This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded over $8 million in grants to provide outreach and technical assistance to minority, tribal, and veteran farmers and ranchers. These grants were funded through the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program, also known as the Section 2501 Program.
In total, roughly half of the funding, or $4.2 million, will support outreach and technical assistance offered through colleges and universities located primarily in the South and within tribal communities. The remaining $4.2 million in grant funds will provide non-profit and community-based organizations (CBOs) with the capacity to deploy critical boots on the ground to serve diverse socially disadvantaged farming communities across the country.
Among today’s 54 grant recipients, over half of the organizations serve persistent poverty counties that are part of USDA’s StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity Initiative, 25 include resources for veterans interested in farming, and 12 focus on tribal communities.
To learn more about how the 2501 Program supports historically underserved farmers and provides much needed resources to organizations serving our country’s most vulnerable farming population, check out NSAC’s Grassroots Guide to Federal Farm and Food Programs.
Spotlight on NSAC Members
Among the 54 groups who received funding this year, five NSAC member organizations were awarded grants in this year’s competitive grant process. These awards total half a million dollars, and represent roughly 7 percent of total program funding. Funded NSAC member projects include:
- Georgia Organics This award will allow Georgia Organics to deliver four educational sessions at their 2016 conference, including sessions about the cooperative model and the West Georgia Farmer’s Cooperative; the organizing work of the Latino Outreach Council; the veterans-based outreach initiative led by the Veteran Farmers Working Group; and best practices of groups involved in outreach to socially disadvantaged or veteran farmers and ranchers. Georgia Organics will provide full scholarships to some members of the West Georgia Farmer’s Cooperative and Healthy Living Farms to attend the conference.
- Michigan Food and Farming Systems MIFFS works toward creating and enabling networks of small-scale urban and rural farms to give rise to strong local food networks; developing incubator farms to encourage opportunities for beginning, socially disadvantaged, and veteran farmers and ranchers; and supporting underserved farmers and food systems. This award will allow MIFFS to enhance development of multicultural and veteran farmer networks, document farmer-friendly perspective guides describing the process and benefits of enrolling in USDA programs, and host a statewide conference with workshops that provide training and networking opportunities.
- Hmong National Development (Missouri) This award will support HND’s “Leading Engaging And Promoting Hmong Farmers” program which aims to build capacity building and create economic prosperity by advancing business and entrepreneurial skills of Southeast Asian farmers and ranchers.
“HND’s program services emphasize connections to USDA resources, costs savings, improved efficiencies, and expanded product offerings,” says Bao Vang, President/CEO of HND. “Additionally, this grant will help HND advance the Asian American Pacific Islander Farmer/Rancher/Fishermen Network, a national network of provider organizations who work with AAPI farmers and local and regional USDA offices across the country.”
- National Hmong American Farmers (California) NHAF helps socially disadvantaged and limited resource Hmong and Asian American Pacific Islander farmers access and better understand how to utilize USDA programs in California and throughout the United States. This 2501 grant will help the organization expand their work with farmers by providing funding to coordinate outreach events and enabling NHAF program staff to meet one-on-one with farmers to assist with USDA program sign-ups, including loan and conservation programs.
- National Center for Appropriate Technology (Kentucky, West Virginia) This grant-funded project will utilize a series of workshops and one-on-one technical assistance to help socially disadvantaged and military veteran farmers in Kentucky and West Virginia. Workshops will focus on farm goal setting, business planning, sustainable agriculture techniques, accessing USDA programs, and other farm management skills that will help farmers operate successful farming enterprises. NCAT is partnering with several local organizations on this grant, including Growing Warriors and The Berry Farming Program at St. Catharine College in Kentucky, and Williamson Health and Wellness Center in West Virginia.
“NCAT is looking forward to working with socially-disadvantaged and military veteran farmers in Kentucky and West Virginia,” says Margo Hale, NCAT’s Southeast Regional Office Director. “By helping farmers create business plans, access USDA programs, and improve their production practices, we hope to guide them towards successful farm operations.”
Additional Support for Non-Profits Needed
Compared to recent years, this year’s grant awards invest a smaller share of program funding into CBOs and non profit organizations. In 2014, 58 percent of funding and 61 percent of grants were awarded to non-profit and community-based organizations, and in 2012, over 60 percent of both total program funding and grant awards supported the work of non-academic partners. In 2015, these number are both just shy of 50 percent.
NSAC members and other community-based organizations are essential partners and resources that are uniquely positioned to leverage 2501 funding to provide critical one-on-one technical assistance to often hard to reach or marginalized farming communities across the country. While we congratulate the five NSAC non-profit organizations and other NGO partners who received funding this year, we are concerned at the decreased support for the crucial work that these stakeholders provide. Many of these organizations are long-standing resources for communities of color and struggle to secure adequate and long-term funding to support the communities they serve, or expand their area of reach to additional communities.
For Fiscal Year 2016 and beyond, NSAC and our member organizations will be urging USDA to increase support for these invaluable non-profit and community-based organizations through the 2501 program.
2501 Funding Critical to Key States
Since 2010, more than $74 million has been invested through the 2501 Program to leverage the work of 304 local partners – including several NSAC member organizations and other key non-profit stakeholders.
While projects have been funded in almost every state across the country, program resources have been concentrated in regions of the country with the highest numbers of minority and tribal producers. The top ten states with the highest number of funded 2501 projects since 2003 include:
- Mississippi, 28 grants, $6.7 million
- Arkansas, 26 grants, $7.7 million
- Alabama, 26 grants, $6.9 million
- Georgia, 22 grants, $4.8 million
- California, 22 grants, $4.2 million
- Texas, 21 grants, $5.1 million
- New Mexico, 20 grants, $5.1 million
- North Carolina, 19 grants, $4.5 million
- Montana, 16 grants, $3.8 million
- Florida, 13 grants, $3.2 million
Additional Resources Needed
Interestingly, many of these key states also overlap with Congressional appropriators, who are responsible for setting federal funding priorities, including funding for the 2501 program and other resources to support minority and veteran farmers.
These key agricultural appropriators include Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS), who is the Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Representatives Robert Aderholt (R-AL) and Sam Farr (D-CA) who are the Chair and Ranking Member respectively of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee. Several other agricultural appropriators’ home states are included on this list including Senators Steve Daines (R-MT), Jon Tester (D-MT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Tom Udall (D-NM), and Representatives Tom Rooney (R-FL), David Valadao (R-CA), and Steven Palazzo (R-MS).
Despite the continued challenges that farmers of all kinds face today when trying to build a successful farming operation, which are only further compounded for farmers of color, the most recent Farm Bill that was signed into law last year cut funding dramatically for programs like the 2501 program that provide critical targeted assistance to these populations. Not only did the farm bill decrease funding from $20 million to $10 million per year, but the legislation also expanded the scope of the program to serve veteran farming populations in addition to ethnic minorities which the program has historically served.
This drastic reduction in funding means fewer groups have been able to continue to provide or expand upon successful programs that provide critical assistance to our country’s most vulnerable farming communities, and fewer farmers are able to get the support they need to build successful, profitable farming operations.
Since the Farm Bill slashed funding for the program, USDA has been forced to severely reduce both the size and duration of grant awards, in order to spread limited program dollars across the country and support as many organizations as possible. Under the 2008 Farm Bill, the average grant award funded through the 2501 program was $300,000 to support a two year project. For both FY14 and FY15, funded projects have been collapsed into single year grants of $150,000.
Smaller and shorter grants are less impactful and serve fewer farmers than more longer-term grants, and place limited-resource organizations who provide critical services for these farming communities under further stress and diminished capacity in meeting the needs of vulnerable communities.
Additional discretionary funding is urgently needed to restore this long standing program’s capacity to provide critical technical assistance to our nations’ minority and veteran farming communities, and NSAC and our members will continue to be urging members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to provide additional resources for the 2501 program in order to restore funding to its historic funding levels to ensure the program is able to adequately support both minority and veteran producers.
To learn more about how the 2501 Program supports historically underserved farmers and provides much needed resources to organizations serving our country’s most vulnerable farming population, check out NSAC’s Grassroots Guide.
Check out USDA’s press release to see a complete list of 2501 awards for FY 2015.