Prosperity Ag & Energy Resources helps farmers and business owners
get a leg up in the grant procurement process
By Jon Shoulders
»In describing the way Carmel-based Prosperity Ag & Energy Resources assists farmers, small businesses, community developers and trade associations in navigating the often-tedious process of applying for grant money, Christi Southerland, the company’s senior managing partner, puts it matter-of-factly.
“Reading some of those regulations and lengthy grant applications can make you go to sleep very quickly,” Southerland says with a laugh. “That’s what we try and help with, and we really want to help shepherd people through it and make it easy for them. Many people think grants and their eyes kind of glaze over, and they don’t want to hear about it, so we tell them to give us the information and we’ll run with it and keep them up-to-date on the process.”
In 2007, company founder Sarah Aubrey noticed a dearth of awareness of a growing number of federal and state grant opportunities — particularly for projects advancing energy efficiency — and developed Prosperity to help farm and business owners take advantage. Since then, the company has helped to secure more than 400 grants in 38 states.
Between 2007 and 2014, Prosperity’s primary focus in grant assistance became the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Energy for America Program, a federal grant and loan opportunity for agricultural producers and rural business owners that provides a 25 percent repayment of total costs for energy-efficient upgrades or installations of renewable systems. Eligible projects include high-efficiency heating or air conditioning systems, lighting replacement, refrigeration and cooling upgrades, or geothermal power systems.
Jim Bloom, farm manager of Indianapolis-based Farm 360, worked with Prosperity in successfully securing a REAP grant to help with the cost of installing approximately 700 LED lights at his indoor produce farm located on the city’s near-eastside. “(Prosperity) has established credibility and networking with those entities like the USDA that ultimately make the decisions on funding,” Bloom says. “Those entities are more inclined to take a look at your projects because they know they’ve been reviewed by an entity that has good outcomes.”
According to Southerland, the company hit their stride in 2010 during a surge of interest in energy efficiency and upgrades. “Then in 2015 the ag economy took a bit of a hit, and we’ve slowed down a little since then, so we took that opportunity to pivot a bit and expand our focus to help local food producers and nonprofits and even communities,” she says. “A lot of farmers sit on community boards, and they want us to come talk to their board. And we’re still really heavy on REAP and the energy efficiency side.”
Southerland says her company advocates the implementation and upgrading of energy-efficient systems regardless of whether a land or business owner chooses to seek a REAP grant to help make those changes happen. “We tell people if you need to replace lighting, insulation, timers, switches or fans, there are so many different options, and if you’re going to be replacing that anyways then that’s a good opportunity to look at this grant,” she says. “We don’t want you to only do upgrades if you can get a grant because these are important things for farm operations. You’re going to be reducing your energy utility usage, and the grant’s just kind of the icing on the cake. We’ve done hundreds of applications and are pretty efficient at getting them done.”
Aubrey left the company earlier this year to pursue other opportunities within the agricultural industry, and Southerland currently works with a team of writers and additional subcontractors staying up-to-the-minute on federal and state grant opportunities and guidelines.
Bloom, who plans to begin installing solar panels on the roof of Farm 360 in the second quarter of 2017, expects his facility to be completely energy self-sufficient within five years. “The building will look completely different in a few years, and we can’t get there without grants, and that’s where an organization like Christi’s is a godsend for a company like mine,” he says. “As a producer and a grower your time is better spent doing what you do, even more so when your time is limited. Turning the grant aspect of it over to the entity that is established, when you have limited time, makes sense.”
Southerland says widespread lack of knowledge on available federal, state and local grant assistance, and the timelines involved, make education an important component of Prosperity’s business model — particularly as grants have become increasingly competitive. “There’s a lot of misinformation out there about grants, and there are so many nuances between programs and different submission times,” she says. “Many people don’t realize that a rural small business can apply, so if they’re a farm store or if they also have a co-op that they’re doing, or if there’s a convenience store that their brother owns, places like that can also apply for grants.”
Prosperity’s services remain available to grantees after a grant has been secured, should assistance with ongoing guidelines and recordkeeping requirements be desired. “Oftentimes it’s more work for them to get us up to speed on what they’ve done,” Southerland says. “But … what we’ll do is manage timelines, let them know about due dates coming up, format raw data for them or communicate with the USDA to make sure everything is matching up.”
Prosperity Ag & Energy Resources
13277 N. Illinois St., Suite 110, Carmel
(855) 783-2388, prosperityag.com
Year founded: 2007
Services: Assistance for farmers, rural businesses, community developers and trade associations with grant writing and administration, as well as funding research.
For information on the USDA Rural Energy for America Program, visit rd.usda.gov/programs-services/rural-energy-america-program-renewable-energy-systems-energy-efficiency.