20-04-08 Itty Bitty Farms_Emily Knowles_straightened@.jpg

Emily Knowles’ Itty Bitty Farms in Carey—which also operates a grocery store, seen here—will receive $10,000 to expand local food production.

Beginning with money provided to three local agricultural enterprises, a new program of the nonprofit Sun Valley Institute for Resilience will help businesses expand their “regenerative, sustainable and resilient practices,” the institute announced this month.

Institute Executive Director Lexi Praggastis said the three projects targeted for donations to the Impact Idaho Fund this spring will center around filling gaps in the local and regional food system.

“We looked at which growers were interested in expansion,” Praggastis said. “We are mapping onto our strengths as an organization, which has a profound understanding of our food system and the limits of our food system.”

The Sun Valley Institute for Resilience runs the Local Food Alliance, a collection of local and regional food producers.

Praggastis said the initial funding program was not an open application process, but future programs will be. The new Impact Idaho Fund grew out of a previous plan announced in June for a Relief and Rebuild Fund that the institute intended to launch in support of growers in the form of low-interest loans, rather than charity, she said. To test the model, though, the pilot round focused on “recoverable grants”—essentially, interest-free loans—for projects, rather than low-interest loans Praggastis said.

The institute identified three “shovel-ready” projects from different sectors of the food and agriculture system:

l Harmony Hens in Twin Falls will get $250,000 to expand into the production of organic, pasture-raised meat birds and to build a USDA-inspected on-farm poultry processor

l Lookout Farm in Bellevue will get $35,000 for transitioning two acres from animal feed to seasonal vegetables.

l Itty Bitty Farms in Carey will receive $10,000 to scale up local food production through season extension infrastructure and on-farm retail store improvements.

Praggastis said the Impact Idaho Fund has been supported by the Heinz Family Foundation and other donors. She said $105,000 from the fund will be retained by the Sun Valley Institute for Resilience to pay for legal, accounting and other expenses associated with launching the initiative.

“We will build out our administrative capabilities for managing the fund in the future,” she said.

Farmers who receive funding are expected to repay it with flexible terms in three to five years, Praggastis said. She said 20% of the money provided to the fund will eventually be returned to the family foundations after being repaid by the grantees. The remaining 80% has come in the form of charitable donations to the fund, which will be provided to businesses in the form of no-interest loans and be recycled into future projects once they are repaid.

“While there are many amazing food producers, our goal was to spread out risks to address different types of gaps in our food system,” Praggastis said. “In the future, the fund does not need to be food-centered.”

For more information, go to sunvalleyinstitute.org/impact-idaho-fund.

Email the writer: tevans@mtexpress.com

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