Applying for a USDA Grant: An Unforgettable Experience

| 3/3/2014 5:14:00 PM

soapMy original intent was to write this blog about Part 2, Fencing and Pasture, of How to become a Dairy Goat Farmer, but in the last several weeks I have been so absorbed in a very particular aspect of farming that I just wanted to tell you about that experience. Now, small family farms are not so lucky to receive all those subsidies that big commercial farmers receive for their operations, nor are we covered by crop or other catastrophic insurances, so our incomes are not guaranteed and we have to work hard to cover expenses. Over the last couple of years, we have applied for 1 large and two smaller grants with the goal to finance some special projects. The first year we applied for a USDA Equip grant and got funded. That one helped us build our interior fencing and water lines. The second year we applied for two small grants and got one funded. That one helped us to build our fourth mobile chicken coop. All of those grants were fairly easy to write: write a good essay about the why’s, the goals, the process and include a detailed budget and submit on time. The effort was definitely worth the money we received and which helped our projects.

Applying for USDA Value-Added Producer Grant

So, when in December I read about the USDA Value-Added Producer grant (VAPG), and that individual producers could also apply with a possibility for extra points being a woman or beginning farmer, my interest and ambition awoke. I wanted to apply for that grant to help us develop a catchy and retail worthy packaging line for our goat milk products, and subsequently help with a promotional campaign to expand our customer base specifically for our soaps and body care products.

Now the USDA VAPG is still a matching grant of 50/50, which means that the grant would provide 50% of the capital and we would have to provide the other half. Of that other half, 25% must be cash; the remainder could be in-kind services like product from your farm or your time. Now here is what I learned:

Every grant has a due date. Start early. I started in December and finished on February 20th. The due date was February 24th. To write the grant took me two months of nearly every day reading, researching and writing.

Read the instructions and the underlying law or notices very carefully. Read the fine print. After I went through five rotations of budget calculations I found a tiny provision that said that project income will be used to off-set the amount of grant money to be received. Definitions are not always common sense and nothing is written in an easy to understand way.

Attend a workshop. Research on-line. I found an awesome workshop that the Oregon State USDA office put on and it helped tremendously. I had fully intended to submit the application on-line, but then heard the workshop instructor say, that in all the years that they had received grants, they never received one on-line that was complete. I submitted a hard copy. The instructor also mentioned that it doesn’t give you any extra points to increase your in-kind (non-monetary contribution), so I kept the in-kind match to the exact 25%.

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