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May 2021

Now Accepting Preproposals for 2022 Projects

Northeast SARE is now accepting preproposals for three grant programs: Research and Education, Professional Development and Research for Novel Approaches

Preproposals--which capture preliminary project concepts--are required for each of these grant programs and are due online by 5 p.m. on August 3. Applicants selected to submit full proposals will be contacted in mid-August with full proposals due on October 26. 

Learn More & Apply

Research & Education Grant Program

Research and Education Grants fund education projects (with or without an applied research component) that focus on farmers and changes they make that lead to greater sustainability. Awards typically range from $30,000 to $250,000.
 
Monitoring swede midge in brassicas. Photo courtesy of Yolanda Chen.

Research for Novel Approaches Grant Program

Research for Novel Approaches Grants funds applied research conducted through social science investigations and/or field and laboratory experiments. Awards typically range from $30,000 to $200,000. Projects should lead to the feasibility of new practices and approaches that have high potential for adoption by farmers.

Professional Development Grant Program

Professional Development Grants fund train-the-trainer projects that increase the knowledge, skills, understanding and abilities of service providers to teach farmers about sustainable practices and approaches. Awards typically range from $30,000 to $150,000.
 

Preproposal Webinar


June 24, noon to 1 p.m. ET

If you are interested in learning which grant program best fits your project idea, the components of a strong preproposal and steps to apply, please join grant coordinators for this free webinar. Space is limited so save your spot and register at: go.uvm.edu/nesarewebinar. The webinar will be live captioned and recorded for future viewing.
To request a disability-related accommodation to participate,contact Deb Heleba at debra.heleba@uvm.edu or (802) 651-8335 x552, by June 3.

Farmers’ Market Project Keeps up on Customer Trends

Many farmers’ markets across the region have started for another season but how do market managers and farmer vendors keep pace with changing consumer demands? Diane Eggert, executive director of the Farmers’ Market Federation of NY, is currently leading a Northeast SARE Professional Development Project to train farmers and market managers on strategies based on current customer trends.

Eggert—who has worked on farmers’ market issues for more than 20 years—initiated the project after she and her colleagues observed declines in customer participation in farmers’ markets. Farmers reported a decrease in sales from 20% to as much as 70% over previous year’s sales, attributed to factors like "the over-proliferation of markets cannibalizing one another, too many options for purchasing local food that offer more convenience, inadequate advertising and promotions for the markets, and lack of understanding of consumer needs and desires".

Therefore, the project’s goals are to train market managers and farmers to evaluate marketing and other business strategies to help regain customer counts, elevate the profile of farmers’ markets and rebuild farm sales. Although in-person workshops were thwarted by the pandemic last year, the team offered a series of webinar trainings; recordings may be found at: www.nyfarmersmarket.com/sare-consumer-survey.

The team also conducted a multi-state consumer survey to learn what consumers are looking for when they shop for local food. The results were used to develop the publication, “Reversing the Downward Trend: Toolkit for Adapting Farmers' Markets to Match Consumer Trends”. The toolkit provides practical tips and strategies on how to market to “today’s customer”, build programs to draw in market shoppers, and enhance customer experiences. From branding to creating effective messaging, the toolkit has potential to boost marketing efforts for farmers and farmers’ markets.

Research Looks to Extend the Season with Frozen Products

To determine if local produce can be profitably frozen for off-season retail sales, University of Massachusetts food scientist Amanda Kinchla secured a Northeast SARE Research for Novel Approaches Grant to look at two crops, blueberries and spinach. Kinchla and the research team worked with farmers and the Western Massachusetts Food Processing Center, a shared-use processing facility, on the project.

The team first sought to assess consumer demand for locally processed products by looking at buying habits of two types of shoppers—“traditional” and “buy local” consumers. Results suggested that price was an important factor in consumer demand, especially among traditional shoppers; consumers who routinely buy local were less sensitive to higher prices. Location of where shoppers purchase products was also a key factor, particularly to “buy local” customers. Locations where produce was grown and frozen were also deemed important.

To learn if high-quality, safe frozen products could be profitably produced at smaller scales, the team worked with the Processing Center to assess costs and food quality parameters, determining the feasibility of this type of processing for farms and food hubs. They verified that production costs significantly depend on the types of equipment needed. The team found that drip loss (loss of moisture and flavor after thawing) and overall product appearance were key to food quality. 

Running trials on both blueberries and spinach, the team found that to achieve optimal quality, blueberries needed shorter processing times at moderate freezing temperatures. Blueberry processing costs (equipment, labor, etc.) were found to be low enough to achieve profitability. Therefore, the team developed a cost calculator to support farmers and food hubs in estimating the potential profitability of frozen retail blueberries for their operations. They also developed standardized operating procedures, quality protocols, and a food safety plan for frozen blueberries—all are available in the project report and on Kinchla’s website. Spinach processing, on the other hand, required high amounts of labor and time but produced low yields; the team concluded that frozen spinach at the scale tested had a low probability of successful profitability.

The project team concluded that frozen product processing may not be the best match for individual farms. They said, “An important conclusion of the Costs and Returns research is that retail frozen products produced using methods and equipment comparable to the WMPFC are unlikely to be profitable for individual farm operations.” However, Kinchla noted that this type of processing may be suitable for multi-farmer groups like food hubs and larger operations. She said, “As a result of this programming, there has been interest by other states that are further exploring this work to determine if this model (shared use freezing production) would further benefit producers within their respective regions.”

Grazing Brassicas Can Provide Extra Livestock Feed and Reduce Methane Emissions 

Dairy farmers who graze their animals face both economic and environmental challenges. Feed costs reduce farm profitability especially during times of low (“summer slump” and end of season) and no (winter) pasture production. In addition, recent environmental concerns have been raised when comparing methane emissions on forage-based dairies to their confinement counterparts. To address both issues, animal scientist Kathy Soder of the USDA ARS Pasture Systems and Watershed Management Research Unit led a multi-state Northeast SARE Research and Education Grant project to conduct an integrated research and farmer outreach program aimed at supporting the adoption of brassicas on forage-based dairies in the region.

The PA-NH team worked with farmers to assess knowledge gaps and research needs on using brassicas in grazing systems. Farmer concerns about crop establishment and animal health informed the project. In the lab, Soder tested the effects of turnip, canola and forage rape on ruminal fermentation and methane output of an annual ryegrass diet and found that “all three brassicas reduced methane output by approximately 50% when compared to annual ryegrass, without negatively impacting nutrient digestibility.” The team also conducted field trials of these brassica crops to assess their fall forage potential; results suggested that these brassicas “produced nearly double the forage yield of the annual ryegrass, with two to three times the protein and energy, which would result in significantly more grazing days, and greater animal productivity, in the late fall when other forages are typically dormant.”

Project partner Andre Brito of the University of NH conducted a two-year grazing study on the university’s organic dairy farm. Replacing conserved feed with grazing canola during the late fall to extend the grazing season, they found that cows grazing the canola consumed less baleage than control cows but were able to maintain milk production while reducing methane emissions. The team concluded that brassicas can be used as a high quality forage for late season grazing but farmers need to use caution with this crop due to their elevated glucosinolates that may cause animal health concerns if consumed in excess.

Soder and the team shared information on grazing brassicas with more than 600 farmers and 100 agricultural service providers through a fact sheet, field days, webinars and other events. Although the pandemic made verifying adoption a challenge, the team said at least 10 farmers implemented brassicas on their farms, and at least 40 farmers said that as a result of new information from the project, they are considering implementing brassicas into their grazing systems. Soder said, “This SARE project allowed us to...explore this area as a viable area of growth for grazing systems to improve economic and environmental sustainability of grazing-based enterprises in the Northeast.” She and the team plan to continue to explore and evaluate alternative livestock forages.
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Northeast SARE offers competitive grants and sustainable agriculture education in Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

Our programs are offered to all without regard to race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, and marital or familial status. SARE is funded by USDA NIFA. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.
 
 

Northeast SARE

140 Kennedy Drive, Suite 202
South Burlington, Vermont 05403
802.651.8335
northeastsare@uvm.edu
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