The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) is pleased to announce it has been awarded a federal grant to help underserved farmers in the region learn about and implement agricultural conservation practices that are good for water quality, climate resiliency, soil health, and farmers’ bottom lines.
CBF hopes to use the grant from the Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to hire three new staff members to work with our experienced field staff to connect with socially disadvantaged farmers in Baltimore City and Prince Georges County, Maryland; veterans and beginning farmers in central and south-central Pennsylvania, and limited-resource farmers in southeast Virginia.
Over the next two years, CBF plans to use the funds to work with local partners in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia to provide technical assistance and outreach events, such as on-farm demonstrations and round-table discussions, to engage farmers that historically have been underserved by conservation agencies.
Partner groups include Virginia State University’s Small Farm Outreach Program, the Virginia Soil Health Coalition, urban farm specialists with the University of Maryland Extension and county soil conservation districts, Future Harvest and its Beginner Farmer Training Program, and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
“We are excited to partner with NRCS and organizations with a track record of working with underserved communities. Many farmers, both in urban areas and traditional farmlands, lack the resources to take advantage of state and federal programs that will benefit their bottom lines, water quality, and help combat climate change,” said Beth McGee, CBF’s Director of Science and Agricultural Policy.
“Historically, black and indigenous farmers have tragically lost opportunities to farm because of unequal access to programs and services that support farm ownership. Without significant financial and technical help, they have almost no chance to farm, much less regain farm ownership,” said Bill Chain, CBF’s Pennsylvania Agriculture Program Manager and Assistant Director.
“This program offers the resources to reach underserved farmers while supporting conservation, climate resilience, community health, and careers in natural resource management. CBF looks forward to making a difference by creating opportunities for all farmers to participate.”
Virginia Water Restoration Specialist Matt Kowalski, who will serve as program lead in Virginia, expressed CBF’s excitement about partnering with Virginia State University’s Small Farm Outreach Program.
“This successful program has a system of established technicians who are already a trusted resource for southeast Virginia’s black farmers. The NRCS grant will allow us to reach more underserved farmers in the region with information about conservation practices and financial assistance options that can make their farms more profitable and sustainable,” Kowalski said.
Maryland Restoration Scientist Rob Schnabel, who will lead CBF’s outreach work in Maryland, said, “Urban farming has had a renaissance in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., region and there is a considerable demand for technical assistance and funding. This project will be proactive in its outreach and ensure that minority producers have equal access to government programs. It will also inform the Department of Agriculture about the higher costs small farms face because they lack the economies of scale large farms enjoy.
“Given the decades of discrimination, this project is a step in the right direction we hope will lead to more urban farmers and greater access to healthy food in their communities,” Schnabel said.
Reducing pollution, promoting social justice, and fighting climate change are integral to CBF’s mission of restoring the Bay and its tributaries for the benefit of all of our region’s more than 18 million people. This NRCS grant will help us make progress toward achieving all three goals.