Grant money keeps dreams alive

Sunday, January 22, 2006

HOLYOKE - She is a regular vendor at local farmers markets, but Janice has a dream that is bigger than her market stall.

With a grant from Western Massachusetts Training Consortium here and C&S Grocers of Hatfield, Janice has taken another step toward growing her Fine Earth Farm.

Oryx Cohen, director of the consortium's career initiatives program, said that Janice has already bought hundreds of dollars worth of seeds with her grant money. He explained that since 1991, the consortium has annually provided seed money in the form of grants and technical assistance to about 30 entrepreneurs who have mental health issues, addictions or are recovering from trauma. The consortium does not release the full names of its grant recipients.

Janice is the consortium's newest grantee. Permaculture, a sustainable form of agriculture in which food crops are closely integrated into natural cycles and the ecological base, is her interest.

Cohen explains: "That's when, for example, you have an apple tree, and you plant another kind of tree beside it. The leaves act as a fertilizer so you don't have to import fertilizer. You plant these trees under bigger trees that provide shade. Animals are a big part of this. Chickens deal with insects; their droppings act as fertilizer."

Janice hopes to move Fine Earth Farm in the direction of organic sustainability within a few years. She makes it clear that right now, her farm is a start-up business and her grant is quite literally "seed money."

"The big barrier to start-up businesses is start-up capital," Cohen said. "Even small amounts can help."

Applicants for the consortium's grants, which average about $1,500, are eligible to re-apply for grants for three successive years. Mini-grants such as the $500 Janice received, are "not counted in that. So she can apply for a grant for three more years," Cohen said.

One of the program's goals is to encourage grantees to become self-sufficient in their entrepreneurial endeavors. Cohen noted that a catering business in Greenfield started with a grant from his agency. After receiving grants for three years, the owner is "now making a nice supplemental income," he said.

Cohen considers the catering business "a success" but that assessing "success" depends on "your definition of it."

"I'd say we have 100 percent success rate. If you give people a chance who have had their lives interrupted and who are on some form of disability, just having their self-esteem and confidence rise, just helping them follow a dream, that's success. That may not be what society sees as success, but we do."

"Here's a statistic: less than one half of one percent of people with disabilities ever get off disability. So if you have one in 30 who gets off it, that's astounding. We have that. One person is completely off, and others are working toward it," he said.

For more information on the grant program, contact Cohen at (413) 536-2401, Ext. 3032.

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2006 The Republican. Used by with permission.
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