Student farmers offered Growers Grant

Sonoma County is famous for producing high quality organic products in some of the richest soil in the world, and now Sonoma State students are now able to contribute to this reputation. 

In September 2013 the Associated Students passed a resolution that allocated $1,500 in student fees to create five $300 grants that go towards paying for mandatory liability insurance required for the Associated Students Growers Grant Program. 

The program was spearheaded by Associated Students President Mac Hart, who also sold produce to Dining Services before becoming president of Associated Students and has been heavily involved with farming both on and off campus. The program was created as a method to increase student involvement with sustainability. 

“This program acts to address both community issues and sustainability issues, while at the same time creating opportunities for student development and leadership,” wrote Hart in a press release about the grant. 

The resolution was written in response to financial and legal struggles faced by student farmers. In order to sell produce they must purchase a food liability insurance policy, and while it offers a valued $2 million worth of protection, the insurance costs $299 to purchase, which is a difficulty for many young farmers. The resolution was initially aimed to help the students that are currently selling their goods to Dining Services in order to increase care and production.   

The grants program is now open to all students that wish to apply on the Associated Students website. Five students will be chosen after a screening process and they will be awarded $300 in order to cover their liability insurance starting in the fall. 

Although how the students will get farmland and create a relationship with the school is not outlined in the resolution, the hope is that a large amount of students will show interest in the program. Prior to the resolution, all of the students who received grant money had been farming in their own plots off campus.

“It has given me the opportunity to play on my passion without having to take on the burden of such a big financial expense needed to start a business,” said current grant recipient Jamal Edwards.

The resolution was also passed with the hope that it would create a sense of community amongst students and the community as a whole, as well as encourage leadership skills and increase sustainability. The products grown in the farms off campus, mostly lettuce for now, are then sold back to the school and served in various forms at Dining Services. 

Brandon Sanders, a leader of the Sonoma Student Growers Cooperative, lobbied for the grant during Associated Student meetings. He offered the opinion that if the community starts to see us a hardworking farmers, rising early to tend to crops instead of passing out on their lawns, that we might start to see more respect from both sides. “To have support in doing something I love allows me to share my passion for healthy food with other people - being able to sell to the school has created another way for me to share the food I produce,” said Edwards in Hart’s press release.

Associated Students is now asking for support for the program to increase awareness and be able to continue it for years to come. The main proponent for the grant program is the Sonoma Student Growers Cooperative, which exists as a way to support off campus farmers and hope to increase involvement in agriculture on campus. 

“In the Sonoma Student Growers’ Cooperative we put a lot of emphasis on planning. Budget, planting plans, crop yield estimates, harvest date estimates, pricing based on monetary and labor inputs, and et cetera,” said Sanders. “The grant is a great way to subsidize local, sustainable, student agriculture, as well as subsidize self-driven learning in business management, record keeping, ecology, resource management, and entrepreneurship. It also fosters a lot of community.”