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Spurring Agricultural Innovations Across the Nation

“To be effective, our research and programs need to be focused on finding solutions and providing state-of-the-art technologies to improve management decisions on farm and on forest lands.”
—Agriculture Secretary Sonny Purdue


Resourceful Communities Veterans Organic Garden

A military veteran maintains a Veterans Organic Garden through The Conservation Trust’s Resourceful Communities Program. Photo by Olivia Jackson.

TCF ResourcefulCommunities Transplanting Community Farm
Resourceful Communities Aurora Farmers Market

The Conservation Fund supports local agriculture project—like the Transplanting Traditions Community Farm (top) and Aurora Farmers Market (bottom) in North Carolina—through its Resourceful Communities Program. Photos by Olivia Jackson.

June 21, 2017 - On June 8, 2017, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service awarded more than $22.6 million in 33 projects nationwide through its competitive Conservation Innovation Grants program. Authorized by the 2002 Farm Bill, the CIG invests in tools, technologies and strategies that support next-generation conservation efforts on working lands and develop market-based solutions to resource challenges. Public and private grantees—including non-governmental organizations, American Indian tribes, universities and local governments—will leverage the federal investment by at least matching it.

NRCS Acting Chief Leonard Jordan calls CIG “an example of government at its best, providing seed money to help spur cutting-edge projects that will ultimately benefit the people who grow our food and fiber.”

The 2017 CIG project awards focus on conservation finance and pay-for-success models to stimulate conservation adoption; data analytics for natural resources; water management technologies and approaches; and historically underserved farmers, ranchers and private forest landowners.

NRCS awarded two Conservation Innovation Grants to The Conservation Fund ( ) – a national organization that strives to create solutions that make environmental and economic sense. With these grants for conservation finance and economic development, The Conservation Fund Through will drive innovation in agricultural conservation for historically underserved, military veteran and other farmers.

“These innovative projects will help conservation work for people, communities and landscapes by encouraging strong local economies, healthy food systems and social and environmental justice,” said Larry Selzer, The Conservation Fund’s President & CEO. “By utilizing expertise in conservation finance, agricultural conservation, land acquisition, community development and small business support, we hope these projects will serve as models for reimagining local food systems and empowering historically underserved, new, young, veteran and other producers to access land and agricultural resources and achieve economic vitality.”

Project 1: Equitable Access for Sustained Productivity (Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia) 

Historically underserved, military veteran, young and beginning farmers across the country face complex, interrelated and systemic barriers. A lack of access to capital as well as to training in business and sustainable agriculture, directly impacts a producer’s capacity to engage in conservation. The Conservation Fund—in partnership with Food Driven Strategies, Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative, Land Loss Prevention Project, McIntosh SEED, and South Carolina Association for Community Economic Development—will use the CIG award to address these barriers and accelerate sustainable agriculture among farmers through community-based partnerships using a triple-bottom-line approach that includes economic, environmental and social benefits.

By engaging a network of rural community development financial institutions, or CDFIs, through TCF’s Natural Capital Investment Fund, the effort will also provide loans to farmers for sustainable agriculture and forestry production, and offer outreach, training and assistance in agricultural enterprise and sustainable production methods. The goal is to open doors and break down barriers to access for multiple generations of farmers, ensuring they have the tools they need to thrive. 

Project 2: Pathways for Producers in the Metro Atlanta Region: Unlocking Capital and Resources to Conserve and Transform Local Food Systems (23-county region surrounding Atlanta, Georgia)

The Conservation Fund supports local agriculture project—like the Transplanting Traditions Community Farm (left) and Aurora Farmers Market (right) in North Carolina—through its Resourceful Communities Program. Photos by Olivia Jackson.

The Conservation Fund will leverage this CIG award with private financing to seed the creation of a $5 million Agricultural Conservation Fund and program to accelerate working lands agricultural conservation in a 23-county region surrounding Atlanta, address natural resource concerns, provide pathways for producers to access farmland and USDA conservation programs, and strengthen local food systems. The ACF will use a “buy-protect-lease-sell” approach to increase conservation of working lands, as well as land access for farmers, including new, young, veteran and historically underserved farmers. In addition, farmers will have access to technical training, financial support and marketing expertise to support their success. With NRCS support, The Conservation Fund is creating a first-of-its-kind investment model that has the potential to transform local food production, businesses and agricultural conservation across the region. 

“The CIG conservation finance and pay-for-success projects reward farmers, ranchers and producers who make their livelihoods on America’s working lands sustainably, through sound science and conservation principles,” said Acting Chief Jordan. “And CIG funding ensures that all producers, including new and under-represented farmers and ranchers, can benefit economically from innovative conservation tools and strategies.”

The 2017 CIG awards bring the total NRCS investment to nearly $286.7 million for 711 projects since 2004.  CLICK HERE to learn more about the CIG program and view the 2017 CIG project list. 

View an interactive map of the projects through the following link: