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Farm to Plate Features

Funding VT Food System Research

Farmer Jack Lazor and UVM Extension agronomists Sid Bosworth and Heather Darby discuss results of a small grains research trial with funding from NE-SARE. Photo: NE-SARE

Written by Debra Heleba, University of Vermont Extension

Research and outreach activities are crucial to building our collective knowledge about the food system and moving it forward to meet our Farm to Plate goals for 2020 and beyond. However, funding these activities can be challenging; while a number of local, state, and federal grants programs are available, tight competition, limited grant-writing time and/or experience, and grant mismatches with mission are often identified as barriers to success. 

One program that has helped fund food system related research and outreach in Vermont over the years is the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program (NE-SARE). Since its start in 1988, NE-SARE has funded more than 200 Vermont projects totaling $6,764,223 through its suite of competitive grants programs. The programs are listed below along with examples of recent projects that are helping Vermont reach its Farm to Plate goals.

NE-SARE’s Mini-Grants. These are smaller (up to $15,000) grants which require an online application.

-        Partnership Grants. These grants are for agricultural service providers--extension educators, nonprofits, state departments of agriculture, consultants, and other advisors in the farm community--who want to conduct on-farm demonstrations, research, or marketing projects with farmers as cooperators. As an example, Carol Adair, assistant professor of climate change and adaptation at the University of Vermont (UVM) Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, is conducting an on-farm study to evaluate greenhouse gas emissions in minimum- and no-till farming systems; results will inform Farm to Plate Goal 6 by learning practices that improve environmental stewardship.

-        Farmer Grants. NE-SARE funds these projects developed by commercial farmers who want to test a new idea using a field trial, on-farm demonstration, marketing initiative, or other technique. A recent project that pertains to Farm to Plate Goals 7 and 9 was conducted by Wesley  Bascom and Suzanne Podhaizer of Gozzard City at Provender Farm in Cabot. They studied the economics of pasture-raised goose production; by tracking the numbers and learning consumer taste preferences, they were able determine production and processing factors that will allow them to profitably raise and market high quality, local meat.

-        Graduate Student Grants. As NE-SARE’s newest grants program, this program provides grants to students enrolled in a graduate program at an accredited college, university, or veterinary school who want to research key topics in sustainable agriculture. For example, UVM anthropology student Jessie Mazar is looking at food security challenges among Latino/a farm workers on Vermont’s dairy farms; her goal is to develop ways to provide them with greater access to healthy, culturally familiar foods, affecting Farm to Plate Goal 15.

In addition, NE-SARE has two larger grants programs that require a pre- and full-proposal process; these programs often fund multi-year, multi-institutional projects.

-        Research and Education Grants. Awards typically range from $30,000 to $200,000 for these grants for researchers and educators offering outcome-based projects that explore new sustainable farm practices. One example is a joint project between Maine and Vermont looking at soil fertility in small grains. UVM Extension agronomist Heather Darby is working with farmers and research partners to optimize nitrogen (N) fertility management in wheat, spelt, rye, and other grains used for food and livestock feed. The goal is improve N use efficiency for better quality and quantity of grains to meet the increasing demand for local sources of these crops, furthering Farm to Plate Goals 5, 6, and 13.

-        Professional Development Grants. NE-SARE’s train-the-trainer grants deliver outcome-based training in sustainable techniques to Extension, NRCS, and nonprofit staff and other service providers. For example, UVM Extension’s Beth Holtzman is leading Ground Work, a train-the-trainer program to help agricultural educators deliver farm mechanization and tractor education to beginning farmers, and farm workers throughout the Northeast, helping to ensure safe farm practices, Farm to Plate Goal 18.

NE-SARE has funded many more projects—from those focused on cover crops and pollinators to efficient food storage and equipment innovations—all to help farmers explore and address key issues affecting the sustainability of agriculture. Like Farm to Plate goals, NE-SARE seeks to strengthen the working landscape, improve profitability of farms, protect our environmental resources, and support the quality of life for our farmers and communities.

To learn more about NE-SARE and its grants programs, visit:

Cover Photo: A gosling at Gozzard City at Provender Farm in Cabot. Farmers Wesley Bascom and Suzanne Podhaizer received an NE-SARE farmer grant to study the financial viability of pasture-raised goose production.




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