by Erick O’Donnell, Ukiah Daily Journal 12/23/16
The Good Farm Fund, an agricultural grant program sponsored by North Coast Opportunities, awarded $20,000 worth of grants this week to 14 small farms throughout Mendocino County.
The grants will fund small infrastructure projects that will allow farmers to increase food production and, hence, revenue and profit, helping them to overcome steep economic obstacles on their way to self-sufficiency, said Caroline Radice, who sits on the program’s steering and grant committees.
With high land prices, farmers face a high barrier to entry, and the cost of investing in capacity-building projects can further impede the ability of small farmers to establish themselves in the capital-intensive business of agriculture, she said.
The Good Farm Fund will fully bankroll some projects and partially fund others, with matching grants or financing from other sources, she said. Members of the grant committee were reluctant to let any projects go without financial support, so they decided to spread funds over as many projects as they could while ensuring other funding sources would cover the shortfalls, ultimately approving grants for 14 out of the 16 projects, she said.
Fortunate Farm in Caspar will get $3,000 for a new, larger greenhouse, a piece of infrastructure that that can dramatically increase a farm’s yield and which farmers have shown more interest in this season, Radice said. The farm is participating in the Food Hub, another NCO project that helps farmers sell to a local wholesale market, and a larger greenhouse will enable it to meet its production goals and satisfy retailer demand through that network, she said.
Cinnamon Bear Farm in Ukiah will get $1,242 for a low-tunnel hoop house, a long, cylindrical, transparent structure that works like a greenhouse but is placed over a row of crops in a field. That piece of equipment will allow the farm to grow a greater variety of crops earlier and later in the season, she said.
Carson & Bees, which tends hives of honey bees throughout the county, will use its $1,500 award to buy honeycomb frames and use them to divide its growing hives, establishing new colonies. The hives produce honey and are also used by other farmers to pollinate their pear and apple orchards.
The project submitted by Russian Creek Farms is an excellent example of beneficial community impact, one of several criteria used by the grant committee to evaluate applications, Radice said. Owner Ben Wolff supplies the corner store with fresh produce, creating an oasis in the “food desert” of Potter Valley, which lacks a grocery store, she said.
Russian Creek Farms will use the $3,200 it was awarded to erect a fence, creating acres of usable pasture and farmland for growing vegetables, Radice said. The increased production will enable Wolff to contribute about 50 percent more produce to the local food economy, she said.
It also helps preserve the rural character of Mendocino County, Cratty said.
“You’re also preserving the only way we can keep open, beautiful space around us,” he said. If, “you want to live in a rural area with beautiful open space, you need creative ways to keep farmers farming.”
The farmers, food vendors and local-food advocates who run the fund are hoping to make more substantial investments in community agriculture in the future, Radice said. The program this time had about three times as much money to disburse as last year, its first, and organizers are hoping that its reputation will lure more donations for 2017, enabling it to award grants of between $7,500 and $10,000, she said. With grants of that size, farmers could make much more significant capital upgrades, drilling wells, buying tractors and building structures for processing their food, Radice said.