Tap Your Inner MacGyver with a SARE Mini Grant

Do you remember that 80’s tv show, MacGyver? You know, the action-adventure series featuring the clever secret agent Angus MacGyver who never carried a gun but was able to escape every dicey situation purely on wit, science, and common household items, including his trusty duct tape?!

If you’re a farmer, I bet these same tools—wit, science, duct tape!—are used on a daily basis on your farm. Growing up, I was always amazed by the contraptions my dad, a welder by day and farmer during the remaining hours, would whip up from scraps of metal seemingly lying around.  And, more recently, as the Vermont SARE coordinator, I continue to be in awe of the ingenuity of farmers –MacGyverism to the -nth degree – creating and sharing farm-made creations that make their farms more efficient and their lives a bit easier.

SARE – Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program – has helped fund many such innovations. A USDA competitive grants program, SARE funds research and outreach projects that explore new ideas in farming that improve profits, stewardship, and the vibrancy of farm communities. Our region, Northeast SARE, serves the twelve Northeast states and the District of Columbia. NE-SARE funds about $3 million dollars worth of projects per year on topics ranging from IPM and reduced tillage to on-farm energy and direct marketing.

Of the grants available, NE-SARE’s “Mini Grants” include Farmer, Partnership, and Sustainable Community grant programs. Applications for 2012 project work are due this fall and all are capped at $15,000 per project. Each grant program has its own distinct purpose, applicant pool, and/or target audience. See below for a quick summary—including upcoming deadlines—for each, as well as some examples of how project coordinators have put their inner MacGyver to work.

Rice can be grown in the Northeast according to Farmer grant conducted by the Akaogis. Photo credit: Cheryl Cesario.

Farmer Grants. Applications due: December 1. These grants are for commercial producers who have an innovative idea they want to test using a field trial, on-farm demonstration, or other technique. Mary provided a nice description of the Farmer Grants program in her blog post a few years back–not much has changed to the program since then. An example of a Farmer Grant is Linda and Takeshi Akaogi’s Introducing Rice as a Commercial Crop to the Northeast. The Akaogi’s were interested in seeing what varieties of rice could be grown productively in the Northeast as well as establishing a sustainable rice growing system. Although much of the variety evaluations were conducted on their 10 acre farm in Putney, they distributed more than 150 seed packets to other rice enthusiasts for evaluation in other NE locations, and they published a rice growing manual to share lessons learned with other farmers.

Eggplants as habitat plants attract whitefly and other insect pests. Photo credit: Margaret Skinner.

Partnership Grants. Applications due: November 1. These grants are for agricultural service providers who want to partner with farmers to conduct on-farm demonstrations, research, and other projects. Margaret Skinner, an entomologist at the UVM Entomology Research Lab, is one such service provider. She was interested in exploring the efficacy of using eggplants as habitat or insect trap plants in high value greenhouse production of poinsettias, typically reliant on repeated chemical pesticide use. She partnered with a local commercial ornamental grower and found that eggplants can be an effective scouting tool for both whitefly and thrips.

Sustainable Community Grants. Applications due: October 19. These grants make  direct connections between community revitalization and farming. Projects address issues like finance, marketing, land use, water use, enterprise development, value-added activities, or labor. Internet technology was the focus of one recent sustainable community grant conducted by Kate Quinn-Jacobs, software developer and NOFA-NY member. She worked with Ithaca community members to develop a generic, open sourced Farm-to-Pantry widget that can be embedded into any website in support of an online farmer’s market targeted at promoting purchases from bulk buyers.

To quote agent MacGyver, “Maybe it’s about time I expanded the realm of possibilities around here.” I hope you consider tapping into your Inner MacGyver and apply for a Mini Grant this fall!


Profile photo of Debra Heleba

About Debra Heleba

Deb works for University of Vermont Extension where she is the Vermont SARE coordinator and also coordinates eOrganic's dairy team.
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