Written by FarmRaise Advisor, JC Danilovich on October 6, 2020.
FarmRaise spoke to Donna Pearson McClish to better understand her perspective and experience of applying for grants. Donna is a second-generation African-American female farmer and owner/operator of Common Ground Producers and Growers, Inc. which serves elderly, low-income, food desert and food insecurity areas in Kansas. Donna is also involved in the National and Kansas Farmers Unions.
Donna typically doesn’t apply for grants, worrying that they are difficult to find, difficult to get and not sustainable. Her experience is that most farmers don’t hunt for grants either, “They want to get on their tractors and get on with farming, but sometimes farmers have to get in off the tractor!” But her friend told her about a USDA grant that would fit her operation so she decided to apply. Donna’s application was successful and she received almost $300,000 in grant funding for Common Ground.
The grant program Donna applied for was a brand new urban agriculture grant offered by the USDA. Common Ground was one of 23 successful applicants to the program, which saw over 578 applicants in its inaugural year. “The grant – it’s unusual,” Donna said. “It’s the first ever Urban Agriculture grant through the USDA. It didn’t require any matching funds, we didn’t have to be a nonprofit to apply. It was almost as if they’d answered all of my questions.”
Common Ground will use the funding to implement its mission in the communities it serves. Common Ground operates across several initiatives, including providing fresh food to food desert and food insecure areas as the only mobile market in the area (and, one of the first mobile markets in the country!). Common Ground also works with a network of farmers to pay them fair value for their work, while getting food to people that need it. One thing that Donna and her team will implement because of this grant is a nutrition and food preparation program for SNAP recipients. “Healthy food is the basis for healthy living,” says Donna.
Donna’s first thought on reading the application was, “Lord, I cannot do this”. Grant applications are long and written in a style unfamiliar to most farmers. “Farmers are not grant writers”, says Donna, there’s an art to getting the “small details into the big package”. So, farmers need as much help as they can get. She encourages everyone writing a grant to get a strong team composed of people that have expertise in different areas.
Getting a grant is by no means a sure thing, however, “if you keep trying, you’ll get it”, Donna says. The first application is the most difficult, but it serves as a template that can be modified for future applications.
Donna would like to see a database of grants, “I think people are trying to put that together, but it’s fragmented. Farmers need to see all the grants in one place.” Included in this database, Donna would like to see grants from nonprofits, not just from government.
Conversations with farmers like Donna motivate FarmRaise to create a one-stop shop for farmer funding. We recognize that all forms of capital, from commercial loans to impact investment to grants play a crucial role in creating a financially viable farm. And we want to make that process easier. Which is why FarmRaise has created a database of nationally available grants and is connecting farmers to the right lenders and investors. The work is difficult, but as Donna says, “[farmers] have to have someone to help them walk through that. That’s where FarmRaise is leading.”