Don’t Miss Out on the 2015 Value-Added Producer Grant!

The USDA Value-Added Producer Grant Program expects to announce a call for applications this April!  This is a great opportunity to plan a value-added business or to help fund early stage working capital expenses.   Grants of up to $75,000 for business planning and up to $200,000 for working capital were made last year.


“Value-added” is defined quite generously by the USDA.   Not only does it mean changing the physical state of your raw product, but it can mean the fact that you are marketing and branding your fresh product as local, or by your means of production, such as organically grown, or by physical segregation of your raw product, such as non-GMO corn.   Projects producing renewable energy from one’s  raw products might also be considered value-added.

This year is one of the best years to apply.   More projects will be funded this year than usual due an exceptionally large pool of funding – $41M nationally.  And a new consideration for military veterans is expected in the announcement.  Beginning farmers, minority farmers, or women-owned farming businesses might be eligible for extra points in the scoring of applications.

The application is long and detailed, requiring much thought and planning.

There is a 50% matching funds requirement.  So please, investigate this program now at  to find out if it can help you achieve your business goals.  Start on your application even before the federal announcement, if it is not already out.  Use last year’s application toolkit. Once the program is announced this year, applications will be due in only 60 days.

The growing season is upon us.  But don’t miss at least considering this opportunity.

Use free Grants Advising made available through the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute.   Contact Deirdre Birmingham at  or 608-219-4279.  Deirdre is also an organic apple grower and has used this program herself. You are welcome to be on her email list of funding program announcements so that you know what’s out there!

Grow some Grain, Save some Seeds, Be a part of the Movement.

growing grainYou can be a part of an effort to increase the diversity, resilience and flavor of our local food system!

The Normal Seed Library and Grand Prairie Grain Guild are looking for a few good gardeners and farmers to help grow out rare seeds.   This growing season is their first opportunity to start variety trials and grow out a diverse mix of open pollinated plants to increase their supply of seeds.

University Extension Educator Bill Davison is heading up this project and has purchased 25 different types of wheat, 6 dry beans and 12 different types of colorful dry corn.  The corn consists of old varieties of flour, flint, and dent corn that is meant to be ground and used as flour and eaten as cornbread, grits or polenta.  Many of these seeds have come from USDA seed banks and they are extremely rare and in very limited supply.  He has some packets with 20 wheat seeds in them!  The goal of this project is to multiply those seeds.  You do not have to have any experience growing grain to be a part of this project.  There are many advantages to starting with gardens and small plots on farms and ongoing support will be provided to teach you how to grow and manage these plantings.  These are seeds that need to be planted in April and May and depending on the variety and type of plant they will be harvested between July and October.  Each person will only get a small amount of seed that can be planted in a very small space.  For example 20 wheat seeds will plant 10 row feet. Dry beans can also be planted in very small spaces.  Corn needs a little more space and we will be looking for people with more room to grow out the corn.  Anyone with a plot 10 feet by 10 feet or larger can grow enough corn to ensure good pollination.

The goal of this project is to evaluate different varieties and find the ones that perform best in our area.  Once they learn which ones perform best, they will focus on increasing the supply of those seeds and sharing them through the seed library and grain guild networks.  There will be a couple of organized seed cleaning days in the fall to clean the seed and prepare for the next season.  To register for this project please take this short survey

To learn more, contact Bill Davison,

Conservation Stewardship Program Rewards Organic Farming and Transition: Registration Extended to March 13th!

CSP rewards producers for the conservation and environmental benefits they produce on their working agricultural lands; all private agricultural land, including cropland, pasture, and rangeland, is eligible to enroll in CSP.  Additionally, the variety of conservation practices and program rules have been expanded this year to better represent a more diverse type of applicant in accordance with the new 2014 Farm Bill. Farmers from all size operations and raising crops of any variety are encouraged to apply.  CSP contract-holding farmers can receive payments for actively managing, maintaining, and expanding conservation activities like cover crops, rotational grazing, ecologically-based pest management, buffer strips, and the transition to organic farming. Of the 71 enhancements from which producers can select, 35 have a high likelihood of adoption by organic producers or those who are interested in transitioning to organic.  See the  Organic Conservation Stewardship Program for a list of activities and enhancements that qualify.

The process for applying for CSP is simple. Checkout the steps and timeline below and get started today!

The Process and Timeline for Enrolling in CSP 
Step 1: Complete a short and simple application form at your local NRCS. This is due by March 13th. 
Step 2: Fill out Conservation Measument Tool (CMT) form at your local NRCS office. 
Step 3: Farm Site Visit and Contract Preparation. Within a month or two of the CMT completion, NRCS will complete an on-farm verification visit to each farm that ranks high enough to be enrolled in the program this year. After the farm site visit, you will work with NRCS staff to develop a CSP plan and contract, which includes a schedule for new enhancement implementation and a payment schedule. The first annual payment for a five-year contract awarded in this round will be made on or after October 1, 2016, and then every October 1 thereafter for the five years of the CSP contract.

IL Specialty Growers, Agritourism, and Organic Conference Information

Important Information Regarding the ILLINOIS SPECIALTY GROWERS, AGRITOURISM, AND ORGANIC CONFERENCE on January 7 – 9, 2015 in Springfield, IL:

There are two Organic tracks on the 8th and 9th, which include a myriad of topics including Grain production, Sundry issues, Vegetable production, Fruit production, Soil and Fertility, and Livestock and Forage systems.  If you have been looking for a great place to learn more about organic agriculture and to network with other farmers, you should come and join us at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Springfield at this ever-growing conference!

There will also be a Farmer-to-Farmer Idea Exchange on Thursday, Jan 8th hosted by Illinois Organic Growers Association (IOGA)!  Facilitators will be Deborah Cavanaugh-Grant, University of Illinois, and Marnie Record, Illinois Organic Growers Association.  We would like to know what are the issues most important to your farming operation so that we can focus on what matters most during the Idea Exchange.  Please submit topic ideas to Marnie Record at so that IOGA can plan for an inspired learning session.  Please encourage your fellow farmers and friends who are planning on coming to the conference to register and submit topics for the idea exchange. 

Here is more information you will need to know:

  • IOGA will be holding the Annual Business Meeting at 4:00 PM on Jan 8th at the Conference.  This will be a chance to collectively reflect on 2014 and plan for 2015.  Members will have the opportunity to share ideas for moving forward and to elect the 2015 Governing Board.  If you are a member, considering becoming a member or just interested in what will happen in 2015, please plan on attending.
  • Are you planning on becoming a member of IOGA or renewing your membership for 2015?  If you register before or at our business meeting on January 8th at the conference, you will be entered into a drawing for a rebate of your conference registration.  That’s a good deal!  For more information on becoming a member of IOGA, please visit
  • Registrations after December 26, 2014 will require on-site registration at an additional cost of $15/person so make sure you register online today!
  • For the full conference program and registration information, please visit:

Season Extension Resources

It’s the time of the year when organic farmers are tucking in beds into cover crop as they’re harvested and planting seedlings for winter and early spring sales.  With innovation and planning, Illinois farmers are able to extend their season and even grow year-round inside hoop structures.  Whether you call them “high tunnels”, “hoophouses”, “greenhouses” or some other variation, they all allow for season extension.  Season extension doesn’t only include vegetables growers either.  Have you considered moving your animals inside for the winter, increasing soil fertility and decreasing weeds and bugs?

Frontwards-High Tunnel Chickens

Whether you’re new to farming or want to expand your operation, here are some resources to help you continue your education.

MOSES Organic Farming Topic: Season Extension
*Resources include Fact Sheets, E-books, Books, Research publications, Funding Opportunities, and more.

SARE Learning Center Topic Room: High Tunnels and Other Season Extension Techniques
*Resources include Reports, Books, Information materials, and more.

Illinois NRCS Initiatives: Seasonal High Tunnel
*Resources include description of Initiative.  Please visit your county office for more information about EQIP programs through NRCS.

New Fact Sheet Available about Organic Labeling at Farmers Markets

The Organic Labeling at Farmer’s Markets fact sheet brought to you by  the US Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program can help farmers market vendors and community supported agriculture (CSA) operations properly market organic fruits, vegetables, or livestock products to consumers who are looking for fresh, locally sourced foods. It helps market participants understand the organic requirements, and know when organic certification is required. Finally, the fact sheet points to the Organic Literacy Initiative for additional information on organic regulations and certification.
You can find the 2 page Adobe file at this web address:


Also included in the fact sheet is information about the USDA’s Organic Literacy Initiative.  You can access their website at the web address AND find more details below:

Call-in to the IOGA Annual Meeting on January 9

IOGA’s annual meeting will be held on Thursday, January 9, from 4:00 to 5:00 PM at the Illinois Specialty Crops, Agritourism, and Organic Conference. If you are at the conference, please join us! Everyone is welcome to attend–learn more about IOGA and provide your input on priorities for 2014. Only members can vote for the 2014 Governing Board.

We would love to have you attend in person, but if you cannot, you may call in to the meeting, courtesy of UI Extension’s teleconference service via phone or computer:

  • To join the conference call as a participant via telephone call 888-983-3631 and when prompted to do so, enter the conference ID 9250261, followed by the pound sign (#). Please call in 5 minutes before the meeting starts.
  • You can also join via computer. You can join a Microsoft Lync 2010 meeting or conference call from a computer that does not have Lync 2010 or Microsoft Lync 2010 Attendee communications software installed. When you open the email meeting request on a computer that does not have Lync installed, click the Join online meeting link You will see two choices: Join the meeting and Are you a guest to this meeting? Click on Sign in here instead and type in your name (first and last and county). You must check the Install Lync Web App plug-in.
  • You will also encounter some security prompts, so please acknowledge and allow them. Also, if you are joining by computer, please plan to join at least 15 minutes ahead to make sure that you can get through the entire process before the meeting is scheduled to start.

We hope to see or hear you!

On-Farm Composting Workshop on September 10

University of Illinois Extension in conjunction with Illinois State University, the Department of Agriculture, and funded through a Conservation Innovation Grant from the Illinois Natural Resources Conservation Service, is offering an On-Farm Composting Workshop and Field Day on Tuesday, Sept. 10, in Sycamore, Ill.

The field day will go from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., starting at DeKalb Farm Bureau at 1350 W. Prairie Drive in Sycamore and followed by a field tour at Art Bingham’s farm in Clare.

“Livestock producers and horse stable operators looking for alternative manure management ideas should attend,” said Ellen Phillips, a U of I Extension local food systems educator. “Organic and local food growers will be able to increase their composting knowledge as well.”

  • the benefits of composting
  • the basics of making compost
  • Illinois EPA regulations related to composting
  • permitting and local siting requirements
  • compost facility site development
  • uses for compost and quality control
  • marketing of compost

During the afternoon, field day participants will tour an actual composting operation and will hear practical information from experienced compost operators, including information on composting techniques.

Advance registration is $15 per person by Sept. 3. The cost to register in person at each workshop is $20. Phillips said walk-ins are welcome but that lunch will not be guaranteed. The registration form is available at

For more information regarding the program, contact Phillips at 815-732-2191 or Bethany Macarus at 815-758-8194.