AFI makes accessing High Tunnels a little easier with the EQIP High Tunnel Program
There are some pretty compelling reasons to farm: the chance to work outdoors, growing food that you love and share, and the fulfillment that comes with being a business owner. It’s easy to forget, though, just how much effort goes into growing good, sustainable food. Strolling through the produce department, picking out tomatoes at the Farmers’ Market, or even having fresh food delivered to your door, one can lose track of the risk and challenges that family farms face every day.
Back in the spring of 2017, Beverly Thomas of Cold Springs Farm in Weatherford, TX contacted us to find out more about what it is we actually do here at Austin Foodshed Investors. We came to find that Beverly was interested in building a new high tunnel (which is another way to say big ol’ greenhouse). “Having a high tunnel means we can start crops earlier, raise crops year round, and sell really unique, high quality products. It keeps our customers engaged with us as a business.”
High tunnels happen to be expensive. Beverly was looking into a program the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) manages called the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). The EQIP program helps farmers improve agricultural operations while implementing and improving conservation practices. EQIP has a suite of infrastructure development offerings for farmers including everything from rainwater collection, to solar power, and even maple syrup evaporators. Additionally, the EQIP High Tunnel Program will reimburse farmers for a considerable percentage of the cost of materials purchased for high tunnels. This was good news for Beverly, who, by working with her NRCS agent at her local extension office, found she qualified for funding.
One challenge of the EQIP program is that funding is distributed through reimbursement. This means that farmers pay for the high tunnel materials out of pocket, and are reimbursed only after they are constructed, inspected, and approved. This makes perfect sense from a program accountability perspective but can be challenging for small and medium scale growers.
Beverly told us, “Applying and qualifying for EQIP through NRCS was easy and straight forward. It helped that I have experience building high tunnels, so I knew I could build the thing. But, I knew I’d have difficulty fronting all the money for this, so when I heard about AFI I got in touch with them to see how they could help out.”
AFI stepped in by offering Beverly a bridge loan to cover the up-front cost of the high tunnel. “This helped out tremendously and allowed me to get my high tunnels in and installed with very little out of pocket costs.” As an angel investor group, AFI is able to make these loans happen quickly, which provides flexibility to farmers to project manage more effectively.
“AFI is really excited about the EQIP program, which is such a boon to growers. We want this program to positively impact as many sustainable farmers and ranchers as would like to utilize it in Texas. So, if we can make EQIP easier, less risky, and more accessible to the growers we work with, then that’s what we’ll do,” Jarred Maxwell Co-Founder and Partner at AFI said. He added, “Ultimately, we’re here to support and help create resilient local food businesses in Central Texas.”
If you’d like more information on how to partner with AFI and the EQIP High Tunnel program, feel free to contact us.
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