In 2016, a total of $26 million was awarded to recipients of the Farmers Market Promotion Program, and the Local Food Promotion Program. Funds for growers will also be available in 2017 — so we’ve called on a USDA spokesperson to help sort through some commonly asked questions about the application process.
Produce Grower: Which USDA grant programs would be most beneficial for produce growers under cover (i.e. hoophouse, greenhouse, vertical farm, container farm, etc.)?
USDA: Growers can apply for grants from USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) through the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program which includes two types of programs: the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) and the Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP).
FMPP grants cover direct-to-consumer marketing activities. The goal of these grants is to develop, improve, and expand market opportunities for growers serving local markets, including farmers markets, roadside stands, mobile markets, community-supported agriculture programs, agri-tourism activities and other direct producer-to-consumer market opportunities.
For example, if a farmer is growing greenhouse tomatoes and they want to market those tomatoes directly to consumers, FMPP would be a good fit.
LFPP funds involve planning or implementation activities for intermediary local food supply chain activities — such as food hubs or cooperatives — that get products from the grower to the marketplace. So these grants could help develop a food hub used by local food producers using greenhouses, hoophouses, vertical farming or other methods.
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PG: If a grower wanted to begin a farmers market, what grants would help him or her do that?
USDA: FMPP would likely be the best choice to help start a farmers market. The purpose of these grants is to help growers bring local food to market to meet consumer demand. The funds can be used in a variety of ways for communities to establish a farmers market. From helping develop new marketing strategies to improving outreach and training for growers, these projects should benefit multiple growers and their local community.
PG: If a grower wanted to establish itself to become a vendor at a farmers market, are there grants that can help them do this?
USDA: A grower would need to reach out to their local farmers market(s) to determine the specific vendor requirements. One example to help growers to become vendors would be for a market management organization or community partner to use FMPP funding to host weekly workshops for vendors. The workshops could cover food production, food safety practices, processing, packaging, marketing, and the effective use of social media or other topics to help vendors meet the requirements.
PG: What are the biggest obstacles to obtaining funding for such projects?
USDA: Time. So start early! The deadline for applications is March 27, 2017. It would be a good idea to go to the “How to Apply” page and get familiar with the process. Here are some links for the FMPP:
It can take several weeks to establish the required accounts, especially if you’ve never applied for Federal funding before.
Besides registration and submission, it all comes down to how you write the proposal.
PG: What is the application process like?
USDA: There are many steps to completing an application and each takes some time. Here is a list of some of the time factors to consider:
- Getting an organization’s DUNS number can take 1-2 days.
- Establishing an active SAM.gov account can take a week to 10 days.
- Creating a Grants.gov profile and getting the TIN/EIN can take up to 2 weeks.
- Registering as an Authorized Organization Representative (AOR) so you can submit applications on behalf of you organization can take up to 2 weeks.
You can apply for a DUNS, SAM.gov, and TIN/EIN even before you start to draft your proposal. The Requests for Applications (RFA) has all the details and outlines this process.
- Request for Application (RFA) includes application detail and what is required: bit.ly/2kxgnWR
All applications must be submitted through Grants.gov. However, you can register in Grants.gov prior to actually submitting your proposal.
All materials must be submitted by March 27, 2017, at 11:59 p.m. Any applications not received by this date/time are considered late/non-responsive (refer to our policy on this at bit.ly/2k5jEf7). Section 4 of the LFPP and FMPP RFAs outline the specific applications’ steps, found here: bit.ly/2k0OzXR
PG: If a grower is denied funding, might it be possible for them to apply again in the future?
USDA: Yes, unsuccessful applicants may apply for future funding opportunities. We also encourage applicants to consider other USDA grant programs that might better fit their needs. Check out USDA’s Grants, Loans and Other Support for local food at: bit.ly/2kWPQDj
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PG: What is the selection criteria?
USDA: The project must show evidence of existing community support and benefit two or more farmers, producers or farm vendors who sell their agricultural products or services. Projects that show clear objectives that can be accomplished are more likely to score well with our external peer reviewers.
Each application is evaluated by peer reviewers who have diverse expertise. The peer review panel evaluates each proposal to score proposals. The peer review serves as the basis for awarding and allocating grant funds and focuses on the strengths of each proposal.
PG: What are some of the steps USDA is taking to make sure that growers can take full advantage of these funds?
USDA: We are continually conducting outreach activities to promote these grant programs. We share the news of these grants through social media and GovDelivery. It’s free and easy to enroll in GovDelivery to access the latest news from AMS. Access the link at bit.ly/2jI6QIo and enter your email, select the topics you want to receive emails about - from press releases and blogs to grants – and you can have the latest information waiting in your inbox.
Our grant specialists attend conferences and meetings to promote these funding tools, and USDA Extension personnel have also been trained to provide education on the local level.
PG: Could you provide me with examples of successful efforts that have utilized one of the USDA AMS grant programs?
USDA: The Highland Center, a nonprofit corporation in Monterey, Virginia, addressed the marketing and training needs of markets in Pendleton, Pocahontas, Bath, and Highland Counties of western Virginia and eastern West Virginia. In 2010, it assessed the market environment through a committee of market managers, collaborators, vendors, and other community stakeholders to create improvement plans for participating markets. With the help of FMPP funds, they held 10 workshops to develop marketing plans to optimize sales and profits for each market, where a total of 115 vendors attended. An online service, “Faces of Farmers” (faces-of-farmers.org), featuring market vendors, farms by location, and products was also created to enhance the local producers’ online presence. As a result, average sales for the participating markets increased by 155 percent and vendor sales increased by 38 percent over a two-year period. The Highland Center continued its success by facilitating educational workshops through a second grant for vendors in marketing and display, along with best practices for accepting USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. Market managers submitted marketing plans and collected customer surveys to gauge customer satisfaction and monitor improvements. During the program’s first farmers market season (2015), the overall sales at the participating markets increased by approximately 8 percent, from $135,308 in 2014 to $145,947.
You can read our recently released FMPP 10-yr Report that includes additional examples atbit.ly/2k0Q4VJ