Last updated: January 21. 2014 11:21AM - 1779 Views
Christina Day Staff Writer cday@civitasmedia.com

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Blue Ridge Seeds of Change is offering grants to Ashe County farmers, focusing on increasing agricultural production “through innovation and sustainable methods.”

The non-profit organization, whose mission is to “build a vibrant regional food system that strengthens economies, improves health and reduces poverty in the Blue Ridge regions of N.C., Tenn., and Va.,” is working in collaboration with county extension agents on the grant process.

“Part of the purpose of these grants is to increase local food production in the area,” Travis Birdsell, N.C. Cooperative Extension Agent for the Ashe Center said, “One thing we know is that local food is in high demand.”

Birdsell said the grants are directed towards assisting farmers who are already in business or producing to expand their businesses and increase farm income in a sustainable way.

“In Ashe County, some of the problems farmers face are limited resources and limited land,” Birdsell said, “We want to make sure the land is taken care of well and will be there for a long time to produce not only for this generation, but also for generations to come”

Birdsell said grant applications will be considered for a variety of uses, from the purchasing of a new piece of equipment to funds for building a high tunnel so that growers could have season extension.

The grants, available in $3,000 and $6,000 amounts, are filling the void left by the withdrawal of previous funding sources, according to Birdsell, such as the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) Grant money that was available through the Golden Leaf Trust Fund, which set priority for farmers who formerly had income from tobacco

“This past year we were removed from the RAFI list because we were listed as not having enough income or revenue from tobacco anymore,” Birdsell said, “So the Blue Ridge Seeds of Change grant is really providing opportunities for our growers that they lost.”

Applicants must submit a letter of intent by Feb. 14 and complete grant applications are due March 10.

Seeds of Change requires farmers to work with their local extension agent on the application and throughout the grant cycle.

“The one thing that is unique about this grant compared to others, and that I’m excited about, is that it directly links Cooperative Extension and the growers together for a joint effort,” Birdsell said.

The $6,000 grants require that recipients develop a business plan, and both level grants have a mandatory orientation in April.

Additionally, recipients are required to submit income and expense forms, receipts for project expenses, and program surveys at the end of the funding cycle.

According to material from Seeds of Change, there is also an outreach plan which requires farmers to share their projects with their local communities.

Extension agents and Seeds of Change representatives will be available to assist in all aspects of the grant.

“There is definitely a support and education component to the process,” Birdsell said.

Blue Ridge Seeds of Change is a spin off of Heifer International’s Seeds of Change Initiative, with “the goal of developing a regional food system in Appalachia.”

Applications for the Blue Ridge Seeds of Change grant are available at the Ashe County Cooperative Extension Office at 134 Government Circle, Suite 202 in Jefferson or online at www.blueridgeseedsofchange.org. For questions call (828) 386-1537.

Christina Day may be reached at 336-846-7164 or on Twitter @cdayinwj

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