501(c)3 Public Charity…Here We Come! @F2SMonth #FarmtoSchool

Have you ever had one of those “I’ve gotta Press this” moments? Well, I’m smack dab in the middle of one!

I’ve spent the last couple of months doing some truly grassroots reaching out…my front yard has been a non-stop, honesty-based, fresh local produce stand. In the beginning, I was working elsewhere part-time. At that point, most of the maintenance and interpersonal communication was handled by my wife. Things changed, and I was able to devote my attention to what turned out to be a multi-faceted operation…exactly as I would have had it, looking back. More on the specifics of recent events can be found on the Facebook Page.

Today, on October 19, we have a display that boasts fresh local tomatoes, sweet corn, peppers, zucchini, garlic, and pumpkins. Non-food items such as straw and decorative corn are also available. The local fresh food at this time of the year is pretty much unprecedented in our little community in East-Central Illinois, and we receive thanks on a near-daily basis from our customers. It can be the norm, and others are stepping up to help it become so!

There are obvious hiccups associated with a front-yard stand, especially when the front yard has about six feet of space in the most visible area. Weather…. Oh, I could complain about the weather, if that was what this blog was about. As my neighbor so aptly stated, “Anything to do with agriculture is reliant on the weather.” The gist of the comment on weather refers to rain, frost possibilities, and of course heat. We lost approximately 38% of what would otherwise be high quality, marketable goods to weather. We lost sales due to adverse conditions (Really, who wants to shop in the rain?). But, we kept track of all of that, and it’s also helpful to the cause. We helped people…profitably.

What’s more, we have had customers drive 50 or more miles from nearly every direction, while operating on a budget of less than $30 for Advertising/Marketing!

For those who have followed Illiana Ag Alliance for very long, you likely know that the form of organization is a sole proprietorship. Frankly, I did not know anybody that was able to see the movement through without risk of perverting it. I also thought that the only way a quick decision could be made was through this form of organization. I have been, and am, willing to take the risk of making the wrong decisions…. I was wrong…or at least, to think that remaining as a sole proprietorship now is the best solution is incorrect.

I made my decision about a week ago. I’ve been reading up on all IRS Regulations that concern a 501(c)3 Public Charity…and it fits well. (I have not yet studied State requirements). It’s going to be fun wading through the necessities for a non-profit for the first time, but it can be done.

Here’s the blogworthy event:

I received a message to call from a like-minded old friend. Ironically, I was going to soon ask him to be a member of the Board of Directors. Well, my friend, Robert Houpt, starts our conversation with “I’m going to start a non-profit.” Wow, the idea was amazing…encompassing all of the basic tenets of the 501(c)3 that I wished to form and more!

I’ll fill in more on how it evolves once it is more clear, but the bottom line is that the conversation led to each planning on asking the other to be a part of the charity. As of now, papers are not signed. The way the IRS sees a non-profit, the moment two or more sign a particular document, the 501(c)3 can begin operating as such, but with limits naturally imposed on an unrecognized 501(c)3. Funding, especially locally, is reliant on the approved 501(c)3 status.

Without funding, the charity will have a 3/4 ton truck with a towing package, a couple of growing lights, two pieces of land directly down the road from each other that will, when funded, sport housing that would most likely attract low-income tenants due to the greenhouses and hoophouses that tenants will use, with our support, to grow and sell their own vegetables.

I guess I did not mention who Robert is….. Robert is a graduate of the Class of 2000 here in Martinsville–the class that built the school greenhouse (see picture below). He currently owns an HVAC/Construction Company. More importantly, Robert acts on his charitable thoughts, and has a keen view of ethical and sustainable business. He shares my vision, and our skills, abilities, and arguments complement each other well. He built a flower garden for the local Pre-K, and is volunteering his services, labor, and supplies as In-Kind Contributions to rebuild the greenhouse at our school now.

The picture:

10/19/2014

10/19/2014

I’m not sure if the picture has the clarity to see, but the end nearest the white building has a geothermal heat pump with propane backup. Robert has volunteered to attempt to repair the heat pump, which is what is stopping the school from putting up plastic immediately. Once repaired, I will start the veggies and fruits in my basement, for now. We will help to put in a sink, help lay out the greenhouse, source seed, train volunteers, get the community active, etc. There are other future plans and needs for curriculum-based School Gardens, starting with Martinsville School District, but the “curriculum-based” is just that. The school, Ag/Industrial Arts teacher, and the students will be running the Martinsville School District’s greenhouse. We’re just providing a medium for the community to help.

And there’s the preview, folks. I’m awaiting a meeting with the President of our County’s Farmer’s Market…and likely many more meetings in the future…but this is how Illiana Ag Alliance looks today.

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