by Doug Gucker, State Co-coordinator, Illinois SARE
Looking for the latest research information on sustainable farming? Needing a grant to fund needed farmer-driven research to solve a current problem in your sustainable food production? If you are, then the Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) program is here to help you with timely research information and research grant funding for sustainable farmers.
SARE embraces three goals – the 3 Pillars of Sustainability: profit over the long term; stewardship of our natural resources; and quality of life for farmers and their communities.
The SARE program is the only U.S. Department of Agriculture competitive grants research program that focuses solely on sustainable agriculture. Since its start in 1988, 7449 sustainable ag projects have been funded totaling more than $311 million.
In 2020, Illinois received funding for 15 different research and education projects and that does not include several mini-grant education projects. One of those mini-grant projects was given to the Land Connection for its project to quickly educate farmers about on-line sales opportunities due to COVID restrictions and to provide one on one guidance for setting up farm online sales.
For Illinois, we have six different grant funding opportunities offered in the north-central region of the U.S. These are the: Farmer/Rancher; Partnership; Professional Development; Research & Education; Youth Educator; and Graduate Student grants. All these grant opportunities require farmer input. The Farmer/Rancher and Partnership grants will probably be of the most interest to farmers looking for opportunities to do research on their farms. More information about all these grants can be found at: northcentral.sare.org/grants/.
Farmer/Rancher grants are competitive grants for farmers and ranchers who want to explore sustainable solutions to problems through on-farm research, demonstration, and education projects. An individual farmer can apply for up to $9000 in funding for a project that lasts up to 23 months. A group of up to three farmers can apply with a funding cap of $27,000 or $9,000 per farmer. The call for grant proposals is typically in August with the proposal submission deadline in early December.
Partnership grants are intended to foster cooperation between agriculture professionals and small groups of farmers and ranchers for on-farm research, demonstration, and education activities related to sustainable agriculture. Up to $40,000 of funding is allowed for this grant. Typically, three or more farmers are expected to be substantially involved in the project, and each farm must be a distinct and independent of the others. The call for grant proposals is typically in August with submission deadline in November.
The other part of what SARE offers is its practical, research-based information on a variety of sustainable agriculture topics to include: soil health, ecological pest management, rotational grazing, marketing, social resilience, crop and livestock production. All our information and learning resources were developed from SARE funded research projects. This sustainable ag resource library contains hundreds of publications that can be downloaded or ordered in print. There are books, bulletins, factsheets, videos, etc. These resources can be found at: sare.org/resources/.
Examples of some of the more popular SARE books are: Managing Cover Crops Profitably; Building Soils for Better Crops; Organic Transition; The New Farmers’ Market; Farmers’ Guide to Business Structures; and Managing Alternative Pollinators.
The Illinois Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program is a member of the North Central Region SARE. We provide funding for state travel scholarships and mini-grants as well as be your local SARE source for information and assistance. Also, we provide sponsorship for local and state sustainable ag conferences. Illinois SARE is made up of two state co-coordinators: Dr. Bruce Branham, U of I professor of horticultural cropping and food systems; and Doug Gucker, Extension educator in local food systems and small farms.
One of our biggest responsibilities as co-coordinators is to aid farmers and individuals who are applying for one of the six SARE grants. Helping them decide which grant is appropriate for their project and suggesting ways they can improve their grant proposals.
Illinois SARE has Travel Scholarships available for agricultural professionals wishing to attend conferences to further their knowledge of sustainable agriculture practices. The knowledge gained should be applied to existing and new local programming upon completion of the event.
Our Mini-grants support programs or workshops that build educator expertise, develop new curricula or programming, or implement innovative educational approaches. This grant provides partial support for projects designed to increase the knowledge base and effectiveness of agricultural professionals in developing educational programs that enhance the sustainability of communities and agricultural systems. Funding requests of up to $1,500 will be considered; proposals should include matching support or co-sponsorship whenever possible.
For more information about the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program and its funding opportunities, please feel free to contact Bruce or Doug; visit our Illinois SARE website. If you are interested in applying for a SARE grant, check out the North Central Region SARE Grants page, then contact us at Illinois SARE for more assistance.
State Co-coordinator, Illinois SARE
University of Illinois Extension