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.