Tuesday, October 14, 2008

NCR-SARE Awards $100,000 Diversity Grant

Barbara Norman in her blueberry patch. – photo by Joan Benjamin.

For Barbara Norman, sustainable agriculture is more than an interest; it’s a lifestyle. Norman is a third generation farmer on her blueberry farm in Van Buren County, MI, and has been awarded the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program’s (NCR-SARE) first ever Diversity Grant for $100,000.

The Diversity Research and Education Grant Program is a new NCR-SARE grant program. Its purpose is to fund people and/or projects that can help NCR-SARE reach and work with underserved audiences to improve agricultural sustainability in the region. Chaired by Robin Salverson, the NCR-SARE Diversity Committee was formed to respond to NCR-SARE’s goal to reach and work with underserved audiences.

“We have long had the sense that NCR-SARE isn’t as effective as it could be at involving all the people that are interested in making agriculture more sustainable in our region,” said NCR-SARE Regional Coordinator, Bill Wilcke.

“A majority of NCR-SARE stakeholders believe that agriculture will be more sustainable if we involve a greater variety of people and perspectives in our decision making and if we fund a greater variety of projects,” said Wilcke. The Diversity Initiative is a reection of our acknowledgment that we could use some help in setting up systems and practices in becoming more diverse and serving more diverse audiences.”

Ultimately, along with a call for proposals, NCR-SARE committed to building strong relationships with existing programs and organizations that currently serve those that may be under-served by NCR-SARE. That goal will not only inuence future funding, but also how NCR-SARE communicates and engages in outreach in the region.

Norman’s interest in helping underserved farmers is evident in much of the work she has accomplished with Michigan Integrated Food and Farming Systems (MIFFS). In 2002, Norman coordinated a SARE project centered on African-American and Hispanic farmers in order to serve a growing need in southwest Michigan. This newly funded NCR-SARE Diversity Grant project will work with a broader audience and a broader geographic area than her previous work.

“Service providers in other states within the north central region are also interested in working with underserved farmers; however, they need the mentoring of an experienced outreach person who can make the connections within the underserved community that lead to successful projects,” explained Norman.

“Leaders in the underserved communities recognize the advantage of receiving mentoring from experienced farmer advocates who can bring them together with the service providers who can help them,” said Norman.

Norman has selected three specific areas to concentrate efforts for this project: Detroit, MI, Kankakee, IL, and the historical farms of Nicodemus, KS. Norman and MIFFS outreach coordinators targeted these three underserved communities based on demographic data and the potential to build on key relationships with service providers in those underserved communities.

Moving forward with the project, MIFFS outreach staff will meet with potential leaders and early adopters in the targeted communities, develop partnerships with service providers who are interested in working with the underserved communities, and establish this SARE sponsored project as a means to develop relationships among SARE, the leaders/early adopters, the underserved farmers, and the service providers.

Norman’s enthusiasm about the project is sure to inspire the participants.

“I think this project will contribute tremendously to sustainable agriculture in the region,” said Norman. “The more people we get involved, the more the word will spread. More people will be aware of SARE and what SARE has available. As more farmers see the advantage of working with SARE, it’s going to become more exciting.”

To read more about NCR-SARE Diversity Initiative, click here.

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