Local Farmers Thankful for State Grants to ‘Get Off Ground’

The Recorder, January 10, 2017, by Richie Davis

A $10,000 state grant to help a relatively new farm “get off the ground” by paying half the price of needed equipment may not sound like a big deal, but “it’s huge,” in the words of livestock farmer Tyler Sage of Montague.

He got the boost this week from the state’s Matching Enterprise Grants for Agriculture (MEGA) program.

As important as the grant from the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources may be the business plan help offered to Sage Farm and five others like it that are receiving a total of $55,550 in matching grants to help improve their operations.

“It’s fantastic to have that technical assistance,” said Sage, who rents 90 acres on Old Sunderland Road for his heritage-breed, pastured pork. “It’s a whole new chapter for us. The influx of cash will give me a leg up to keep growing at the rate we’re growing” — with the “seven-sow operation” doubling in size every year.

Sage has planned to use the money for grain storage, a livestock trailer and animal housing, but that plan may change once he gets technical help from the state, he says.

He sells pork at Sutter Meats in Northampton, at Greenfield Farmers Market and a community supported operation. The farm has 50 to 60 pigs at any given time, he said, and is “just now starting to make money.”

Other area farms that are receiving help through the program include Teddy Smiarowski III Farm in Sunderland, which is getting a $10,000 match for farm equipment, and Fungi Ally in Amherst, which will receive $5,500 for the second phase of its mushroom expansion project.

The program offers farmers in their first five years with individual business help for their proposed projects, after which they become eligible to receive a grant of up to $10,000 that they match dollar for dollar.

“I’m proud to report that since our MEGA Program began in 2010, it has provided a total of $489,220 in grants to 58 diverse farms along with technical and business assistance throughout the state,” said agricultural Commissioner John Lebeaux. “The MEGA Program is an important tool to help ensure the success of the next generation of farmers in Massachusetts.”

Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, added, “Supporting local agriculture, especially new farmers who are just starting out, is critical for future success for our family farms. These grants will help build the necessary infrastructure for these farmers to create long-term successful commercial businesses.”