Nordic Adventures with Foraged & Sown
During a recent visit to Scandinavia, Kate Hodges and Rachel Tayse of the urban farm, Foraged & Sown, explored major cities such as Helsinki. They traveled to small towns like the fishing island community of Pellinki, Finland, where they arrived at the local farmers market by boat.
They traversed Finland and Norway, with a short stop in Sweden, where the two met Nordic producers who operate farm businesses similar to their own. This included small-scale growers, foragers and those making value-added products like tea, jam, infused honey and candy.
Kate and Rachel enjoyed scouring the Nordic wilderness for mushrooms, berries, spruce tips and nettles with their Scandinavian peers. At Arctic Warriors, a Finnish enterprise that grows and forages herbs for use in medicinal products, they met a 10th-generation herbalist.
Yet Kate and Rachel were not on vacation. They were conducting research with the help of a grant from the USDA for their work on their urban farm in North Linden where they grow certified organic herbs, berries and nuts and forage greens, fruits and roots from the properties of family and friends.
Foraged & Sown sells this cultivated and foraged produce, as well as teas and salt blends that feature the operation’s harvests, on Saturdays at the Clintonville Farmers Market. Their foodstuffs can be found on the menus of several local restaurants and at Columbus retailers.
In 2016, the farm was awarded a three-year Value Added Producer Grant from the USDA’s Rural Development program. The program aims to fund producers in exploring, developing, expanding and launching new and existing food products.
“There’s a lot of skill needed to master value-added products,” Rachel says when detailing her and Kate’s interest in receiving funding from the program. “One must farm, harvest, process and market a product, all while understanding industry regulation. That’s essentially being your own supply chain.”
Foraged & Sown’s $17,000 grant for the project “Preserving Wild Flavors and Nordic Traditions,” will enable the farm to expand its tea and salt blend production processes as well as invest in new marketing resources, such as a revamped website and packaging materials. The USDA is funding half of this amount and Kate and Rachel were able to raise the other half via cash and in-kind support, which was a requirement of the grant.
The grant also funded their 25-day trip to explore Scandinavian value-added products during August and September. Foraged & Sown also applied for and was awarded support from the Finlandia Foundation National for research related to wild foods in the region.
Bringing It Back
The trip proved incredibly useful for Foraged & Sown and will impact Kate and Rachel’s farm business practices.
“Seeing those businesses helped us clarify what we need to do,” Rachel says when talking about their travels. “They are very focused on their product lines. We have been experimental in trying different things, which has given us a good idea of what grows and sells well. Now that we have that knowledge, and after seeing the successes in Scandinavia, we plan to focus only on the things that work well.”
The two witnessed strong Nordic support for the value-added food industry. “In Scandinavia, commercial kitchen spaces are so much less expensive,” Kate says, referring to a barrier that Foraged & Sown faces in scaling production for their teas and salt blends.
Through the USDA grant, Foraged & Sown has been given funding for the use of commercial kitchen space to dry their harvests in the effort to scale their value-added product line. However, after thorough investigation, Kate and Rachel have found only one facility in Ohio with a dehydrator large enough to meet their needs and the cost to use this facility is only fundable for a short time.
Their Nordic peers have easily expanded their product lines due to the widespread availability and low cost of commercial kitchens to process their goods. Additionally, Scandinavian countries have more lenient laws allowing extensive drying to occur on producers’ properties.
Through their Scandinavian field work, Kate and Rachel also found great support for foraging traditions due to longstanding “freedom to roam” law, also known as “everyman’s rights.” Embedded in centuries of history, the freedom to roam law allows individuals access to almost any public or private land and in most instances foraging wild foods is accepted.
“There is a culture of trust and abundance,” Rachel says. “I don’t know if it’s because of everyman’s rights or cultural practices, but we saw far less ‘tragedy of the commons.’ We saw zero litter. People take care of the environment in a way that we don’t see in the United States and I think that allows property owners a trust that if someone is foraging on their land they are going to be kind and respectful.”
Grant opportunities for farmers
Looking for grant funding to grow your agricultural enterprise? Here are some tips from Kate and Rachel at Foraged & Sown:
Network and engage potential partners
Join listservs and engage with organizations in your industry to keep abreast of funding opportunities. Network with potential partners and request their letters of support in advance so that when an opportunity arises you are ready to jump at it.
Ensure that grants won’t distract from your bottom line
In 2016, there were at least nine grant opportunities that Foraged & Sown were exploring.
“For a time, it was insane,” Rachel says.
Research grant opportunities that you are considering and, before applying, ensure that the deliverables and deadlines jibe with your business model.
“Make the grant align with what you’re already doing, otherwise you’re just going to get pulled in a million directions,” Kate says.
Invest the time and energy into your farm’s paper trail
“Get yourself set up financially,” Rachel says. “Get a business bank account, file business and farm taxes and register with the Farm Service Agency.” These steps may take time but are often low cost or free and will prove useful in the long run.
Pursue feedback from the granting entity
See if people at the grant agency can comment on a draft of your application prior to submission.
“Sometimes the difference between being shortlisted or not is just saying things a little differently,” says Kate.
Own your social disadvantage statuses
Many grant programs give priority points to those who are socially disadvantaged: young and beginning producers, minority farmers, women producers or those under an income threshold or working in a historically impoverished neighborhood.
“I had to get over my discomfort of using the fact that we’re women who farm as a social disadvantage in applying for the Value Added Producer Grant,” Rachel says.