Food Service & Agriculture, Nonprofits, and Sustainability

Nonprofit wins federal grant for farm-to-table work

December 19, 2014
| By Pete Daly |
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Nonprofit wins $94K grant for farm-to-table work
Earthkeeper Farm in Kent City sells produce at a farmers market. Courtesy Earthkeeper Farm

A nonprofit has won a federal grant to help expand community supported agriculture in the region.

The United States Department of Agriculture has awarded Grand Rapids nonprofit Local First a two-year $94,148 grant, to be used in cooperation with the West Michigan Growers Group and Michigan State University Extension.

According to Local First, in a CSA arrangement, a farmer sells “shares” of an expected crop in advance of the growing season, directly to consumers. Local First said a share typically consists of a box of seasonal produce, available on a regular basis each week or month throughout the growing season.

The West Michigan Growers Group is a network of more than 50 small organic farms in the region, some of which are CSAs, according to Local First.

Local First said it has been promoting locally-produced food for more than eight years, and notes that agriculture is one of the largest sectors of the Michigan economy. The organization says local farmers play an “invaluable role” in the way consumers connect to West Michigan.

Through the grant, Local First, WMGG and MSU Extension will collaborate to provide resources for farmers to grow their CSA programs. CSAs allow farmers a stable income, the ability to plan ahead for their budget and harvest, and connect with community members, according to Local First.

Local First said a CSA is “a unique way to learn about the seasonality of produce. When you invest in a local farm, you celebrate the abundance of harvest and also share the risk of the impact of weather on crop turnout with the farm.”

The goal of the collaboration is to grow demand for CSAs by educating West Michigan consumers about the health, relational and economic benefits of eating local, and strengthen the supply by supporting farmers with resources to manage that growth. Furthermore, the grant supports further development of the WMGG, according to Local First.

“We are looking forward to working with these partners to grow our local food economy and support farmers,” said Elissa Hillary, executive director of Local First. “Local farms are the heartbeat of agriculture in West Michigan, and both farmers and consumers will benefit from the increased exposure of CSAs.”

Local First has hired Rachelle Bostwick of Earthkeeper Farm, director of the WMGG, to be its new farm coordinator.

“I look forward to helping improve the economic viability of small farms through building community and business relationships, increasing public understanding and use of local foods, and creating a stronger local food economy,” said Bostwick.

The grant is part of more than $52 million awarded to organizations throughout the U.S. to expand the organic and local food economies. Most of the grants were authorized in the Agricultural Act of 2014, also known as the 2014 Farm Bill, passed by Congress several months ago.

Local First is one of eight grant recipients in Michigan. A grant of $89,152 was made to Sprout Urban Farm in Battle Creek, and $47,758 was given to Grow Benzie, in Benzonia, for advertising and promotion of its farmers’ market and incubator kitchen.

Local First said there will be an open house March 21 to provide more information about the project.

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