By Aleeza Kazmi and Tiffani Golding
New York State approved a grant program last week that could provide farmers who are military veterans with up to $50,000 to increase their farm production.
The Veterans Farmer Grant Fund was approved by New York State’s primary economic development agency, Empire State Development. The FY 2016-2017 New York State budget appropriated $250,000 for the program, according to the grant guidelines. Any further funding will need to be allocated in future state budgets, ESD Press Secretary Adam Ostrowski said in an email. Veterans who are selected to receive the grant will obtain between $15,000 and $50,000.
Long Island agriculture is a one billion dollar-a-year industry and it brings in additional revenue for the Island’s other industries, such as tourism, travel and hospitality, according to the Long Island Farm Bureau.
“A dollar put into a local farm gives back much more to that local community than if I spent my dollar for gasoline or at Wal-Mart, or something like that,” Dean Koyanagi, Veterans Program Associate at Cornell’s Small Farm Program, said.
Local economies are not adversely affected by grants given to veteran farmers, John Lemondes, Board President of the Farmer Veteran Coalition New York State Subchapter, said. Lemondes is a decorated veteran army Col. and farmer in Lafayette, New York.
There are 405 veteran farmers who are members of the Farmer Veteran Coalition, said FVC fellowship manager Rachel Petitt.
“The names we know are just a fraction of what is out there,” Lemondes said.
The evaluation process of applicants for the Veterans Farmer Grant Fund will be competitive. The grant guidelines include an extensive list of eligibility criteria. One of the qualifications is that farmers must have day-to-day participation with their farm. Some veterans, however, are unable to participate in their farm on a daily basis.
“I would like this to be my full-time profession, and a lot of other people have the same feeling, but it’s hard to do, it’s going to take a while before you can build up enough business so you can actually quit your day job,” Michael Mission, who is an army veteran and owns an oyster farm in the Great South Bay off the coast of Bay Shore. “You can’t quit your day job with the hopes of a harvest three years down the road.”
On weekends, Mission tends to the Blue Point oysters on his farm, and during the week he works as a construction insurance rater.
The Veterans Farmer Grant Fund is modeled after the New Farmers Grant Fund, the grant description shows. Governor Cuomo announced the $1 million New Farmers Grant last October.
“New York’s farmers are a rich part of this state’s heritage and remain essential to the success of our economy,” Governor Cuomo said in a statement announcing the New Farmers Grant in 2016.
There is a shortage of farmers in New York State, Koyanagi, who is a farmer in Ithaca and Marine Corps veteran, said.
“Veterans seem like a good opportunity, because all these people who work real hard, like being outdoors, aren’t afraid of long hours and hard work, and farming needs people like that,” Koyanagi said.
Veterans have until Jan. 26 to apply for the program, and grant recipients will be announced in late spring/early summer 2018.