September 1, 2015
Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of blog posts highlighting Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) projects that support the next generation of farmers. Our last blog featured two beginning farmers who used SARE to support innovative organic research on their farms.
The SARE program is a farmer driven research, education and extension grant program designed to help advance sustainable agriculture across the country. Over the past 25 years, SARE has been on the cutting edge of sustainable agriculture research, supporting on-farm research that has allowed farmers of all kinds to experiment and innovate on their farms in order to solve pressing challenges facing their farming operations.
This post highlights two SARE grant recipients in Wisconsin who have been featured in videos produced by North Central SARE. These SARE success stories illuminate how the program fosters and supports new partnerships between a diverse community of farmers and researchers, and the impact the research is having on those communities.
Fostering Food Security in Wisconsin’s Tribal Communities
Amber Marlow is the extension director at Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College (LCOOCC) near Hayward, Wisconsin. Beginning in 2013, she received two SARE grants to increase food security for tribal communities in northwest Wisconsin.
“It has been said that a tribe is not sovereign unless they can feed themselves, so our goal was really to empower these individual communities.” -Amber Marlow, Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College
As part of the SARE grant, five Ojibwe communities maintained a 30’ x 30’ garden with the three sisters vegetables–corn, beans and squash—as well as other traditional food. Each community hired interns to help with the gardens and talk about sustainable agriculture within the communities. The SARE grant provided them with seeds, rain barrels, hand washing stations, and other supplies.
These gardens allowed LCOOCC to better understand which traditional foods would thrive in the five Ojibwe community locations and increase access to local and nutritious traditional foods. Each community donated the produce to various community programs, including elder centers. LCOOCC also hosted well-attended educational workshops on composting, seed saving, and other food topics to promote community participation in the gardens and increase the health of native American communities in Wisconsin.
Marlow cited partnership building as the primary benefit of the SARE grant, as the research increased collaboration between five tribal communities as well as between LCOOCC and the communities. Marlow hopes that the SARE grant will lay the groundwork to reestablish trade networks between the tribal communities and facilitate a robust sustainable regional food system.
Direct Marketing Non-Traditional Perennial Berries
Clare Hintz owns and operates Elsewhere Farm, a 40-acre fruit and nut tree farm in Herbster, Wisconsin. Hintz and two other farmers, Rachel Henderson and Erin Schneider, received a SARE grant to explore market opportunities for non-traditional perennial berries in the Midwest. Their market research focused on elderberry, currants, saskatoon, and honeyberry.
“We were looking at how do we set the price for those fruit products that was fair to our labor and also was acceptable to the market. We looked at processed food, we looked at fresh sold, we looked at different ways of educating the consumer.” -Claire Hintz, Elsewhere Farm
Hintz and her collaborators engaged consumers by conducting a customer survey and holding focused discussions, tastings, and farm events. The three farmers found that once consumers were introduced to and tasted the fruit, they were excited about it and willing to pay a price that covered the farmers’ labor costs. They also discovered that their location affected which fruits resonated with consumers.
“The three farms that participated in the project all ended up with different products at the end . . . We found different niches in each of our places.” -Claire Hintz, Elsewhere Farm
Located in northern Wisconsin in an area of 37,000 people, Hintz found that there are still opportunities to sell berries in the fresh fruit market. Schneider is closer to the Madison market and mainly sells processed fruit, jams and fruit juice, while Henderson discovered that fruit syrups and juices were top sellers in the Twin Cities market. The three farmers are transferring the pricing structure that they developed to other small fruits, such as kiwi, gooseberry, and high bush cranberry.
Continuing to Promote New Partnerships Through SARE
The SARE program offers farmers and researchers an opportunity to collaborate with one another and exchange research data among multiple farms. The success of past SARE grant recipients, such as Marlow and Hintz, demonstrate that these collaborations spur innovation in sustainable agriculture, promoting both increased profitability and stewardship.
Since its creation in 1988, SARE has provided essential resources to farmers that would otherwise not be able to experiment and find groundbreaking solutions to challenges in sustainable agriculture production. Funding is critically needed to support the important research that farmers accomplish through SARE.
For more information about the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program and its regional councils, check out NSAC’s Grassroots Guide to Federal Farm and Food Programs.
SARE Funding Falling Further Behind
Despite the impressive track record and the efficient, transparent, and outcomes-oriented research that has been funded through SARE over the past 27 years, the programs’ growth has been stalled in recent years. The lack of support from the Administration and Congress over the past few years has stymied investments in critical, farmer-driven research that is urgently needed to support the next generation of researchers and farmers.
SARE has grown from a $3.9 million program in 1988 to just $22.7 million program today. The 1990 Farm Bill authorized the SARE program as well as the National Research Initiative (NRI), the predecessor program to AFRI. In that year, Congress provided $4.5 million for SARE and $42.5 million for the NRI. By the time the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) was created in the 2008 Farm Bill, SARE had grown to $19 million and NRI to $190 million, maintaining roughly the same proportional funding level between the programs.
Since its creation, AFRI has grown quickly, from a $200 million program in 2009 to a $325 million program today, while SARE has stagnated at $22.7 million. Had the Obama Administration and Congress retained the same historic funding ratios between the programs, SARE today would be funded at roughly $32.5 million, or roughly 40 percent more funding that it actually has today.
The Administration’s funding priorities are typically communicated via the President’s Budget Request, which is published every February before the start of a new Fiscal Year. As can be seen in the chart below, the President’s funding requests for both AFRI and SARE substantially influence actual funding levels appropriated by Congress.
What is important to note, however, is that the funding requests for AFRI have increased significantly in recent years, while the request for SARE has remained flat.
The Administration’s request for AFRI has increased by 123 percent between 2009 and 2014, and while NSAC supports growing the larger agricultural research pie, we are deeply troubled by the lack of support for SARE in the President’s budget request. Over this same period, the President has only proposed a 19 percent increase for SARE, despite it being a much smaller pot of money.
These requested increases in ag research funding translates to a meager $3.5 million increase in annual funding for SARE since this Administration took office, while an additional $123.5 million has been made available for AFRI-funded research.
Looking Forward to 2016
With the tremendous success that SARE is having on the ground in brining farmers together with Extension and academic researchers, it is absolutely critical that the program continue to grow alongside other important agricultural research program. SARE is a unique program in many ways, and throughout its 25 year history, has invested over $200 million into more than 5,000 farmer driven research projects in every state across the country. The impact the program has had on creating new opportunities for farmers and launching cutting-edge innovations to make farming more sustainable, profitable, and resilient to future challenges is impressive in any regard.
NSAC, and our farmer-driven member organizations will continue to work closely with the President and Congress to ensure that SARE receives its fair share of the our country’s public research investments.