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Lessons Learned from Successful Project Directors - Rainbow Organic Farms

Building Sustainable Small Farms:

Overview

When Diana and Gary Endicott returned to Kansas to start their farm they sought a way to produce beef in a way that would reflect their principles and provide them with a premium price.  In 1997 and 1998, Diana Endicott, of Rainbow Organic Farms, received two small SARE grants that jump-started the Good Natured Family Farms concept of bringing local farm-fresh food to the mainstream supermarket.  The Good Natured Family Farms cooperative consists of a group of family farmers and ranchers in Kansas and Missouri. The cooperative’s product line included beef, free-range chicken and eggs, milk in glass bottles, farmhouse cheeses, and tomatoes.

In 2001, Good Natured Family Farms received a SBIR grant to develop a comprehensive Quality System Verification Program (QSVP) manual for all natural beef and free-range chicken.  The QSVP manual provides a comprehensive standard operating procedure for identification, traceability, label claim verification production, processing, and retail sales.  Their meat is labeled “all-natural,” a USDA-approved claim specifying the ranchers use no growth-enhancing hormones, sub-therapeutic antibiotics, or animal by-products.  The gross sales of Good Natured Family Farms in 2004 were $2.5 million and Diana credits the SBIR program for her success.

Rainbow Organic Farms and several farmer members of the Good Natured Family Farms Alliance have also received several grants from various USDA agencies to promote sustainable agricultural practices and value-added marketing.  More details about Good Natured Family Farms and the impacts of other grants are available at:  http://www.goodnatured.net/producers/producers.html

Question and Answer with Diana Endicott

How did you learn about NIFA competitive grants programs?
I attended a meeting hosted by the Kansas Rural Center where information on the NIFA SARE producer grant program was presented.  I applied and received a SARE producer grant and later served on the SARE administrative council for four years.

I learned of the NIFA SBIR program through searching NIFA programs on line. 

How did you initiate contact with your university regarding the commercialization of your research? 
I contacted Kansas State University (KSU) department of Agriculture Economics and was introduced to Dr. Michael Boland. In 2000, Boland was a new assistant professor at KSU. Boland had previously worked with supermarket retailers and was interested in our companyís concept of small family farms and establishing food quality and safety programs for these niche farm foods. Over the years, Boland has supervised several graduate students who have worked with us on our SBIR projects. Bolandís insight, guidance, and support though the years has helped our company achieve the success we enjoy today.

What was the incentive for you to commercialize your research?
The research we conducted in developing ISO 9000-based QSVP for our all-natural beef and free-range poultry program provided the foundation for our company to grow our sales of our line of beef and chicken in supermarkets.

What intellectual property agreement do you have between the university and your small business for this project? 
We had a confidentially agreement during the duration of the research. However, our goal was also to provide this research to other small farm marketing groups so they could benefit likewise and increase sales of their company’s meat products. Therefore, no on-going intellectual property agreement was needed.

What is your relationship with the small business? 
I am the founder and owner of Rainbow Organic Farms. I am the director of food quality and safety and agriculture sustainability for our company. I am also responsible for sales to the supermarket chains.

What made you successful in your first grant application?
The NIFA SARE grant I wrote was on marketing and this was an area that did not have a lot of grant application submissions.  I knew what I needed to make our small family farm business successful and wrote the grant to fit our operation, rather than try and make our farm business fit the grant. 

As for the SBIR NIFA grant, I followed the SBIR NIFA online instructions and wrote the first SBIR grant myself.  I will always remember the reviewer’s comments “can definitely tell that the producer wrote the grant, however, very innovative, cutting edge, recommend funding”. 

I try and take very complicated technical ideas or concepts and apply them in a very basic method that can actually be implemented and make a difference in everyday small family farm businesses. 

I have written grants that have been funded and I also have submitted grants that have been rejected.  I do not find that amount of time you spend writing a grant increases the chances of getting funded.  Grants that I spent a lot of time writing and I thought were extremely well written were rejected.  I find that success is more dependent on the area you choose to submit your grant in and the overall concept.

Did you continue to pursue project-related research at the university after receiving SBIR funding? 
Yes. Our company continues to work with Boland. We also work with Dr. Elizabeth Boyle, KSU professor of meat science, and the Department of Food Science. The research has been both technical and applied.

 

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