Communities Food

ASAP Launches Farmer Relief Fund

ASAP Launches Farmer Relief Fund

Mills River barn. Photo by Mallory Fountain, courtesy of ASAP

By Emma Castleberry

ASAP (Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project) has established a new grant program for farmers experiencing financial crisis as a result of COVID-19. The Appalachian Grown Farmer Immediate Needs Grants will provide fast access to grants of up to $500. Farmers who sell locally may apply at asapconnections.org.

The timing of COVID-19 was particularly unfortunate for farmers, increasing the importance of these immediate grants. “There is always a lot of outlay of cash in the spring on a farm and you have to rely on banked income from the last season to cashflow the spring,” says Nicole DelCogliano, farmer at Green Toe Ground. Reduced labor presents an added hurdle. “We didn’t hire anyone on the farm because we were worried about where they were coming from and just wanted to be safe,” says DelCogliano. “We’ve had no outside labor and won’t likely til mid-May, so that adds a lot onto my husband and I. Farmers always live close to the edge financially and this pandemic has just exacerbated this issue. With the market uncertainty, it is great to have some financial support offered.”

Not only are many farmers experiencing a loss of income as a result of restaurant and farmers market closures, but they are also incurring additional costs to access new ways to sell their products. “Farms that sold primarily to restaurants or schools need to pivot their business models entirely, and those that sell through farmers markets need to adapt to new restrictions, such as packaging requirements, fewer spaces for vendors and online payment systems,” says Sarah Hart, ASAP communications coordinator. “It’s important to get this support in place now, so that as more crops come in, farmers are able to get that food to the people who are looking for it. It’s early in the growing season, so we’re only beginning to see the impacts of COVID-19 on farmers.” ASAP estimates that $16 million in regional farm sales to restaurants and markets has been impacted by the public health restrictions resulting from COVID-19.

Joe Evans is farm manager at Olivette Farm, a diversified vegetable farm that gets about 75 percent of its annual income from farmers markets and restaurants. Olivette Farm has survived the COVID-19 crisis by expanding its CSA program and establishing an online sales model whereby customers can pick up their groceries at the farm. “While this has enabled us to get through the last month and a half, it is the summer months where we must really hustle as the real harvests have yet to begin,” says Evans. “Many farms are struggling to sell the volume of produce necessary to sustain as a business. These ASAP grants are necessary because farms are necessary.”

Anna and Paul Littman of Ivy Creek Family Farm also pivoted quickly to online sales to address the loss of restaurant and farmers market income. “The very nature of small-scale farming demands that farmers be inventive,” says Anna. “ASAP’s grants will enable farmers to do what they do best: innovate, respond to crisis and be there for the community.”

The grants will be distributed with priority given to farmers who face a significant loss or disruption of market outlets due to COVID-19; depend on the farm business for more than 50 percent of their household income; and plan to use funds to help shift their farm business to new models or adjust to new market requirements. Nonprofits are not eligible to apply at this time. Support for the Appalachian Grown Farmer Immediate Needs Grants comes from the Appalachian Grown Farmer Relief Fund, which is accepting donations online. “A positive outcome of this pandemic has been the realization that people in our mountain communities don’t have to go to the grocery store for their essentials as our diverse network of farms can directly provide sustenance,” says Evans of Olivette Farm. “Farms bring so much more to the table than just food. This form of aid will not only provide relief for farmers but prove the resiliency of our local food communities.”

For more information, or to donate, visit ASAPConnections.org.

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