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We’ve all been there.
Strapped for cash, looking for a way to finance the homestead you already have – or to find sources of funds for the homestead you’ve always wanted to have.
Whether you have a small backyard farm or you are planning on homesteading off the grid, finding farm grants can be tough. But homesteading today requires a great deal of creativity and ingenuity, and that’s where the beauty of the Internet can really help you out.
I’ve scoured all the best resources to find the best sources of government funding, farm loans, and online grants. This list includes some of the best sources you can turn to when you are looking for grants for your farm -regardless of whether your farm is a postage stamp or ten thousand acres.
What Is a Homestead – and Will I Even Qualify for Funding?
Before you can start applying for funding, you need to first get a clear idea of what it is you are doing. A lot of people believe that they cannot apply for farm funding because they don’t like calling their small homesteads “farms.”
I’m one of those people -I still hate calling our property a farm. I don’t really like calling it a homestead, either, but you have to call it something, right? I’ll tell you all the reasons why I have such a hesitation in a later post, but for now, know that you are eligible for funding no matter what size or capacity you are at.
Now, you won’t be eligible for everything. We are in the process of applying for grants that don’t have sales caps – some require you to gross at least $10,000 or more in sales per year, which we just aren’t at yet because we are just getting started. And if you operate your homestead solely for yourself and your family, you might not be eligible for those specific programs, either.
But there are tons of other opportunities out there, from research grants to small loans, that can help make your dream of owning a small farm a reality. Just don’t limit yourself by thinking you are too small to matter – there will always be someone out there looking to give away some free funding. It’s just a matter of knowing where to lok.
Technically, a homestead is just a lifestyle of self-sufficiency characterized by home preservation, subsistence agriculture, and overall self-reliance. To be a so-called homesteader, you don’t have to own a certain amount of acreage or even own certain types of animals.
Don’t let a lack of confidence in your holdings keep you back. Trust us, you’ll never get over the “we aren’t real farmers” mindset. We always told ourselves that we wouldn’t be “real” farmers until we had herbivores. We got sheep, and we still don’t lump ourselves in that category.
It doesn’t ultimately matter. Take advantage of every potential funding opportunity you can find – you won’t regret it.
How to Avoid Overwhelm in Homestead Financing
First of all, start small, and stay organized. When you’re searching for resources to fund your homestead, the entire process can be overwhelming. But remember – you don’t have to apply for every single grant and loan you are eligible for in one day.
I started by compiling a massive list of all the grant programs for which we were eligible. Then, I narrowed it down to the ones that seemed the most economically feasible. I researched deadlines and wrote them in my daily planner (I recommend this one because it breaks your time down into multiple formats- but any old notebook will work!)
Staying on top of deadlines will help you avoid the “oh crap!” moment when you realize you just missed the deadline for the perfect grant (believe me – I’ve been there a time or two). It will also help break the monumental task of applying for grants down into bite-sized chunks – meaning you’re more likely to actually get something done.
Start2Farm is a great place to start if you are looking for some free money. This program is funded through the USDA and is a subcategory of the next loan we’ll talk about – the Beginning Farms USDA Loan. This program helps people who are new to farming and have less than 10 years of experience. There are some specific reporting and application details you’ll need to pay attention to, so make sure you check these out by clicking the relevant link in the header.
This loan is one of many offered by the USDA and it provides beginning farmers and ranchers with down payment assistance. You can use this to purchase property and apply from anywhere in the country – however, the property must not cost more than $500,000. You can’t have owned the farm for over ten years, and you also can’t have worked for pay on that farm.
If you live in the state of California and are growing a specialty crop, as indicated on the USDA list, you can apply for this grant. Keep in mind that it does not cover startup costs like buying seeds.
Another option from the USDA is the Rural Development Loan. This program has a no or low-money down program designed for the purchase of agricultural land. There aren’t any income caps, but you can’t purchase more than 20 acres, which can be a bummer if you are purchasing a large parcel.
This one’s not homestead-specific, but it can be used if you are trying to get a house built or purchased on your homestead. You have to meet certain debt to income ratios – your debt can’t be more than 45 percent of your income – but there is no acreage limit. You can pursue one of these loans with just a three percent down payment and you’ll enjoy very low interest rates.
One of the hardest parts about starting a homestead is finding money for startup expenses outside of buying land or a home – often, these are gifted to you or you already have a property that you are living on that can be used for your farm. But purchasing machinery, fencing, livestock, and other products can be super costly, and this loan program helps. Farmers can get up to $35,000 with very little or no money down.
If you are a beginning or “socially disadvantaged” farmer or rancher, you might be eligible for down payment help from the National Sustainable Agriculture Commission.
What’s a socially disadvantaged farmer? The agency defines these loan applicants as people who identify as female, Native American, Hispanic, African American, Asian American, or Pacific Islander (including Hawaiian). You must have at least three years of farming experience in order to qualify for down payment assistance.
Again, if you fall within a certain demographic, you may be eligible to apply for this grant. It is available for female and minority homesteaders, and requires applicants to have a credit score of at least 640 to apply for farm startup loans.
Live in North Carolina? This grant could be a good fit. You can request up to $8,000 to invest in expansion of your existing farm or homestead.
This is another state-specific grant, but a good one to look into if you live in Missouri and own a beef ranch. You can apply for up to $20,000 in grants (that’s free money, to be clear!) to help enhance your current farm or to modernize with new equipment or materials.
This program was designed to support local agricultural production and welcomes applicants who are interested in updating or creating new farm products sales avenues. If you’re thinking of building a roadside farm stand, hosting farm events, engaging in agrotourism community events, or even offering training programs, this is the grant to apply for.
This grant was designed for organic farmers who want to update their barns, fencing, or other needs. They are available in all fifty states, but there are some stipulations as to how the funds can be used.
This grant offers up to $2 million to farmers in the state of Minnesota who are interested in increasing their crop yields. You must write a detailed proposal that underlines how your project will benefit the state economy or assist local farmers in some way.
This grant is funded through the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. If you grow rice and have a unique plan for how you intend to conserve water to protect waterfowl habitats, you can apply. You must also live in the state of Louisiana.
Live in Wisconsin? Even if you don’t, it’s probably no secret that the national dairy economy is in a decline. This grant program helps dairy farmers address contemporary problems like food security and hiring procedures. To apply, you must be a licensed dairy farmer in the state of Wisconsin.
If you are interested in increasing the productivity of your farm, whether by purchasing new equipment or providing an avenue for consumers to more equitably access your farm products, you should apply for this grant. You must be part of a food program service provider to be eligible.
To be eligible for this grant, you must be a non-profit or commission directly affiliated with the rearing of swine, sheep, cattle, goat, and horses. You can apply for a hefty grant that helps fund marketing programs and research studies.
This grant is designed for farmers and ranchers in the western district who want to conduct research studies on how their agricultural projects impact the environment. Up to $20,000 per applicant is available.
If you live in the North Central region, you can apply for this grant, which supports sustainable agricultural solutions.
Another research-focused grant is this one, offered by NIFA. Whether you are interested in addressing issues with certain crops, like breeding, cross-pollination, or yield, this rant is the one for you. To be eligible, you must be a nonprofit, have as mall business license, or be a member of a larger corporation.
Vermont offers nearly $550,000 in grants to help expand Vermont’s local agriculture production. These grants can go toward funding the purchase of new equipment, research, and even the improvement of existing buildings.
This award is granted to small farmers who are interested in attending the California Small Farm Conference at a reduced (or free) fee. This conference is three days and provides small farms with the opportunity to network with one another.
The Carrot Project works with farms and food enterprises in New England and the Hudson Valley of New York, helping farmers receive access to state and federal resources. They don’t offer various resources, from loans to external funding opportunities, for farmers looking to get started.
This program helps farmers learn the best ways to help the environment by supporting sustainable methods of ranching and farming. You must write a proposal detailing how your efforts will support community-based conservation.
This grant is for ranchers who plan on investing at least $4,000 into the purchase of new equipment. You will get a ten percent reimbursement for this program. If you suffered a loss due to a disaster (like fire, flooding, or other unpreventable incidents) you can also apply for partial funding.
This is another grant available to residents of Minnesota (man, I need to Minnesota!) that is designed to support farmers as they update or develop new practices to protect the environment. Up to $250,000 is available.
This program is for North Carolina landowners who want to invest in new agricultural investments. Farmers can receive up to $8,000.
To be eligible for this award, you must be a member of a cooperative or college extension group. Its aim is to educate young farmers about the future farm industry.
Finally, a grant for us New York folks! This program offers funding to beginning farmers to have a plot smaller than 150 acres and have less than 10 years of experience farming the land. You must earn at least $10,000 a year selling your harvest.
Offered through Farm Aid (more than just a concert with Willie Nelson headlining!), Farm Aid comprises a network of over 700 family farms and provides excellent access to resources through the Farm Aid Resource Network.
31. Fund a Farmer
Fund a Farmer is offered through the Food Animal Concerns Trust. You can apply for a range of funding opportunities, with past projects including things like pasture expansion, organic certification, and capacity building.
Thinking of going organic? This grant helps fund the research, development, and improvement of organic farming systems.
If you live in North Carolina, you can apply for this grant, which helps you to promote the food that you grow in the state. Funding can be used to create promotional materials, labels, or even packaging.
I already mentioned the rice-specific grant offered by the National Resources Conservation Service, but I would be silly not to mention the many other grants this organization offers as well. The service is a department of the United States Department of Agriculture, and has funding available through the EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program) for various grants spanning eligible land such as:
- Non-industrial private forestland
- Farm or ranch lands
- Environmentally sensitive areas
To apply, you must be an agricultural producers, owner of forestland, Indian tribe, or someone with a specified interest in agricultural or forestry operations. You must have records updated with the Farm Service Agency.
Another program worthy of mention from the National Resources Conservation Service is the Agricultural Management Assistance Program. As a farm producer, you may receive funding for constructing or improving water management or irrigation fixtures. You can work towards improving access to clean water, supporting resource conservation processes, and promoting soil erosion control.
If you live in the Midwest, you can use a free grants advising service offered by the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute. You can find out more information about available grant programs, and also access resources and advisors who will help you figure out which grant (if any) is right for your needs.
This mega-producer offers a limited number of small grants to farmers. Applications are reviewed three times a year and there are some strict eligibility requirements, but it’s definitely worth a look.
Where to Find Other Opportunities
I’ve included a ton of the grants that I found in my research for you, but keep in mind that these aren’t the only ones – far from it. There are new resources added daily, and it’s all a matter of knowing where to look. Here are some more resources.
- Farm Credit East – This lender has a massive list of grants and incentives for Northeast Agriculture. They summarize a variety of regional, federal, and state grants so that you can stay abreast of the latest funding opportunities.
- Grants.gov – This database allows you to search by keyword, category, or agency to find the perfect small farm grant for you.
- USDA Alternative Farming Systems Information Center – Here, you can view a list of opportunities for loans and grants. There are also videos about how to apply for grants and write proposals.
- The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education organization – This website lists grants available to farmers, some of which involve educational components or partnerships with local community members.
- The Small Farms Program – This program is operated through Cornell University in New York State and is funded by the USDA Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program. You can find specific information here about how to start farming, and also receive access to free events. There is also a list of regional loans, grants, and other incentives to which you can apply.
- The New England Small Farm Institute – If you want to get started with building your homestead, check out this resource. It’s not just for New Englanders and can give you information on how to get started (as well as how to receive funding!)
- Beginningfarmers.org – This website has an all-inclusive list of links to give you information about how to start a small farm business. This is a great place to start if you’re feeling overwhelmed! It also breaks down funding sources by region so you can find financial assistance depending on where you live – eliminating a lot of hassle in researching grants that you later discover you aren’t even eligible for.
If you’re looking for a loan, check out these lenders and/or programs:
- Mortgage 101
- Bank of America: Agriculture Loans
- Farm Credit Cooperatives
- US Bank: Agriculture Loans
- AgCountry Farm Credit Services
- Janus Mortgage
- Investors Resource Alliance
- Equity Trust Fund
- Association for Enterprise Opportunity: MicroEnterprise Loans
Also, make sure you check in with your local cooperative extension office. They will have the most up to date information about how to find opportunities and how to apply.
Any other resources I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments, and be sure to subscribe to our newsletter for the upcoming series – 365 Tips for a Year of Frugal Farming. Follow us on Instagram (@jrpiercefamilyfarm) and Pinterest (J&R Pierce Family Farm) for all the latest photos, tips, and updates!