Agricultural Producers Second Chance To Apply

Round two of the Agency of Agriculture's Covid-19 Relief programs have now begun. The Agency has done so much for the state of Vermont's farmers this year, to top it off, the Agency has launched two new programs into the mix for Phase two.

The two new VCAAP programs are the VCAAP Farmers' Market Application, as well as the Farm to School Application. The application for the Farm to School Relief program is part of a joint application with the Agency of Education's Child Nutrition Equipment Grant.

There was one hundred thousand dollars that was appropriated to the agency of agriculture, and four million dollars that was appropriated to the agency of education. Both receiving these funds to help schools adapt to their new environment caused by the Covid-19 pandemic

The hundred thousand dollars that the Agency of Agriculture gave to this application is specifically focused on two pieces. One, is to help schools that have adapted, and created outdoor classrooms. Two, is to help schools find a more accessible ways to feed their children. Even though the Agency of Education has the bulk of the resources they are focused on the same goal.

"So we elected to combine the two sources of funding into one application. There is logic in the application that will help applicants sort through it, based upon what your goal is, and who the eligible applicant is. Whether you're receiving Agency of Education resources, or Agency of Agriculture resources," Abbey Willard, Agricultural Development Division Director explained.

The Agency of Agriculture's focus with the grant is to prioritize schools, and licensed child care facilities that have made some of these outdoor classroom modifications, and or changes on how they are serving food. Part of the goal is to make sure schools make those relationships with agriculture producers as well.

"The experience has been that if the schools are being supported in their meal preparation. Or in this case, their outdoor learning classrooms, they could choose, and often do engage in a relationship with agriculture producers. The hope is that they will continue that commitment to buying local in this program," Willard goes on to say.

When applying for the program, an establishment must show that they have incurred losses, or cost, as a result of Covid-19. This requirement is very similar to the other program requirements being offered in the other covid-19 recovery applications. When applying they can get funding for new equipment purposes, additional staff costs, additional meal costs, and infrastructure improvements.

"You can apply by going to the Agency of Education website, or through the Agency of Agriculture food and markets website. That has a link to the particular application, it's really easy to find the link. Should be simple enough to go ahead and have a school or child care facility log in, apply, provide their information, answer the eligibility questions, and then begin to upload examples and documents of the additional losses or costs that they incurred," Willard explains.

What prompted this program? Well after round one of the Agency releasing their Covid relief fund programs, the Vermont legislature heard about the need from schools with all the adaptations happening in response to the pandemic. Willard tells readers that the Legislature elected to authorize funding to both the Agency of Agriculture, and Agency of Education.

Willard says that this is not the first time that the two agencies have worked together. Each agency has always worked together on farm to school related activities, as well as youth education activities. The goal is to work on child nutrition, meeting the needs of schools, youth, and engaging in conversations about healthy local meal preparation.

Moving on to the new farmers market application, in the original agriculture and working lands application, farmers markets are eligible entities. When it comes to the new farmers market application, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture's goal is to serve locally owned, small farmers markets that could not apply for the first round of applications.

"It did have this unintended consequence of trickling down to impact farmers markets with the same eligibility criteria. During the summer, and early fall, there was testimony received by the legislature that shared there were a variety of small farmers markets that did not have an annual gross sale of ten thousand dollars," Willard explains.

So the Agency of Agriculture took up to one hundred forty thousand dollars of their existing VCAAP funds and directed it towards small farmers markets.

"So only targeting those markets in these special applications that have less than ten thousand dollars in annual gross sales. They would be eligible for a maximum award for two thousand dollars. Based on cost and losses that the market had experienced due to the pandemic since march," Willard goes on to say.

The grants can help the farmers markets with various expenses such as hiring additional staff, vendor fees, compensation for volunteers that a farmers market didn't expect, or purchasing personal protection equipment.

There have been other changes added to some of the other applications for example, changing many eligibility requirements. The Agency hopes that this second round will go as smoothly as the first. If you have any questions for the Agency they are always updating their frequently asked questions, and you can go to their website if you'd like to contact them.