BIPOC Farmers: Apply Now through March 31 For Organic Farming Micro-grants

Black, indigenous and people of color can now access funding for potential farm projects through BIPOC Farmer Micro-grants offered by the Rodale Institute, which also features programs for veterans and health care workers.

by Susan Brackney
PHOTO: courtesy of the Rodale Institute

The Rodale Institute has partnered with the Organic Farmers Association to offer a new “micro-grant” for small-scale, U.S.-based, BIPOC farmers. Potential awardees are Black, indigenous or people of color who are current or aspiring organic farmers.

Also eligible for a micro-grant are BIPOC students, interns and apprentices who work in some way with an organic operation.

Awarded BIPOC Farmer Micro-grants will range from $500 to $2,000 each for winning projects. However, applicants may include multiple budget years in their applications. (Rodale will fund up to $18,000 for some projects.)

All applications are due by the end of March.

“As social justice and environmental justice have really made it into the public’s consciousness more so than it has before, it’s a really good time to recognize the fact that—especially in organic [farming]—Black, indigenous and farmers of color are really the minority,” explains Margaret Wilson, content creation and media relations specialist for The Rodale Institute.

“In 2012, only 116 of 33,000 Black-owned farms were [certified] organic. That’s less than .05 percent.”

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More ‘Organic Acres’

“Our goal is really to increase organic acres throughout the country and the world,” Wilson continues. “One of the most effective ways to do that is to empower farmers to farm organically and regeneratively, and give them the tools they need for success.”

Some BIPOC farmers may already be practicing organic or regenerative growing techniques. Still, they might not have gone through official certification. Micro-grant awardees could use their funding to help offset costs associated with organic or regenerative certification. That might mean getting help with the associated paperwork or preparing for farm inspections.

“These are small grants, but we just wanted to help that group of farmers who want to [become] organic to do so in whatever way we can,” she says.

Pointing to groups like Soul Fire Farm in Petersburg, New York, the Ontario, Canada-based Sundance Harvest, the Southeastern African American Farmers’ Organic Network (SAAFON), and the Black Farmers Network, Wilson notes, “There are a lot of groups out there working on these issues as well.”

She adds, “We don’t think that we are going to solve all of agriculture’s problems with this micro-grant, but we just hope to help a little bit alongside people like Naima Penniman [of Soul Fire Farm] and other Black-led organizations that are really doing a lot of great work in this space.”

Read more: Here are 5 places you can look for farm grants to help out with agricultural projects.

Other Potential Projects

What other projects could the BIPOC micro-grant fund? Some sample ideas include facility upgrades like raised bed and cold frame construction, generating marketing materials, or purchasing new signage.

“This could help them to jumpstart a [new] farm, get them a little bit more training, whether it is through our consulting services or through other opportunities,” she says. “We’re just trying to move the needle on making a more equitable food system.”

And they hope to do so for years to come. “This is our first year [to offer the micro-grant], and I think the hope is to make it an annual thing and to just keep going as long as we have the funds for it which, hopefully, will be quite a long time,” Wilson says.

For Veterans, Healthcare Workers

The Rodale Instutute also has a Veteran Farmer Training Program which is specifically geared toward military veterans who are thinking about careers in organic agriculture. “We have a lot of [veterans] who come,” Wilson says. “They say, ‘We just didn’t know what our next step was and thought we would give this a shot.’”

The immersive program runs from two to four months at one of Rodale’s three Pennsylvania training sites. Participants earn pay and also get a housing stipend.

Rodale also now offers a Health From the Soil Up Fellowship, open to various healthcare professionals. These include “physicians, advanced practice health practitioners, nutritionists, dentists, health researchers, public health experts, health administrators and policy makers.”

“Health from the Soil Up is a fellowship that we’re doing in collaboration with Dr. Daphne Miller who wrote the book, Farmacology,” Wilson explains. “It’s a special training program in collaboration with some medical schools and other public health organizations.

“It’ll be a long-term educational opportunity for them to learn about soil health and how it affects human health, the gut microbiome, and the relationship between that and the food that we eat.”

And to help participants better understand how organic agriculture works in practice? The fellowship also will include two two-week, hands-on sessions at The Rodale Institute’s certified organic farm headquarters.

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