By TIM THORNBERRY
ELIZABETHTOWN, Ky. — The world of farming has changed over the last few decades. Not only do farmers tend the land and livestock but today, they have to be savvy in business and continually look for new revenue streams.
One way to help with revenue is through the availability of grants for any number of activities from any number of institutes. Writing a grant proposal, however, can prove to be a challenge. The Kentucky Center for Agriculture and Rural Development (KCARD) is helping cut through some of that red tape by providing assistance with the process by way of the Agribusiness Grant Facilitation Program.
Aleta Botts, coordinator for the program, said one problem for producers is when it comes to applying for a grant, they simply do not know of the funding opportunities available.
“Kentucky is blessed with so many great entrepreneurs doing innovative projects. Unfortunately, many deserving projects do not receive funds from rural development programs simply because a lot of prospective applicants do not know about the programs or do not think they have the time to navigate the process,” said Botts.
“Through this Grant Facilitation Program, we can help people stay informed on funding opportunities and walk them through the maze for filling out good applications.”
A grant workshop was recently in Hardin County to help interested parties learn more about the process. She said it was the first workshop so far and, going in, she wasn’t sure what kind of response to expect.
“For the past year we’ve met one-on-one with people, but we did this workshop and had a really good response, and we’re hoping to do a couple more during these winter months when people have the time to attend.”
Botts tries to look at a wide range of grant opportunities, but the big focus is on USDA federal grants. “Part of the reason our focus is on that is, if the idea is to increase the amount of money coming to Kentucky producers as a whole, then it doesn’t make as much sense to spend all of our time on Kentucky’s programs,” she said.
“I provide information on those state programs because a lot of people don’t know what’s out there. For instance, if they are interested in an on-farm energy project, I will let them know about the Kentucky On-Farm Efficiency Program. But if we are going to focus on bringing more money to the state as a whole, then we really have to focus on these that are beyond the state; nationwide kind of programs.”
Botts pointed out these types of opportunities are highly competitive, but in the coming year she would like to find out more information about private programs, as well.
“We do have quite a few nonprofits that are somehow working in agriculture or working on food-related issues,” she said. “I’m trying to pull together as much information in one spot as I can about any funding that is related to food and ag.”
Botts emphasized there are many myths about grants, including the fact there is money to be found everywhere; it’s just a matter of finding it.
“What any funder is looking for is a good investment, and while it is a grant and not like a loan that has to be paid back, they have a lot of people coming to their door,” she said. “You’ve got to show you’re a better investment for their dollar than someone else, so it’s important for people to think about it in that way.”
Competition for grant money is indeed keen. Botts said she has never seen the level of interest that exists today in local foods, something that has brought grant opportunities from unexpected sources.
“It’s interesting to me – some foundations you would not necessarily have expected, they are very interested in local food right now,” she said. “We’ll see how long that lasts. I hope it’s not some sort of fad.”
Botts said the process to obtain grants is an intimidating one and she tries to speak one-on-one to producers about the process, to find out more about what they are doing and what they want to do and to get a better feel of their situation to better help them.
“At the very least, we’re hoping to take off some of that intimidation level and put information in an easy-to-follow format,” she said.
Even at that, it can still be a “bear” to get through the process, noted Botts. She also said once applications are complete, the program reviews those applications and gives feedback based on the scoring criteria for a particular grant, in hopes to get scores higher.
“We are really encouraging people to use us as that review board. If you are writing a grant on your own or if you are a grant writer or secure a grant writer, it’s helpful to have someone else’s eyes on that application,” she said.
She also noted if producers want to be competitive for annual grant programs, they should start the process now and not wait for funding notices to come out. For those interested in the Agribusiness Grant Facilitation Program, more information can be found at http://growkentuckyag.com
For more information about KCARD, go to www.kcard.info