“Resources for Resilient Farms,” a new farmer-support program, will aim to assist farmers with applying for USDA funding, the Virgin Islands Good Food Coalition and national partner, Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA, announced Monday.
The program launch event will take place for V.I. farmers and producers on Dec. 13 from 6-9 p.m. at the University of the Virgin Islands Research & Technology Park, St. Croix Campus, 64 West Building.
The event will conclude with a small party to celebrate the Virgin Islands Good Food Coalition’s 10th anniversary. RSVPs are required, which can be emailed to email@example.com or texted to 340-643-4831.
A similar event will be hosted on St. Thomas in early 2023 for St. Thomas and St. John farmers, according to a press release announcing the initiative.
Every year, millions of dollars are available to farmers nationwide through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Services, the release stated. However, the programs are not being accessed equitably by underserved and socially disadvantaged farmers across the U.S. In the U.S. Virgin Islands, a very small portion of farmers receive funding through the program, it said.
The V.I. Good Food Coalition and RAFI-USA’s new “Resources for Resilient Farms” program aims to increase program participation and retention rates by providing direct support through technical services, according to the release. V.I. Good Food Coalition’s outreach and technical assistance team will set up appointments with farmers on St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John to assist with filling out the required paperwork and applications, appointments with USDA NRCS agents, and meeting program deadlines, it said.
“In many instances, the barriers that V.I. farmers face in successfully completing the NRCS paperwork and receiving funding are: having sufficient time, easy access to support, and understanding of the process,” said Sommer Sibilly-Brown, executive director of V.I. Good Food Coalition.
“The ‘Resource for Resilient Farmers’ program allows us to serve as a bridge between NRCS and farmers and provide direct one-on-one assistance with the application process to ensure that more farmers, land owners and agro-business owners are accessing the funding resources available to leverage growth in their agro-businesses and help protect and conserve our islands’ limited natural resources,” added Sibilly-Brown.
Nationally, and in the V.I., USDA NRCS programs provide farmers with free consultations from local NRCS agents to assess the health and conservation needs of their land as it relates to six areas of focus: forestry, wildlife, energy, air, soil and water, the release stated. Eligible farmers and landowners can apply for NRCS funding, which provides a 50 to 90 percent cost share for land and farm improvement projects, such as water catchment and irrigation, pond development, fencing for livestock, cover crops, and more, it said.
The “Resources for Resilient Farmers” program is a two-year collaboration led by RAFI-USA and its partners to assist small-scale BIPOC farmers — that’s Black, Indigenous, and People of Color — through the NRCS application process and conservation action plan preparation, according to the release. The program aims to introduce approximately 1,500 of those farmers to NRCS technical and financial assistance programs throughout the southeastern U.S. states, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“We are pleased to be a part of this important project which centers historically underserved farmers and climate-smart agriculture,” Edna Rodriguez, executive director of RAFI-USA, said. “This project allows us to continue focusing on serving members of our Farmers of Color Network based in the southeast U.S. and launch our planned expansion of programs to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. We are especially excited to be working in partnership with the Virgin Islands Good Food Coalition,” she said.
The Dec. 13 program launch event will provide further details about USDA NRCS funding programs and the steps involved, from determining eligibility to reporting on project completion — and how V.I. Good Food Coalition will assist farmers with each step.
USDA NRCS representatives will be available at the event to answer questions about the specific funding parameters and details about conservation project qualifications. V.I. Good Food Coalition will conclude the event with a small party to celebrate their 10th anniversary of food system work in the V.I., with local food, drinks and entertainment.
“Resources For Resilient Farms” is funded by the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service and is administered as a Cooperative Agreement between the agency and Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA.
Virgin Islands Good Food Coalition, Inc. is a place-based nonprofit organization dedicated to building a thriving local food economy that supports USVI farmers and ensures healthy good food is accessible to every resident in the territory. Established in 2012, the coalition is a project under the St. Croix Foundation for Community Development.