By Nichole Stevens
Commodities for Communities is a gifting mechanism that allows farmers, producers, farm operators and land owners to donate a portion of their crops, their livelihood, back to the University of Tennessee Foundation. A process of making a contribution is simple. Funds from the sale of the commodity gift, primarily corn, soybean and wheat, are designated to a UT program of their choosing.
The majority of producers and landowners live on an annual basis. They contribute the commodity of their choosing at the end of each harvest season, making yearly contributions through gifts of grain to fund UT Extension endowments for agriculture programming. The funds enhance the UT Institute of Agriculture’s role of extension, research and education at the county level.
When asked why producers and landowners support the Commodities for Communities program, Michele Sides, Director of Advancement for the Office of Institutional Advancement for UTIA in Jackson, TN said “they have been very excited to know that this is a program that’s going to help them locally. It’s something they will be able to see benefits from realized in their county.”
So far, CFC, which is a farmer-developed concept, operates in Dyer, Crockett, Gibson, Weakley, Fayette, and Obion counties in Tennessee. A grower will deliver the commodity, ranging anywhere from 50-1,000 bushels, to a local grain elevator and inform the business that he/she wishes to transfer ownership of the commodity to the UT Foundation. The elevator operator will complete the necessary forms, and the UT Foundation will order the sale of the commodity. By directly transferring commodities, as opposed to selling the commodity and making a gift from the proceeds, growers receive valuable tax savings in the process. CFC is an easy way for producers to contribute to their county’s needs through their harvest.
“Producers recognize how extension is funded by federal, state and local government and have seen the impacts in their county programs when budgets are tough. They wanted to establish something now, an endowment, that would allow future generations to have access to a local agriculture extension agent and enhanced education programs that will benefit their farm businesses.”
CFC originated in Dyer County, which has multiple agriculture agents available to farmers. Dyer County producers saw that UT Extension offers invaluable resources for their agriculture businesses. They can get the information from many sources about farming practices, but what they rely on is research-based information they can only get through their local UT-Extension office.
“We reach a lot of people through local extension offices. The people in the communities that utilize those resources offered through the offices are some of our biggest supporters and really value what we offer as a land grant university,” said Sides. “The local offices open up a lot of doors for people who weren’t connected to the university. Many of the people served locally at those offices, including many of the farmers who participate in CFC have no other connection to UTIA.”
Sides said the biggest challenge for CFC is showing farmers that they will be able to see the difference in their community. Like any diffusion of an idea, the pace depends on acceptance, and so far, Sides said community has been very receptive of it.
To date, more than $150K has been contributed to these local endowments.
“It’s also been very exciting to see how they’re talking at local co-ops and coffee shops and spreading the word of it,” said Sides. “As soon as producers in another county heard about it, they were calling and wanted to know how to start it in their county.”
Many members of the farming community have taken it as a friendly competition between counties to grow their county endowments. It has grown exponentially because it is producer driven rather than agent driven.
“It’s eye-opening to see exactly the scope and magnitude of a lot of these farming operations and what people do on a daily basis to support agriculture across the state,” said Sides. “I love my job and it has been very exciting to work with such a great group of people.”
Commodities for Communities was nominated as a Partnership that Makes a Difference. Click here to read more.