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Feb. 3, 2015

MSU gets USDA grant to aid Michigan’s fledgling farmers

Michigan State University has long been a resource for small farms in Michigan. Thanks to a $750,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture, MSU will be able to help even more fledgling farmers get their start.

“This grant will enhance and create a vibrant network of farmer training across Michigan to help them negotiate the first five years of their endeavor,” said Mike Hamm, C.S. Mott Professor of Sustainable Agriculture and Director of MSU Center for Regional Food Systems. “Our programs will cater to different perspectives and needs while moving everyone who desires to farm along the path of building a viable business."

As part of the grant, the MSU Student Organic Farm will expand its Organic Farmer Training Program. Without programs like this, burgeoning farmers like Joannee DeBruhl, farm manager of Stone Coop Farm, may not have ever gotten her start.

DeBruhl, who spent much of her career in the insurance business, was laid off in 2009. Looking for a major change, she gravitated toward community gardening and eventually enrolled in MSU’s Organic Farmer Training Program.

“The program was great; it gave me lots of hands-on training and showed that it was possible and not just a dream,” DeBruhl said. “I think the USDA grant will be a huge benefit for small farmers because there’s not much money out there to help them get started.”

Training and help with startup costs are crucial, and this grant will be managed well by MSU, she added.

Key to the project is MSU’s partnership with Michigan Food and Farming Systems, which runs the Women in Agriculture Collective Farming Initiative at Genesys Health System in Genesee County. This partnership will develop site- and people-appropriate training programs that help beginning women farmers build a successful business.

In addition to women, the grant also will develop training programs for Hispanic farmers. The number of Hispanic farms in Michigan continues to grow, and MSU will assist this historically underserved farmer population through training and site development assistance at the Farmers on the Move Cooperative in Battle Creek.

MSU also will launch new, and improve existing, programs that target the biggest challenges facing small-farm viability – land access, capital access, market access, business planning and strategizing for scaling up production.

Additional MSU contributors helping with this grant include: Jeremy Moghtader, Shakara Tyler. Michelle Napier-Dunnings, with Michigan Food and Farming Systems, also will be contributing to these efforts.

By: Layne Cameron

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