CentreWorks submits proposal for $615K project for small farms

On behalf of CentreWorks, Centre College has submitted a proposal for a $615,000 project, over three years, to the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Build to Scale program. Co-Executive Director of CentreWorks Anthony Margida said this is a highly-competitive program, with $32 million available across the entire United States.

“Historically one in 10 applicants is funded,” he said.

CentreWorks’ proposal is called the FASTR-KY Accelerator, which stands for Food, Agriculture, Systems and Technology, for Rural Kentucky.

Co-Executive Director of CentreWorks Andrea Margida said this proposed program’s goal is to address an issue facing small-scale family farms across the U.S., which is that farmers often can’t make a living off farming alone — farmers need full-time jobs on top of their farming establishments.

“And it’s an awful lot to take on and not be able to make a living doing that,” she said.

Andrea said one thing that makes Kentucky unique is there are still many small farms intact, where around much of the U.S. these farms haven’t survived.

“So it’s not too late,” she said. “It’s this wonderful opportunity to help save that.”

Anthony explained that FASTR-KY would seek to accomplish the following things if funded:

• Have 20-week business accelerator programs for rural, central Kentucky. CentreWorks services Boyle, Lincoln, Mercer, Washington, Garrard, Casey, and Marion counties.

• To provide the FASTR-KY program to participants free of charge.

• To help “assist farmers, growers, and food system providers in developing new ideas to move up the value chain to higher-margin products and services.”

• Accomplish the following two phases: community collaboration with farming and food system “champions” with technology, advanced manufacturing and other expertise, and have a 10-week idea development exercise using a human-centered approach CentreWorks uses — which essentially means close empathetic listening to understand — to develop product and service ideas.

In the project proposal CentreWorks lays out its goals, which include providing access to experts who can lay foundational knowledge of legal, financial and funding matters and collaborate “with technology and advanced manufacturing expertise and resources.”

The Margidas have their own small farming experience in Ohio, where they’ve run an 80-acre farm for more than 25 years. When they’ve had visitors from around the world, people are often shocked they don’t have staff to help run the farm, and Andrea said that’s a common issue for farmers across the U.S. — on top of needing full-time jobs in addition to farming operations, often it’s just the family running the farm.

She said another national issue is with compatibility — for example, it may be difficult to find someone to create small bales of hay. People want large bales, which could require more or different equipment.

“We’re doing so many things that work against small-scale farming,” she said.

But in Kentucky, there are still small-scale farmers, Andrea said, and she said this is important to hold onto and strengthen through innovative ideas.

“I think it’s a treasure, and it’s something to preserve and validate,” she said.

As far as agricultural programs central Kentucky already has, like extension offices and other resources, Anthony said FASTR-KY will not compete with them but instead foster connections between and educate about these programs. He also explained what makes FASTR-KY unique from existing resources.

“What’s different about this is the idea formation, the idea development, developing ideas that are new products and new services that are higher-value than what’s being produced in conventional farming,” he said. “That’s the new part. And it’s not replacing any of those assets — it’s going to be more fully utilizing those assets with these new approaches, these new products.”

Centre College has gotten letters of support from both the city of Danville and the Danville-Boyle County Economic Development Partnership to pursue the funding. Anthony said it may take several months for CentreWorks to hear whether it will be receiving the funding and anticipates they will know by the end of summer. The plan is to launch the program in October with funding.