How NOT to Use Grant Funding

By Christi Southerland

A recent news article exposed a former Drexel University professor of spending over $189,000 of federal grant funds at local strip clubs and sports bars over a 10-year period. This professor didn’t just misuse funds of one federal grant, but a total of eight separate grants from the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation and the Navy. These research focused grants should have funded activities revolving around technology advancements for public benefit, but instead were misused. The University is now required to pay the funds back to the granting agencies.


This is the classic case of how not to use your grant funding. As we identify potential grant opportunities for clients, it is important to highlight how the grant funds can be used as they are awarded. Each and every grant program spells out exactly how funding is to be used in their open solicitation, notice of funding, or other similar guidelines (yes we know these are boring to read, but they are a must).

Grant awards typically fall into one of several categories, detailed below:

  • Reimbursement – Grant-related activities must be paid in full by the awardee prior to receiving any grant dollars. This allows the awarding agency to review all expenses and ensure that money is being spent properly. This can be troublesome for some grantees that do not have available funds to front all project costs, but does reduce the risk of misuse.

  • Partial Payment – Some grant programs will pace award payments throughout the grant period. For example, awardees will be given 25% upfront to begin work, 50% at the halfway point, and 25% upon project completion. Each grant program will be unique and percentages will vary. The final payment might also be a reimbursement, which ensures that the awardee has actually carried out the project before they receive their final funding.

  • Upfront Payments – Though these programs are rare, some grants will allow recipients to receive all their funding upfront in one lump sum. Fewer programs offer this payment structure, specifically due to the problems that arise as detailed above.


Granting agencies can protect themselves from the misuse of funds through required reporting. Each grant program will have their own specific requirements, with some requesting little details and other programs asking for incredibly detailed data about all aspects of the project. Prosperity always reviews the reporting requirements with our clients to ensure they are aware of what to expect even before they apply for the grant.

Want to learn more about how Prosperity helps our clients in searching for and applying for grants? Contact us today at

Funding Search: What is it? How can it help?

By Jessica Murnane, Prosperity Ag Project Coordinator

Searching for funding? We can help.

Searching for funding? We can help.

So, you know that there are grants out there, and you know you could use them to further your mission, businesses, or non-profit, but you’re not sure where to begin. With thousands of available grants, incentives and programs, finding qualified funding for your organization can be a full-time job. By utilizing our industry expertise, we can demystify the process through our Prosperity Funding Search.

Here’s a breakdown of how the process works.  First, we start with getting to know you.  You and your work are the most important part of finding funding sources that are the right fit. Being able to find the right grants means knowing not just what it is you currently do, but what it is you want to do.  How do you want to grow or change? What new programs would you like to implement? What new services would you like to offer? How can your business be more efficient? We will find out all that and more with a one-on-one meeting to deep dive into what your needs are. These questions will help us figure out where you want to grow and guide us in our funding search.

 Next, we will take that information and scour the landscape to find the grants and funding opportunities that match your needs. By combing through and eliminating revenue sources you are not eligible for, we narrow down the opportunities to the ones that are best suited for your needs.  A personalized report is created that outlines that grants, incentives, and programs that your work is eligible for including program priorities, deadlines, and general next steps.

We hone in on the grants that best fit what you’d like to do.

We hone in on the grants that best fit what you’d like to do.

 Finally, we will meet with you once again to go over your personalized report and talk through the opportunities we found and how they relate to your goals. This meeting will give us the chance to fine tune your needs and hone in on the grants that best fit what you’d like to do. If a particular grant sounds appealing, we have additional services available to help you apply and manage any grants you receive.

 And that’s the Prosperity Funding Search process.  If this sounds like something that could be helpful to you and your business contact us today to set up an initial conversation.

Regenerative Agriculture: Returning to Our Roots

By Karen DuVall

Whenever friends visit my hometown, one of my favorite spots to show off is the bison ranch across the road from my parents’ woods. Carl Van Meter dreamed of looking out his window to see bison roaming as they once had two hundred years ago, so he purchased a pair in 1976. The herd grew to about 100 head, and they were a source of fascination to me as I grew up along with them.

Van Meter Buffalo Ranch in Buffalo, Indiana

Van Meter Buffalo Ranch in Buffalo, Indiana

Regenerative Agriculture holds a similar philosophy to return agricultural acreage to its natural state. What exactly is regenerative agriculture? It’s a practice that’s steadily gaining in notoriety and popularity.

  • Conventional Agriculture focuses on efficiency, high yields, and monoculture (large fields of one type of crop.)

  • Sustainable Agriculture focuses on doing no harm to the land and local food production.

  • Regenerative Agriculture goes a step further by using farming and grazing practices to rebuild topsoil and restore soil biodiversity. This draws down carbon dioxide from the air and improves the water cycle, which in turn helps to reverse climate change.

Healthy topsoil, healthy worms, healthy crops, healthy humans, healthy planet

Healthy topsoil, healthy worms, healthy crops, healthy humans, healthy planet

Due to its very nature, there’s no one right way to practice regenerative agriculture. It heavily depends on the specific needs of the location and local community. It looks to indigenous knowledge and skills from that area. Some examples are conservation tillage, cover crops, composting, and pasture cropping. Here’s a sample of a range of regenerative ag organizations leading the way around the world, while economically benefiting the ag producers.

In fact, bison are a key component of a regenerative agriculture effort at Kankakee Sands in northern Indiana. The Nature Conservancy has been converting 700 acres of row-crop land back into prairie. Bison provide a necessary service to the prairie by grazing down dominant plants, which encourage other plants to thrive and increase biodiversity. This broader range of food encourages more indigenous wildlife to return. Even their large hoofprints are regenerative because they enhance seed dispersal and planting.

Small farmers are facing enormous pressures. Prices are volatile, especially for soybeans and dairy. Extreme heat, droughts, flooding, and shifts in growing seasons are undeniable. Often it seems that the only option is to consolidate with large farms. As ag producers are imagining different paths using sustainable and regenerative practices.

Prosperity Ag is here to help. Whether you’re a conventional, sustainable, or regenerative farmer, there are funding opportunities out there as you weather the storm. Contact us today to learn more.

Getting Resourceful: Soybeans, Grain Dryers, and Energy Efficiency


The extremely wet weather this fall, coupled with political and economic changes, created an especially difficult harvest season for most soybean producers. On top of low prices, farmers faced severe price docks for high moisture content in their beans. According to the Progressive Farmer, usually beans are docked six to eight cents per bushel for five percent moisture damage. This year, deductions were sharply higher, around $1.80 per bushel. That left farmers with no choice but to dry their beans in grain dryers designed for corn.

We called up Chad Martin, energy auditor, to talk about the effects these unusual circumstances had on on-farm energy usage. Chad is a from a fifth-generation family farm in Cass County and has 12 years of experience as an energy auditor at Purdue University.

Chad Martin.jpg

1.       Thanks for talking with us, Chad. Okay, first thing’s first. Exactly what is an energy audit?

Sure. An energy audit is a comparison of the documented performance of an existing dryer to a prediction of what the performance of a new one will be. It takes into account your energy prices and eliminate growing season variables from year to year. It also considers upkeep and maintenance on the equipment. An energy auditor gives you an unbiased third-party view of the cost and energy savings that could come with a new dryer.

2.       What other types of energy audits do you do?

I’ve done audits on lighting system upgrades when people switch to LED, several audits for swine buildings and dairy farms… The challenge there is that dairy prices are so low that it’s hard to make capital improvements. Greenhouse production is another one, but I’d say 85% of the audits I’ve done have been with grain dryers.

 3.       This year, a lot of farmers resorted to drying soybeans. Is this a common practice?

The last time was in 2009, when high moisture in corn was the biggest issue, and a small portion of soybeans were dried, too. We saw older dryers sit empty during the previous drought year in 2008, then used to their maximum in the 2009 rainy year. That brought a lot of hidden efficiency problems to the forefront for farmers. So that was the first wave of energy audits we did for the USDA REAP grants. We partnered up with Prosperity on several REAP grants a few years later.

4.       What impact does it have on dryer efficiency?

The dryers are being used for something they’re not designed to do, so they won’t be as efficient. Drying soybeans requires a lower temperature because you’re drying them down two to four percentage points of moisture, not 15 to 20 percent for corn. You’re also running a smaller amount of beans through the dryer at one time, so high capacity dryers have a higher of risk of splitting the beans from agitation. That means a lower-quality bean, which means another price dock. Some farmers have tried in-bin drying their beans as an alternative.

Combine with grain head.jpg

 5.       What’s on the horizon for grain dryer efficiency?

The biggest development is real-time monitoring that gives you data you can access on your phone or iPad. Once we know the historical record over the past two or three years, that data tells us where things can be improved or areas for maintenance. Sensors in dryer are getting more sophisticated, and data analytics can be used on different types of hybrids. That means you can make improvements without getting a whole new dryer.

 As farms get larger, they’re adding not just one but two or three combines so they can get the crops out quicker. They need a dryer that keeps up but maintains its efficiency, especially with spikes in energy. Utility companies are starting to treat farms as small manufacturers. Since all the farms in the area are using their dryers too, they’re hit with demand charges. So we’re becoming more mindful of how we manage electricity. VFDs (Variable Frequency Drives) help motors mitigate those demand charges by running dryers at off-peak times to reduce costs.

 6.       Is renewable energy becoming more of an option with grain dryers?

Renewable energy with drying is a challenge. Dryers only operate two or three months out of year, and sometimes not at all, so it’s hard to justify the capital investment. Solar is much better suited for a dairy or hog operation because the energy usage variations are more steady and predictable.

 A big thanks to Chad for taking the time to talk with us. If you’d like more information about energy audits, you can reach Chad at 765-586-0860 or If you have questions about funding for your energy efficiency or renewable energy projects, you can reach us here.

How the Arts Grow Communities

By Victoria Shaw, Marketing Consultant

When thinking of community growth, arts organizations may not immediately come to mind. Yet, communities looking to improve economic prosperity, public engagement, and overall community health may actually find their answer in local arts organizations.


Artist painting.jpg

$15.7 million

Arts revenue for local governments in the Indy area. 

The Arts Bring Economic Investment

Americans for the Arts, an advocacy group, reports annual research about the financial impact from the arts for each state. In 2010, research shows that for the greater Indianapolis area, revenues from arts organizations and audiences generated $26.5 million for state government and $15.7 million for local governments. Arts organizations hired the full-time equivalent (FTE) to 13,136 jobs. The arts don’t just support the existing community by bringing jobs, but they promote economic investment in cities. An estimated 44.8% of audiences who attended these events were not residents of the greater Indianapolis area. Meaning that the arts benefit locals with jobs because of driving an increase in traffic, a fringe benefit being that often times other businesses see an increase in traffic as well.


Art on park trail.jpg

Public Arts 

drive community engagement.

The Arts Drive Public Engagement

Visual arts in particular are essential for driving public engagement. Parks, trails, walkways, canals and other common gathering areas provide residents the chance to meet other neighbors. Driving engagement between residents is essential for towns and cities as it increases the length of residency. While 80% of the success of a property boils down to general management, the remaining success can be derived from factors such as the general aesthetic appeal and local activities held in the space. If you’re looking for ideas, check out this article from the Project for Public Spaces to see how festivals, architecture, and preservation practices have impacted cities across America.


Art promotes community health.jpg

Health and the Arts

go hand-in-hand.

The Arts Improve Community Health Indicators

Research done in New York City compared the health of different boroughs and correlated them to the number of non-profits, venues, galleries, museums, and other indicators of an arts presence. Even after controlling for differences in demographics, communities with more cultural resources saw the following when compared to boroughs with less resources:

  • 14% decrease in cases of child abuse and neglect
  • 5% decrease in obesity
  • 8% increase in kids scoring in the top stratum on English and math exams
  • 18% decrease in the serious crime rate

These statistics show that the arts not only have a place in our towns but can propel positive change for future growth. Arts organizations are essential for thriving communities.


Wabash County Hist Museum pic.png

300% Increase

in visitors over the last five years at the Wabash County Historical Museum.

While many towns may already have arts organizations, some are not positioned to maintain exponential growth. The Wabash County Historical Museum saw an increase of 300% for visitors in the last five years. However, because their facility was rapidly aging their services were under threat of being cut. To learn how the Museum was able to continue growth in their community schools while improving their facilities check out their story here. By taking action and encouraging arts organizations to flourish, communities can see growth in their engagement and prosperity for years to come.

Victoria Shaw is a marketing consultant for businesses throughout Central Indiana and has worked with several small businesses and arts organizations to improve overall performance level. A 2017 graduate of Anderson University, she will be pursuing a Master of Science in International Management this fall in Italy. 

She has been a part of Prosperity Ag since 2015.

How Sustainable is Your Community?

By Christi Southerland, Prosperity Ag Managing Partner

The term “sustainable city” has been thrown around quite a bit in recent years. Though each region likely has their own definition of a sustainable community, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), uses the term “sustainable communities” to describe places “where use of resources and emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants are going down, not up; where the air and waterways are accessible and clean; where land is used efficiently and shared parks and public spaces are plentiful and easily visited; where people of different ages, income levels and cultural backgrounds share equally in environmental, social and cultural benefits; where many needs of daily life can be met within a 20-minute walk and all may be met within a 20-minute transit ride; where industry and economic opportunity emphasize healthy, environmentally sound practices.

fountain and flowers.jpg

Sustainable Communities 

"Where industry and economic opportunity emphasize healthy, environmentally sound practices." -NRDC

The community described above seems idyllic, however, it is also very hard to achieve. Communities might have a goal of becoming completely sustainable, but funding is a large barrier preventing implementation. Taking small steps each year towards sustainability can be an easier approach while keeping costs reasonable. Further, communities that meet challenges through integrated solutions rather than fragmented approaches while looking at the long term will be more successful. This means it is essential for communities to have an end-goal and a plan in place prior to taking any steps towards sustainability. Having citizen involvement in early-stage planning will also be important for success.

Communities aiming for sustainability can utilize grant and loan programs to achieve their goals. Opportunities abound for projects such as community gardens, integration of renewable energy, wastewater efficiency improvements, building new community facilities, and many more. Further, programs exist to help communities achieve their sustainability goals. Audubon International has a Sustainable Communities Program, which is a science-based, third-party certification program to guide communities through the journey to become healthy and vibrant places to love work and play.

Sustainability is a process that is continuously evolving to meet goals. Communities that embrace this process as part of their overall goal and begin to implement sustainability, they will see a power and positive effect on the quality of life and the future of the community.

Prosperity Ag works with rural communities to become more sustainable. Learn more by downloading our overview of popular funding programs for rural communities.

We'd love to hear about your ideas! Contact us now.

Kids and Veggies: A Love Story

By Karen DuVall

Ask almost any parent and they’ll tell you that it’s a struggle to get their kids to eat vegetables, or even TRY them.

Seriously, just try it… Just a bite. Please… One piece…

It seems like this war has been raging since the dawn of time. Parents and teachers have tried virtually everything to reason, negotiate, and trick their kids into eating something healthy.

Government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and universities have attempted multiple strategies to increase healthy food consumption among children with uneven success. They’ve mounted educational campaigns to share information with parents and children about the nutritional value of fruits and vegetables. They’ve also taken the marketing approach by re-writing popular children’s songs with verses about veggies, and you might remember the controversy around Cookie Monster expanding his culinary palate to include fruit.

But a more down-home solution may exist: getting kids involved in gardening and farming. I was clued into this idea last year while I was catching up with one of my friends over the phone. She mentioned how weird it was that her five-year-old would only eat strawberries from the vines she helped plant. I laughed and thought it was cute, but it turns out that my friend’s daughter isn’t the only one. The research bears this out.

Kids who garden are more likely to eat their veggies.

Kids who garden are more likely to eat their veggies.

Researchers looked at several studies of garden-based nutrition education programs, and they found that, across the board, gardening increased children’s vegetable consumption

Our results suggest that gardening should be an integral component of wellness programs and policies.
— HortTechnology

Kids’ connection to local farms and farmers also shows promise. The USDA Farm-to-School program links local agricultural producers to K-12 schools to supply fresh local produce. The program also encourages school-based gardening in creative ways. Just for example, a school district in Michigan built two mobile greenhouse buses in its community garden.

The Farm-to-School program has shown signs of success. The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior did a study on plate waste at six elementary schools to track how much food students were throwing out after their lunches. They found that the kids at schools ate more fruits and vegetables with Farm-to-School procurement from local agriculture, compared to similar schools that did not.

We are grateful for this newfound hope for parents and teachers. All is not lost is the Kids vs. Veggies debate, and Prosperity is here to help. If you are an ag producer, educator, or nonprofit leader who would like more information on funding opportunities for gardening and local foods nutrition programs, we’d love to talk with you! Contact us now and let us know your ideas.


Local Food Does a Body Good

By Sherri Dugger

The local food events and conferences around Indiana are beginning to multiply. And for good reason.

Local food systems positively affect economic growth of small towns and cities across our state. The more farmers and food producers we have providing for their communities, the healthier and wealthier the communities they serve. Conversely, economic growth can support and promote local food systems. Policy makes sure of that, and if policy provides technical and financial support for our food growers and local food systems, we all win.

Local food is indeed trending, and it shows no signs of slowing down. Food connoisseurs are hashtagging and Instagramming their local meals. Restaurants champion their locally grown menus. Farmers markets continue to multiply throughout the state. Despite this, estimates on how much local food being bought and sold still remains low, relatively speaking. In Indiana, food is a $16 billion a year business, and 90 percent of the food Hoosiers eat is imported into the state.

Local food is trending!

Local food is trending!

What that means for local food growers and producers? There’s plenty of opportunity.

When I speak at food and farming conferences throughout the state, I enjoy conversations with farmers and food producers of all ages and stages. Some farmers are starting up community gardens to feed low food access neighborhoods in urban areas. Others are planting and plotting out small five-acre diversified farms or agritourism businesses. Some are growing using aquaponic or hydroponic methods. Some are producing food in season-extending high tunnels and greenhouses. Still others are raising commodity grains from fence row to fence row.

   Then there are the food artisans, the food system advocates, and the foodies, themselves, who are throwing potlucks and slow-food soirées to celebrate our state’s natural bounty.

   These wonderful minds and passionate leaders are gathering each year at Indiana’s community events to discuss the ways we can make our food systems better. To address economic growth and local food systems simultaneously, we must develop food value chains made up of stakeholders who share the same values, who strive for transparency, and who work for and support the production of healthy, fresh foods traveling as few food miles as possible. We need policy makers, food council members, growers, aggregators, processors, distributors, retailers, wholesale institutions and eaters all to sit down at the same table. The outcome of these gatherings will most certainly lead to creating more sustainable food systems that better feed our communities.

   And we need good policy. Over the next few months, our legislators will be discussing the future of our farm bill, which is the most important legislation regarding food and farming in the United States. The farm bill determines the funding that nutrition programs, farm safety nets, beginning farmer training programs, and conservation programs will receive—programs like the Local Foods Promotion Program and the Farmers Market Promotion Program receive. The farm bill affects all of us, and it determines whether farmers and food growers can access funds to start and grow their businesses.

Yes, local food tastes good. It’s also good for our health, our local economies, and for our communities. Simply put, local food is important. Talk to your legislators, tell your stories, and advocate for strong, local food systems. Because, even in Indiana, local food is always in season.

Sherri Dugger serves as the media and outreach director for Indiana Farmers Union, as a rural affairs consultant for The Humane Society of the United States , and as a Midwest outreach consultant for Earthjustice. She lives with her husband, Randy, and their dogs, cats, alpacas, goats, chickens, and bees at Dugger Family Farm in Morristown, Indiana. Sherri is also the creator and editor of a local food resource, Hoosier Locavore.

There’s a Grant for That. Or is There?

By Christi Southerland, Prosperity Ag Managing Partner

Grants have been available since the 1800’s when it was required that states be given 5 percent of the net proceeds of land sales within their boundaries, with a percent of these proceeds to be used for “learning” or higher education.  Over the years grants have expanded and are now available for numerous purposes. Grant programs are available through Federal, State and local funding and also through nonprofit organizations.

Over the years working as a grant writer, I have seen grants available for a wide range of projects. This includes some common programs such as after-school care for at risk youth, development of community centers, and preservation of historic locations. However, I have seen my fair share of “unusual” grant programs including solutions for homeless horses in Utah, off-road vehicle safety training, and planning shellfish hatcheries. And yes, those are all real grants.

Prosperity Ag can help take the mystery out of grants.

Prosperity Ag can help take the mystery out of grants.

The availability of funding opportunities is constantly changing, which makes is increasingly harder for organization’s to determine what might be available for their needs. Clients typically ask me, “Is there a grant for my project?” The answer is not simple due to the complexity of grants and my answer to clients is usually “It depends.”

There are many factors an applicant must be aware of when they are interested in pursuing grant funding. Below is a quick summary of our top tips for those interested in apply for funding.


The single most important factor of grants involves the applicant’s eligibility. Prior to beginning any work on a grant application, the organization must determine whether they are even an eligible applicant. This can be easily completed by reading through the notices that are published with the grant materials. Many applicants overlook this step and apply anyway with the thought that the granting organization will still want to hear about their project.


Perhaps one of the trickiest aspects of applying for funding revolves around the timing of both the project and the grant program. Many federal and state grants have set due dates, with applications only being accepted during open funding periods. These due dates may not be convenient for the applicant and could even prevent them from applying. Many grant programs do not allow applicants to begin work on their project until after the grant agreement has been signed, usually months after the grant was submitted. Applicants may decide that they want to pursue their project regardless of funds because of the stifling nature of the timing of a program.

Cost match

I cannot tell you how many people tell me they want to apply for “free money.” The truth is that very few grants are really “free.” Grant programs typically have a cost match component involved, which means that the applicant is required to match the grant funds. The amount required varies greatly depending on the grant agency, but I always tell my clients to plan on having to match at least 25% of the grant funds.

With so many available grants, it can quickly become overwhelming for those looking to receive funding. At Prosperity, we strive to inform our clients about the possible funding opportunities available for their project to ensure success. Some clients like to take this one step further and purchase a Funding Search, which a comprehensive, in-depth evaluation of all the possible funding opportunities for their potential projects. Learn more now!

Going Blue in Rural Communities

Karen DuVall, Prosperity Ag Director of Grant Operations

You know what they say about the weather here in Indiana? If you don’t like it, just wait five minutes and it’ll change.

Indiana and much of the Midwest has suffered severe flooding recently. My hometown of Buffalo in northwest Indiana has a population of about 700. When the Tippecanoe River flooded and residents needed to evacuate, neighbors banded together and helped each other out. People volunteered their trucks, tractors, and boats to assist first responders with evacuation efforts. They offer their time, money, and talents to donate meals and supplies. Fortunately, my hometown isn’t unique. Across the country, people in rural areas, small towns, and cities rally together during emergencies to help their communities.

After the initial disaster subsides, residents return to their homes to begin rebuilding. Communities have also suffered major flood damage to their roads and infrastructure.  On top of that, many rural communities are already struggling to improve aging and limited water and waste treatment infrastructure.

At times, opportunities may arise out of crises. According to the Smithsonian, cities around the world are experimenting with going Blue. Most people are familiar with the idea of Going Green, which is focused on reducing the environmental impact created by cities and investing in renewable energy. Smart Cities (making cities more responsive and connected) is another widely accepted concept. “Blue Cities” is the idea that communities should be designed to work with existing water-flow patterns instead of trying to alter them. Cutting edge concepts include a buoyant parking garage in Denmark and floating solar panels in Bahrain. After Hurricane Katrina, Old River Landing in Louisiana used traditional building techniques from the Bayou to develop floating amphibious housing.

Most of these examples are large-scale projects in cities, but this led me to wonder how this technology could be used in rural areas. How can we take some of these futuristic concepts and scale them down to work for small towns and farms? How are we better positioned to use less-populated watersheds and rivers? It’s predicted that the Midwest will see more extreme weather, including record-breaking heat, cold, flooding, droughts, and storms. Now is the time to prepare by investing in Blue technologies on our own terms.

Whether you represent rural government, manage a construction company with an outside-of-the-box idea, or want to improve your energy efficiency, Prosperity Ag is here to help you. We take the mystery out of grants so you find funding. Click here to find out more.


We're excited to kick off Prosperity Ag's blog. Our team members here at Prosperity are looking forward to sharing their perspectives on subjects like renewable energy and energy efficiency, local foods and sustainable farming, and anything else affecting rural communities. We would love to hear your feedback. Let's get the conversation started!