Guide to Applying for a Farmers Market Promotion Program Grant
Posted On: March 20, 2018
by Darlene Wolnik, FMC Senior Advisor | firstname.lastname@example.org
*Editor’s Note: this blog was originally posted on March 20, 2018. The information in this blog has been updated to reflect 2019 FMPP due dates, and other info relevant to the 2019 application process.
Each year, FMC fields many calls from markets and vendors asking for advice on how to best approach applying for a USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) grant. This post focuses on FMPP, as it is the chief funding for markets interested in promotion, but the other funding channels under this RFA require many of the same steps and strategies, so the information should still be helpful if pursuing Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP) funding, or even if working on a SCBGP grant.
We hope this guide helps to ease the application process for you. We’ve divided the guide into six sections, linked below. Feel free to start right from the beginning, or skip to the section where you want more information.
Quick note on webinars and other resources:
FMC is working with the Wallace Center and the Agricultural Marketing Service Resource Portal and Support Network to create a new webinar on items not covered by other recent webinars and helpful to anyone working on an FMPP or LFPP grant. The date and link to register will be shared shortly. In the meantime, please feel free to view last year’s FMPP webinar hosted by FMC and the Wallace Center here: https://farmersmarketcoalition.org/crafting-winning-lfpp-fmpp-proposals-recorded-webinar/ USDA will also be hosting at least one webinar for FMPP/LFPP applicants; that date is also TBD.
Additionally, the Agricultural Marketing Service Resource Portal and Support Network run by Penn State supports awardees of FMPP/LFPP grants in the implementation of current grant projects, and are hosting two already scheduled upcoming webinars, that are also open to people other than grantees:
- May 22, 2019: Developing Evidence-Based Insights: How to Use Your Farmers Market as a “Living Lab”
- June 19, 2019: Reporting Your Results
They also have their past 2018/19 webinars posted on their site.
Part 1: Getting Started
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) announced funding to support specialty crop growers, strengthen local and regional food systems, and explore new market opportunities for farmers and ranchers. USDA helps fund projects that bolster rural economies across the country.
Here are the three funding opportunities:
The Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP) enhances the competitiveness of U.S. grown specialty crops, including fruits, vegetables, dried fruit, tree nuts, horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture. Block grants will be awarded to State departments of agriculture, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. States must submit SCBGP applications electronically through www.grants.gov by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on Thursday, May 24, 2019.
The Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program will split a total of $23 million in funding between the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) and the Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP). LFPP projects focus on planning and implementation of local and regional food intermediary supply chain development. FMPP helps fund direct farmer-to-consumer marketing activities through capacity building; and community development, training and technical assistance projects. Approximately $11.5 million will be available to fund applications under the FMPP solicitation. In the FY 2018 application cycle, AMS received 320 applications and was able to fund 49 (15%) of the applications. To be competitive, applications must meet all program requirements and be of high quality. The minimum FY 2019 FMPP award per grant is $50,000, and the maximum is $500,000. Applications for FMPP and LFPP must be submitted electronically through www.grants.gov by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on June 18, 2019.
Other important changes to the 2019 FMPP RFP:
• Cost sharing or matching equal to 25% of the total amount of the Federal portion of the grant is required.
• Food Policy Councils are added as eligible entities.
• Applicants may use up to $6,500 of the amount requested in their application for upgrades to equipment to improve food safety.
What this announcement means is a flurry of activity for farmers market and agricultural leaders until the June deadline. For a market, the first decision is whether to draft a proposal, then to decide which project funding best fits, and then amassing the partnerships, narrative, documentation and budget to submit something that has a chance of succeeding.
Here are some tips for getting started:
1). Go to grants.gov to register your organization. It is not a long process, and it is important to get that done as early as possible. If you think you are registered but not sure, check now. The step-by-step instructions on the site are very good and markets have reported that the help desk has been very responsive.
2). Check to see if the organization applying for the grant has a DUNS (Data Universal Number System) number. It is a unique 9 digit number that allows the federal government to track all funds. It is free to get a DUNS number but required to be registered on SAM (Systems Award Management); be aware of emails asking you for money once you register as some markets have received scams suggesting they need to pay for a registry. That is untrue. This is also important to note: When obtaining a DUNS number, D&B places your organization on their marketing list that is sold to other companies. If you do not want your organization included on this marketing list, you should request not to be listed when you apply for a DUNS number.
3). If your area does not have a ZIP+4, markets have reported that you will have trouble getting through SAM. The SAM help desk will work with organizations on it, but suggests putting 0000 or 1111.
4). You also need to have either an EIN or a TIN number to register. If you have a business bank account, your organization already has one. If you don’t have one, that can also take many weeks to get, so start early!
5). Grants.gov requires a contact person and email, so make sure that that email will be monitored and the login and password saved in a secure place. It may be helpful to have that information shared with the executive committee of the board or with a regular partner organizational contact.
Once these steps are complete, you’ll receive news of your account registration quickly.
Part 2: Form Your Idea & Create a Team
Once you confirm which of the grants that you will pursue, look at past awards to understand the areas that AMS funds with these grants. It doesn’t mean that your grant should mimic those or only attempt to do the same idea. But since market leaders are a peer group that learn best from specific examples and replicable pilots underway, starting there may help confirm your idea or help to frame your approach. Check out the thumbnails of past year’s awardees, and also look at the analysis that FMC and Market Umbrella completed a few years back on the impacts of the FMPP program. Of course, if you have a unique and new idea that will result in better sales and activity for your DTC farmers and vendors, that is also appreciated by reviewers. Just make sure you clearly outline the need and the way your group can achieve this new idea.
It is vital that one person is assigned to oversee this process (usually it is the same person who will be responsible for uploading the final proposal on grants.gov). That doesn’t mean that only one person should write the entire proposal! Ask board members to do small pieces of the work, to gather the letters of commitment needed or to be a sounding board regularly.
Every FMPP should include partners who will share the work and the outcomes of the project. Ask those partners for help in drafting pieces or reviewing drafts along the way. It is usually helpful to have a Google folder for the grant writing and to keep the latest draft of the proposal. Clearly defined partnerships are actually vital to the success of these grants and expected by the reviewers. After all, a 3-year project that is funded at tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars is likely a complex and ambitious project and should result in deeper connections and a better network for your market or project team.
As of a few years ago, the FMPP grant has two areas of funding: capacity building which has a minimum grant award of $50,000 and a maximum award of $250,000, and community development, training and technical assistance awards which have a minimum award of $250,000 and a maximum award of $500,000. Both of these areas of funding can be for as little as one year or as long as 3 years. Remember: there is now a match of 25% required for FMPP grants. (LFPP has had the matching requirement in past years.)
Capacity building (CB) is what it sounds like; funds and support for an organization to do work that directly support vendors or other direct marketing producers with more promotion to shoppers, or trainings for vendors, or developing or expanding outlets. The language in the document makes that very clear:
CB projects should demonstrate a direct benefit to farm and ranch operations serving local markets (including new and beginning farmers)…
They even give some examples, although applicants are not limited to these:
- Local farmer, rancher, or market manager training and education.
- Farmers market, roadside stand, CSA, or agritourism activity startup and/or expansion.
- Market analysis and planning for a direct producer-to-consumer market opportunity.
- Recruitment and outreach to new and beginning farmers and ranchers, as well as to consumers in support of direct producer-to-consumer markets.
Community development, training and technical assistance (CTA) awards are focused more on building networks and supporting direct marketing outlets and producers with resources and training. The examples indicate the successful applicants will go far beyond developing or promoting a single direct marketing outlet. This is also important:
CTA projects should engage a diverse set of local and regional foods stakeholders, including farmers and ranchers, to illustrate a substantive effect on the local and regional food system and stakeholders.
And also includes some examples although as above, applicants are not limited to using these:
- Conducting statewide or regional farmer, rancher, or manager (i.e., farmers market manager) training and education in developing or maintaining their own direct producer-to-consumer enterprise.
- Assisting farmers and ranchers in advertising and promoting their locally and regionally produced agricultural products through training and technical assistance.
- Establishing or expanding producer-to-consumer networks and organizations on a state, regional, and national level, which includes efforts to develop sourcing channels using direct producer-to- consumer market opportunities with corporate, non-profit, and public institutions.
Both areas of FMPP are meant to increase the consumption of or access to local foods and to develop new opportunities for producers by developing, improving, expanding, and providing outreach, training, and technical assistance to, or assisting in the development, improvement, and expansion of direct marketing outlets.
Notice the “and” in that first sentence; that tells you that adding a shopper promotion program is great but you also need to prepare your vendors for that opportunity. Ask yourself as you develop the plan if you are making a clear case for accomplishing that in your proposal. How will producers benefit? Or which outlets will be developed or expanded? How will shoppers be increased or invited to participate more often?
Part 3: Diving Into the Plan
Once you know what you want to accomplish with your proposal, decide which grant is the right fit, and start to gather the list of documentation needed, you should begin to draft the thumbnail/executive summary, which is part of the Narrative form.
Starting with the thumbnail will ensure that your proposal has a succinct idea, a plan, and a goal. This is helpful to have early on as you will need to be gathering support from vendors, partners, and the board. The form for this section only allows 200 words, so this will require some wordsmithing. Using your spell and grammar check tool included in Microsoft Word will help, as will using the Word Count tool. Don‘t worry about making it perfect now, as you will need to tweak it later, but try to come close to the number of words required. The thumbnail can be used to introduce the project to partners and to get letters of support.
Your objectives are closely tied to the executive summary and should be clearly tied to the impacts on the farmer and rancher beneficiaries and other beneficiaries spelled out in your narrative. Objectives then become the basis for the work plan.
The work plan and the budget should be worked on concurrently as there will be many edits to both throughout the drafting. Don’t be intimidated by the work plan section; start filling out the details with the major deliverables by quarter, and then decide later if you need to make it more detailed.
A few years ago, AMS and FMC did a webinar on how to create a logic model for grants that may be beneficial for some of you. But generally, if you think of the work plan as what tasks will be done, who will do them, what resources they need, how to gauge the success of each task, and how to measure what that task’s long term effect is on the community you serve, you will be fine.
In the Narrative form, this is how the work plan is laid out:
Do know the difference between the different areas of the work plan: activities, resources (or inputs), milestones (outputs), and assignments. Outcomes are part of the next section under Indicators.
For example, let’s say you are going to hold training workshops for current vendors which is an activity. When are they going to be held? Who will be responsible for getting vendors there? Who will be responsible for the logistics? The content being presented? Is this to be repeated again later in the project life?
The meeting space and handouts would be some of the resources for this task.
How many vendors attending would be a success? What do you hope they take away from the event? How will you know if the vendors incorporated what they learned? What will that new knowledge do for the farmer and/or market over the long run?
The number of vendors who attended is an milestone or output. How vendors increased their sales or their product availability based on what they learned at these meetings is an impact or outcome and is covered in the Outcome Indicator Measurement section.
How you will assess those changes should be spelled out too. Will you survey vendors at the beginning of the project and then at the end to see what they learned through the project? If shopper education is a primary focus, will you be asking those shoppers how they changed their shopping based on what they learned from the project? Related to that is the need to describe how your team has the collective capability and resources to collect data and document changes this project will make in your community.
As for the budget, a good way to start is, once the work plan is drafted by quarters, calculate the most general line items such as personnel, equipment, supplies, contractual, travel and indirect costs (as needed), and add any more detail in later versions. If you have access to other budgets awarded by the USDA AMS in recent years, it can help orient your budget work. Read carefully through the allowable and unallowable costs section, as well as the sections on critical resources and sub award restrictions.
Reviewers often look at the budget early in the process to see if it follows the work plan closely enough and if the tasks are properly funded. In other words, just saying you will hire staff to manage the project is not enough for most reviewers; they want to know how you will find the staff you need and how you will make sure the organization or team will have the capacity, resources, and partners to do the work and to assess it too. In many cases, you will have the need to pay another organization or person to accomplish a task which makes them a subcontractor.
Once the executive summary, work plan, and budget are underway, it may be helpful to have another member of the team begin to work on the rest of the narrative part of the proposal. Using the executive summary as a beginning, write the narrative as if you are communicating with USDA, and with your own community of shoppers, vendors and partners.
Talk about the need for the project, what you hope to accomplish (with your draft work plan as the guide), and how the market and its partners can make that happen using this support. It is important that the project narrative is compelling right from the start, and makes the case for a significant change in the circumstances in or around this market.
Make a list of what is required with documentation. Many markets work hard to write a great proposal but then don’t make it past the first review due to missing documentation. Like suggested before, it is usually a good idea to create a google folder to store the documentation, so that all members of the team can upload and access them when needed. Also good to ask someone else besides the main grantwriter to double check the list of documents to make sure everything is there.
Part 4: Outcome Indicators
Check out this post we did on calculating the indicators that are included in the proposal. As of March 2018, FMC has opened our Farmers Market Metrics (Metrics) program to all markets to use. Access to the metrics site is available through an annual subscription, but all FMC members can create a free market profile and be part of the directory. Click here to become an FMC member.
Metrics was designed for markets to be in control of the data collection process, but also to be able to share the collection work or the resulting data with their partners at the market’s discretion. Metrics resources can be helpful to markets in creating a strategy to collect and use the data needed for the indicators for FMPP or other project reports.
When collecting data for multi-year projects, establishing a baseline of data is the first step. And to do that, the collection method you use must be the same each time you collect data in the baseline year and in years after. Metrics has collection templates and resources for markets to gather data season after season, tips on how to choose the right days to collect data, and how much data to collect for data like those indicators contained with FMPP/LFPP.
Part 5: Letters of Commitment & Final Review
This is often another area where unsuccessful applicants often don’t meet the requirements listed. The letters need to address the specific project goals, be gathered from all of those the project is meant to support, and must be signed. Letters that do not contain the letter writer’s role(s) on the project, or if the letters do not have a statement agreeing to the management plan contained in the proposal, are not acceptable. There are more requirements for the letters and a template to use on the application. Having letters from producers that this project will positively impact is very important. (A tip from past grantees: remember, there is no word count limit for letters!)
When everything is drafted, read through the project evaluation criteria section. This will tell you which areas points are awarded by reviewers. The reviews happen in two ways: 1) technical review by your peers from around the country, and 2) an administrative review conducted by AMS staff. The areas where large amounts of points are awarded should be noted. It might be helpful to ask a board member or a partner to review your draft in light of the reviewer point system to make sure you have covered the main areas.
Finally, priority consideration is given to those applicants who are doing projects that qualify as low income/low food access (LI/LA) census tract as defined by the USDA. However, it is not required that your project operates in these tracts. The RFA includes a link to a map to check your project area.
Part 6: New Year, New Rules
Here is the language from the RFA:
An applicant may submit multiple project proposals to FMPP and LFPP. If recommended for multiple awards, applicants will be awarded at most one LFPP award and one FMPP award under the 2019 RFA. For example:
For FMPP, this means that an applicant may be awarded one Capacity Building OR one Community Development, Training, and Technical Assistance grant, but not both during the current award cycle.
For LFPP, this means that an applicant may be awarded one Planning OR one Implementation grant, but not both during the current award cycle.
Applicants must close out an active (not closed-out) FMPP or LFPP grant award from a previous year to be eligible to receive an award under this fiscal year RFA. For example: • If applying for an FMPP project, an applicant must close any active (not closed-out) grant award from a previous FMPP project to be eligible to apply and receive an FMPP award under this fiscal year. • If applying for an LFPP project, an applicant must close any active (not closed-out) grant award from a previous LFPP project to be eligible to apply and receive an LFPP award under this fiscal year. The applicant must submit all required close out documentation by the application due date mentioned in section 4.4 .4
Please refer to section 6.4.2 Award Closeout on this document for required close out documentation. AMS will evaluate the highest scoring applications to ensure there is no duplication of funding between LFPP and FMPP. This information will be used for final funding decisions. AMS will communicate any issues to applicants, if applicable.
Whether your market can handle both an FMPP and an LFPP is a decision that requires some careful planning – and soon.
Another thing to consider in 2019 is this type of grant: continuation application. These applications are submitted by applicants who have received prior FMLFPP funding, such as an LFPP planning grant or a previous FMPP grant. Such applications must contain the same information that is required for new applications, as well as a description – via the FMLFPP Project Narrative form – of how the newly proposed project builds on previous activities.
Continuation applications will be evaluated according to the same evaluation criteria as new applications, in addition to consideration of the applicant’s performance during the previous FMPP/LFPP grants, and its apparent ability to improve upon that work.
Good luck to each of you and remember that as much work as it takes to design and submit a grant with the USDA, the effort will pay off in multiple ways. This work can be the basis for other proposals and in communicating the intentions of the market to the community it serves.