Local-food production has received a boost with the awarding of grant money to Winneshiek County businesses that demonstrated remarkable innovation in their projects.

Winneshiek County Development, Inc. recently awarded $375 to four different projects. Three of the projects are in rural Decorah and one is near Ridgeway. The projects are:

• Otter Creek Orchard - Owner Chad Elliott, a former chef who now is the assistant to the director of food service for the Decorah Community School District, has grafted 70 apple trees in the last two years and planted more than a half-acre of asparagus that is sold to local consumers and restaurants. But the project that received funding is to buy fire brick and mortar to build an oven for bread making. Some of the breads he plans to sell include sourdough battard, Italian ciabatta, rye boule, whole wheat rounds and par-baked wood fired pizza crust.

• Sweet Earth Farm - owner Anne Bohl grows chemical free vegetables for sale at farmers markets and through Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs.) She also raised 200 pastured heritage chickens last year and received funding this year to double that capacity by building a movable chicken pen. The 20x12x7 foot pen will be built on skids so a tractor can pull it a couple times per week.

• Patchwork Green Farm - owner Erik Sessions has been growing vegetables for Winneshiek County customers for the past 15 years. The five-acre farm employs two seasonal workers, utilizes three hoop houses and includes mechanized tillage and mowing. The grant will help fund a mechanical cultivator to improve both the quality and the quantity of produce grown.

• Laughing Sol Farm - owner Trevor Madsen founded the farm in 2012 with the intention of providing Northeast Iowa with a wide range of fresh gourmet and medicinal mushrooms and mushroom spawn for interested cultivators. He will use the grant money to build a sterilization unit with much higher capacity than the current one.

The increased capacity means he could produce up to 300 pounds of fresh mushrooms per month for sale in and around Winneshiek County.

Ultimately, the capacity could reach 2,400 pounds of fresh gourmet and medicinal mushrooms for sale in and around Winneshiek County.

First year

This is the first year WCDI has directly funded the Ag Mini Grants, but it has administered the grants for the Northeast Iowa Food & Farm Coalition (NIFF) since 2008.

WCDI Director Randy Uhl said the 12 applications received this year is double the number received in any other year.

"The high number of applications is an indication of the strong interest in increasing the production and consumption of local foods," Uhl said. "And the caliber of the projects just keeps rising each year."

The 12 applicants requested $11,764 in grant funding for projects with an overall cost of $55,526.

Because interest in the grants is running so high, Uhl said WCDI will be seeking additional funding sources to partner in providing grant funds in 2014.

"These high-quality projects could greatly be accelerated by the timely infusion of additional dollars," Uhl said.

For more information about the WCDI Ag Mini Grants, contact Uhl at 382-6061 or wcdi@thinkdecorah.com.