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For many folks, the biggest roadblock to starting a farm is funding. It may be tempting to turn to a high-interest bank loan to get started, especially if you don’t know what your other options are. The key to solving this problem is having a sound financial plan and carefully exploring all of your options.

In addition to a traditional bank loan, you might consider using investors or starting small and expanding as funds become available. However, there is another option that many farmers aren’t aware of or just don’t know much about. Farm grants are an option that should be considered by any potential farmer.

A grant is a one-time endowment of money given by the government or some other organization that must be used for a specific purpose that will be outlined in the terms of the grant. Fortunately for the future farmer, there has been a renewed interest in farming in recent years, and with that renewed interest has come additional opportunities for obtaining a farm grant.

You may be surprised to find out that there are many generous donors out there that are willing to support the future farmer! In fact, many grants go unawarded every year. Sometimes an organization is searching for a qualifying applicant, but they just haven’t found the right person. Believe it or not, there’s money out there just waiting for the perfect person to come along and claim it! Maybe that person is you!

How does the application process work?

You’ll start by finding the right grant to apply for. An organization or company will put out a notice that a grant is available. The announcement will include information about who is eligible and how to qualify. There are several websites that list available grants according to their qualifications, or you can go to Grants.gov and use their search tool to find federal grants that you would like to apply for. The USDA website also has a list of loans and grants available for farmers. You’ll want to read through all the qualifications carefully to be sure you are eligible before you apply. Be sure to note the application deadline of any grant you are interested in applying for.

Once you find the best grant or grants for you, it’s time to apply. You will usually need to fill out several forms and submit them on the website or by email. After the application deadline is reached, a panel of judges will assess the merit of each applicant. If there were a lot of applicants for a particular grant, this process might take a while.

Once the panel evaluates each application, they will choose the top applicant(s). The winner(s) will be notified, and the process of actually awarding the money starts. In most cases, there will be some more paperwork involved to ensure that the money changes hands smoothly and legally. Some grants will check in with you at some point to make sure the money is being used for its intended purpose, while others will happily award the money and walk away.

Three Grant Categories Farmers Should Consider

There’s a grant out there for just about everyone. Here are three categories of grants that most farmers should consider.

  • Corporate or Private Grants: Big corporations and individuals often offer grant opportunities for things they believe will be good for the community. These types of grants are often offered through school programs. When you are looking for grants to apply for, always check corporate websites and ask around your local community to see if there are any corporate or private grants available that you might qualify for.
  • Agricultural Initiatives: This type of grant often focuses on crop research, supporting local farmers, or improving the general state of agriculture. A good example is the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. This particular grant is focused on developing specific crops. It allows for experimenting with the hydroponic compatibility of those crops so it might be a good one to apply for if you are interested in becoming a hydroponic grower.
  • Federal/State School Grants: These are grants that focus on improving student health, nutrition, or educational opportunities throughout the country or their specific state.
Tips for Filling Out Your Grant Application

1. Be Clear About Your Needs and Goals

Before you start filling out your application, take the time to learn how to create a business plan. Having a business plan will help you determine your primary goal. It will also help you figure out exactly how much funding you need. When you fill out your application, you’ll want to be as clear as possible about your needs and goals. This will be essential for the panel that evaluates your application. The more detailed you are, the more appealing your application will be.

2. Learn from Other Successful Applicants

Do some research before you start filling out your application. Read through as many successful grant writing examples as you can find. You can find a lot of examples online or ask around your local community. Even if the example isn’t farming related, there’s still a lot you can learn. Consider how the writer expressed their goals, the language they used, and any ideas they expressed in their applications that inspired the evaluation panel. When you begin writing your own proposal, apply what you’ve learned to help you make your application more appealing. Make sure your application is original though; you don’t want to copy and paste someone else’s ideas.

3. Apply for the Right Grant

Once you’ve created a business plan and researched other proposals, be sure the grant you are applying for is the right one for you. Those who choose to offer grants are usually looking to support folks who have opinions, goals, and outlooks that match their own. Make sure your proposal demonstrates a substantial alignment with their purpose. Don’t hesitate to ask the organization for more information if you are unclear what their goals are.

If your ideals are totally different from the grant you’re applying for, you may wish to consider applying for a different grant. That’s not to say that you can’t expand on your own individual plans and goals, but don’t waste your time applying for a grant that’s completely off base from what you’re hoping to accomplish.

If all of this sounds a little overwhelming, don’t worry! Most grant applications will provide guidelines and a list of points they want you to address. And, don’t limit yourself to applying for only one grant! The more grants you apply for, the better your proposals will get, and the greater your chances will be of getting the funding you need!

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Cool Season Comeback: How to Grow Turnips

Do you want to grow a fall crop that produces both root vegetables and flavorful, edible greens? Are you planning ahead for your early spring garden? Turnips are easy growers that are making a comeback as a popular multi purpose veggie.

Planting Tips

Mark your calendar for planting 2-3 weeks before your last Spring frost date, or anytime late summer for a fall or early winter crop.

Turnips thrive best in cooler temperatures, so plan for germination and the main portion of growth to occur when temperatures are around 50F to 60F. Turnip bulbs become woody when temperatures exceed 75F, or if they’re allowed to dry out.

Choose a site in full sun where the soil is loose to about 18″ deep. Turnips don’t transplant well and must be direct-seeded.

Prepare your soil by incorporating compost, especially if your turnips follow heavy-feeding crops like corn. If your soil is clay-heavy, add a bit of sand to improve drainage. Turnip seeds are tiny, so break up soil clumps with a rake or your favorite cultivating tool to prepare a smooth surface. Turnips prefer a soil pH of 5.5 to 6.8, so add amendments accordingly.

Plant seeds no more than 1/2″ deep in rows 12″ apart. Drop seeds in a line, about a half-inch apart, and cover with a thin layer of light soil. Another method is to use the tip of a trowel to cut a shallow furrow in the garden bed. Once seeds are sprinkled in, gently backfill the displaced soil.

Containers for turnips should be at least 8″ deep. While turnips do quite well in containers and raised beds, take special care to prevent the soil from drying out.

The best companion plants for turnips are pole beans and peas, and strongly-scented herbs like mint and rosemary planted around your turnips will help keep rabbits and deer at bay.

Care and watering of turnips

Keep soil moist to encourage sprouting, but don’t overwater. Seedlings will germinate and emerge within 10-12 days. Mulch around larger plants to help maintain soil moisture.

Thin seedlings to 4-6 inches apart if you’re focusing on bulb growth, or 2-3 inches apart if you’re simply looking for fresh greens.

Common turnip pests and diseases include mildew, flea beetles, and aphids, though many green thumbs swear that turnips help repel aphids from their gardens. Keep weeds away from turnip plants to increase airflow and proper nutrition to the plant’s roots, and inspect regularly for issues.

These hardy plants, if kept properly watered and weeded, tend to withstand light pest and mildew infestations.

Harvesting your turnips

Mature turnip tops reach 12-15 inches in height in about 55 days. You’ll know when they’re ready to harvest when the smooth, rounded tops emerge from the soil, only partially-shaded from the upright display of leafy greens.

Harvest your turnips by gently loosening the soil around the bulbs and firmly pulling from the ground, or lifting from beneath with a garden fork. If you plan on storing your turnip bulbs, take care not to break the thin skin.

Cut off the tops and store them in the refrigerator for a few days as you would other greens, and keep bulbs in a refrigerator for up to three weeks, or in a cool, moist root cellar for up to three months.

Deliciously nutritious

Both turnip greens and roots have a distinct spicy “bite” to their flavor. Turnip greens taste much like mustard greens, and when sauteed with a bit of chicken broth and bacon, provide a flavor sensation reminiscent of southern cooking. Substitute vegetable broth, a bit of garlic, some lemon and salt, and you’ve got a vegetarian alternative to the old collard-style recipe.

Baby turnip greens add snap to salads, sandwiches, and burgers with their mild flavor akin to radish. Try turnip bulbs as a substitute for home-made mashed potatoes, or added in with your favorite mashing spuds. Cube turnips for stews, or puree them for hearty winter soups with a garnish of shredded greens.

Brush cubed turnips with olive oil and your favorite seasonings, and bake on a cookie sheet for an alternative to country-style potatoes, or add them alongside potatoes and carrots when you’re fixing your next roast.

Turnip greens at all stage of maturity are nutrient-dense vegetables. According to the online nutrition guide, World’s Healthiest Foods, fresh turnip greens are “high vitamin K, vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene), vitamin C, folate, copper, manganese, dietary fiber, calcium, vitamin E and vitamin B6,” and they are also “a very good source of potassium, magnesium, pantothenic acid, vitamin B2, iron, and phosphorus. Additionally, they are a good source of vitamin B1, omega-3 fatty acids, niacin, and protein.”

Turnip bulbs are a carbohydrate-rich source of energy and are a good source of vitamin B6, folate, calcium, potassium and copper. The root vegetable is also a great source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, and manganese.

Turnips have a long history as a staple crop, for good reason. Their flavor and texture have chefs scrambling to add them to their menus, and farmer’s market vendors are thrilled to sell out of these once-neglected cool-season favorites. How will you use turnips in your kitchen?


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