County Executive Jan Gardner announced Thursday the county will establish grant programs for both preserving historic buildings on farmland and also helping farmers find ways to innovate their business.
The programs are pending County Council approval.
Gardner said each grant program would be allocated roughly $150,000, and annual funding could change depending on need. The funds come from money raised by the council’s decision to raise the recordation tax by $1, from $6 to $7 for each $500 of consideration.
The Rural Historic Preservation Grant will be available to individual land owners and nonprofits, Gardner said. The cap on those would be $50,000.
Applicants can apply if they have bank barns, historic homes, ice houses, historic bridges or other types of structures, Gardner said.
“We’ve certainly seen the benefit of doing historic preservation in the downtown [Frederick] area, and I think this grant program will help us to create rural historic districts,” she said. “It will see more people put their houses into the county’s historic registry or the national registry, and that has the opportunity to open them up for other grants as well.”
The Agriculture Diversification Grants would be start at $5,000 each, with no cap, Gardner said. She added that she’s heard from the agricultural community that along with agricultural preservation, agricultural business must be preserved.
Katie Stevens, associate director of Agricultural Business Development in the county’s Office of Economic Development, said it’s important to not limit farmers on what ideas they can submit on their application to apply for funding.
Some examples include adding a hive tunnel to help vegetable farmers increase their growing season, or a livestock farmer selling their products directly to the consumer, needing commercial fridges and making other changes to the farm, among other options, she said.
Stevens said Howard County has implemented similar programs that are successful, and helped Frederick County officials model their program.
“It’s simple for farmers to do, but it also requires farmers to do a business plan,” Stevens said of the application process. “Which doesn’t sound like fun, but it also makes you put your ideas on paper. And I think with farmers, we forget to do that sometimes, is write our ideas down and [think], is this really going to work?”
Sam Roop and Sam Tressler are two farmers supportive of the idea, but were waiting on more details as of Thursday. Roop is president of the Frederick County Farm Bureau and Tressler serves as chair of the county’s agriculture preservation advisory board.
Tressler said as long as the applications and grant program focuses on value-added business, it should be beneficial. Roop agreed, noting the agricultural roundtable Gardner and other officials hosted at Winchester Hall last April.
“Based on that and her interest to do value-added agriculture and diversification, that is a plus,” Roop said of Gardner.
Council members are scheduled to discuss the programs next week. A third program would offer assistance to low and fixed-income seniors to help with paying rent. The total funds for that program and the two agricultural programs would be $500,000.
Gardner said funding for the three programs could change but is confident the change in the recordation tax will be a healthy stream of income in future years.
“We see that a lot of people are refinancing because interest rates are low, and we also see housing starts [developments] continue to go, and real estate transactions,” she said, all of which contribute to that recordation tax. “It’s not just new houses, it’s the turning over of houses.”