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by Slow Food USA intern Carol Dacey-Charles

The June 12 deadline is fast approaching for farmers and ranchers to apply for funding to support organic farming, as well as, forest and fuel management and energy conservation. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), part of the 2008 Farm Bill, offers “financial and technical assistance to farmers and ranchers who face threats to soil, water, air, and related natural resources on their land.”

So, what does this mean if you are a farmer or rancher following sustainable or organic methods and practicing land conservation? It could mean a total of $300,000 over a 6-year period in moneys and support—we are not talking small change here! There are also provisions to aid beginning farmers and those who are socially disadvantaged or have limited resources with larger cost-share rates and the possibility of cash advances for purchasing materials and contracting. The length of EQIP contracts may be from one to ten years, with most lasting two to three years.

So, what does all this mean to non-farming, but food-loving, local food eaters? It means that there is government support for your cherished food-producers, but if they don’t use it—we all may lose. That is how government funding works—if no one applies for the grants, our legislators figure that no one needed it, and they put that money somewhere else in the next budget. We want to make sure that all that money is spent to encourage and support organic and sustainable practices to help conserve healthy farmland and produce more good, clean food.

What can you do to help? Get the word out now to your local farmers and producers. Send them to the EQIP website for more information and links to apply for funding in their state. Email Tom Vilsack(AgSec@usda.gov), Secretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and let him know you support this funding and local, sustainable farming practices. If you are a farmer or rancher—bless you—and get filling out forms and putting that money to use.

More info:

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition website offers a grassroots guide to the 2008 Farm Bill in a downloadable format.
For info on the Organic Initiative within EQIP, the ATTRA website has good resources.