx. 50 farmers, doubling the number of applicants from the last round in 2019. CFAC gave out the highest number of mini-grants this year, 27 in total (vs. 16 last year), and over $40K more in funds than last year. Grants awarded range from $1,000 to the maximum allowed of $5,000 per individual farm.
“This year we’ve awarded mini-grants to farmers across a wider geographic area and to farmers growing more diverse types of specialty crops. I’ve been doing food system work in the state for almost ten years, and there were a lot of new farms growing food and contributing to their micro food system, or the craft brew or winery markets.” said Shay Farmer, CFAC’s Programs and Finance Director. “This funding helps these newer growers access alternative funding to help get them more established while also supporting a peer dialogue between farmers looking to grow similar things.” The USDA’s definition of specialty crops is used to qualify for Field Tested mini grants and includes farmers who grow, “fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture” for sale to local markets and direct to Montanans.
Program partners also include Montana State University’s Western Ag Research Center (WARC) that will provide technical assistance, along with CFAC, to select mini-grant awardees to help them better develop their data collection methods to understand the impact of their projects. They also help review applicants.
Mini-grant funds will be dispersed in February, so that farmers can start making their tool, small equipment and supply purchases in advance of the 2021 farm season and prepare to evaluate the impact of the equipment on their business throughout the season. Past Field Tested reports can be found on CFAC’s Farm Link Montana web site. CFAC also posts “Field Tested Friday” farmer spotlights on social media showcasing some of the on-farm success Field Tested grant recipients are seeing on the ground. Some of this year’s recipients will participate in Field Tested podcast episodes to share their success and lessons learned with other farmers and the larger community.