Since 2008, the Neighborhood Mini-grant program has awarded $61,467 over 30 rounds of grants to support 156 innovative, grassroots projects throughout Tompkins County.

Check out the stories featuring our mini-grant awardees in Tompkins Weekly:  The first story about several bicycling-related projects appeared in the February 23 issue on p.5.  The second story about youth gardening projects appeared in the April 13 issue on p. 1.  The last story appeared in the November 30, 2015 issue and featured the community leaders behind three local community gardens.

September 1, 2016 is the next deadline.


In June 2016, we awarded $850 to two projects:
  • Finger Lakes Permaculture Institute: Advertising and marketing for the Third Annual Finger Lakes Permaculture Tour and Conference held in August, which will feature a tour of 16 local and regional farms and gardens, a kickoff film screening and celebration in downtown Ithaca, and a conference in Montour Falls.
  • Cornell University’s Engineering Leadership Program: Materials for a new project partnering with Ithaca High School to make the IHS composting system effective through educational outreach and collaboratively building a solar-powered compost tumbler for onsite use.

In March 2016 (our 30th grant round!), we awarded $2,000 to five projects

  • Laura Bell: Creation and distribution of an infographic on the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act protecting food donors from liability. In cooperation with Friendship Donations Network and the Food Bank of the Southern Tier, the infographic would be distributed in print and online to businesses which may become food donors. benefiting donation systems across the region: 
  • Jane Marie and Adam Law: Plants and signage at a newly-created pollinator garden in their Northeast Ithaca neighborhood, for public education and community building.
  • The Friends of the Tompkins County Public Library: For bike racks at its Esty Street headquarters, which will be used by volunteers, donors, and book sale customers.
  • Rootwork Herbals: Funding toward scholarships for a six-month course on the use of local herbs for food and medicine. Scholarships make the course more accessible to people of color and people from low-income households.
  • Lea Elleseff: For tents, tables, chairs, and a produce scale at a new “Pop-Up” farmers’ market and community children’s garden in the Village of Freeville, by the former firehouse where she now lives. The market will host local farmers, gardeners, and other vendors, and be open to commercial and non-commercial entities, with no required fee in advance.

In December 2015, we awarded $1,300 to three local organizations, including our first grant to a small business.

  • Sew Green: To purchase six used sewing machines for an after-school sewing program at Beverly J. Martin Elementary School, which would teach students to sew (with assistance from teen and adult volunteers)
  • ¡BiciCocina! Bicycle Food Cart: To help purchase an electric cargo bike to reduce car use, expand reach of mobile vendor of South American food, and promote bicycle use to customers and community.
  • Black Locust Initiative: To fund student production of a “graphic novel” gardening guide to share with other students based on their experiences in the school garden at Trumansburg Middle School.

In September 2015, we celebrated seven years of the program with a grant of $230 to the Finger Lakes Land Trust for their Phenology Trail at the Roy H. Park Preserve.  The grant will pay for signage to educate visitors about observing and recording the dates of life stages of local plants as our climate changes.

In June 2015, we awarded $2,160 in grant funding:

  • Tompkins County Workers’ Center: Posters, flyers, and outreach materials to support a campaign to make the county minimum wage a living wage.
  • Mama’s Comfort Camp: For outreach materials to expand the network of local mutual support among over 1,000 mothers of all ages at all stages.
  • Project Growing Hope: To increase community garden accessibility by providing a porta-john for summer 2015 in preparation for getting permission from the City to install a composting toilet.
  • Rescue Mission Homeless Shelter Sustainability Initiative: To purchase a 10-unit bike rack and rain barrel to enhance the beautification project of the outdoor gathering space behind the shelter.
  • Friendship Donations Network Neighborhood Food Hubs: Signs and print posters to promote and collect garden surplus for distribution to local food pantries.

For a complete history of projects supported with neighborhood Mini-grants, download our pdf file of past Neighborhood Mini-grant awards.

If you have an idea for a Mini-grant project, email or call us at 607-272-1720. We’ll send along an application form and answer any questions you might have.  Applications are reviewed quarterly by the Mini-Grant Council, comprised of local citizens and members of Sustainable Tompkins board and staff. Awards range from $150 to $750. For more details, and to apply, click here.

We are looking for New Sponsors for the Neighborhood Mini-grant Program!

Suzanne Aigen of Aigen Financial Group Insurance and Financial Services generously sponsored the Neighborhood Mini-Grants for the past few years. Suzanne’s business partner, Prudential Insurance matched her generosity one to one. Suzanne has restructured her business, and has sadly had to leave her sponsorship role for the Mini-Grants program.  We are deeply grateful to her for the funding support for so many wonderful citizen-driven initiatives during the past 3 years.  Sustainable Tompkins is now actively searching for new sponsors for the Mini-Grants program.

Sponsorship funds and individual contributions from friends like you makes it possible for Sustainable Tompkins to provide seed funding  for neighborhood projects that promote community and sustainability.  Please get in touch (  if you are interested in becoming a sponsor!

How we fund the Neighborhood Mini-Grants Program: The Neighborhood Mini-grant program is funded through individual donations, sponsorships, and grants. Together, we can transform our community into a more just and sustainable one. Every gift—large or small—helps, so please take a moment to complete the Online Gift form.

Some of our Mini-grant success stories:

West Village Gone Green Neighborhood Association received a recent Mini-grant to buy a hose and other supplies for their community garden. This is their third grant. In phase one, the neighbors gathered to plan a project that would bring the community together and the decision was made to build a garden. The project serves the people of the West Village apartments in Ithaca by providing local, fresh, and organic food, building community engagement, and teaching gardening skills.  Resident children have been involved with planting, weeding and harvesting as well as general neighborhood clean up.

Healing Hearts Women’s Fall Retreat conference was held on September 2011 and was a part of Earth Connection Programs. The main purpose of the retreat was to develop women self-esteem, self- acceptance, and strength.  During two day gathering 24 women participants were, among many other activities, able to hear about aromatherapy, learn how to manage stress, grief, and fear, and meditate. The Mini-grant made it possible for the conference organizers to reduce the cost for all participants and also provided monies for six women to attend the event with no fee.

The Dewitt Middle School Vegetable Garden started in Fall 2009 and provides fresh, local food for School’s cafeteria as well as supplies for social studies, art projects, and biology class. The garden had been integrated into the school curriculum and provides a great tool for learning used in many different classes. The project participants include teachers, students, parents, staff, and volunteers from the Northeast neighborhood. The Garden is open to host groups of public tours from around Tompkins County, such as Cornell Youth Summit or CCE Garden Educators who visited the Garden last year. The June 2011 was used to purchase critter-friendly traps and other materials necessary to protect garden from rabbits, groundhogs, skunks, and other garden pests.

The Youth Outreach Undergraduates Reshaping Success (YOURS) grant was awarded to develop the Sustainability Education program for At-Risk Dryden Youth. The project paired Cornell undergraduates with 22 high-risk, low-income children from Dryden, NY for an after-school program to increase young people’s awareness of sustainability. The Dryden youth participated in cooking, fitness, and arts and crafts activities.

Co-creating a Sustainable Homestead The Dacha Project is a group of six individuals working together to create a self-sustainable, educational homestead in rural Freeville, NY. They received a Mini-Grant in 2010 to transition their generator from a diesel source to a bio-fuel source.  In the fall of 2009,the Dacha Project was awarded a Mini-Grant to purchase a Brumby water pump, driven by compressed air instead of electricity, and the first of its kind in Tompkins County. So far they have established a fruit and nut tree orchard, organic garden, and a straw bale cottage, and provided many educational tours to groups of students.
Community Quilting The Granny Squares is an initiative by a small group of senior women of Titus Towers in Ithaca. A mini-grant award in the summer of 2009 helped them procure a long arm quilting machine. The process of creating beautiful quilts together improves their quality of life through shared, purposeful activities, and strengthens their ability to rely upon each other. Auctioning the final products, which are both artistic and useful, helps their group work towards economic self-reliance.
The Sweet Outdoors Maple Sugaring Education connects youth with nature in an urban setting. Forty-five Beverly J Martin kindergarten students and their teachers participated in the pilot program, launched with the support of a mini-grant in the winter of 2009. The program combined math and science classroom projects with outdoor activities. It was designed by Steve Gabriel of the Finger Lakes Permaculture Institute, who would like to bring it to more classrooms, after-school programs, home-schoolers and community centers in Tompkins County. For more info, visit “Sugaring in the Schools” at Sapsquatch.
Inter-generational Pizza Baking Project A number of the residents of the Linderman Creek low-income housing project and the senior facility came together to learn how to make pizzas, under the guidance of Pat Dutt from the West Hill Civic Association. Joining the project were a number of senior citizens who happened to be experienced bakers, and they enjoyed teaching the younger bakers what to do. Pizza ingredients included many fresh garden products (basil, tomatoes, peppers, etc) that were grown in the new West Hill Community Garden.

Outreach with Ithaca’s Burmese/Karen Community Using a Sustainable Tompkins mini-grant, SewGreen was able to offer special daylong sewing classes to two groups of Karen teenagers. They worked through the Ithaca City School District to make connections to sponsors and eventually to the teens themselves. Because of their background, most of the teens—all girls—had never used a sewing machine. They were at first very shy and hesitant about asking questions, but as the day progressed, typical teenage exuberance burst forth. They were very proud of the projects they made, and at one point, three of the younger girls literally squealed with delight and jumped up and down.


Neighborhood Mini-Grants Recipients Speak on Grants Impact:

All of us here at Sustainable Tompkins are very proud of the Neighborhood Mini-Grants program and we’re happy to sing their praises.  But we think the best advocates for the Neighborhood Mini-Grants program are the recipients themselves! Click here for video of three of our Neighborhood Mini-Grants recipients speaking atone of our Neighborhood Mini-Grants Reception. The stories from Neighborhood Mini-Grant recipients were deeply inspiring and hopeful.  During a time of economic contraction, the Neighborhood Mini-Grant Program is making long-term investments in our local economy.  We’re investing in the ability of community members to provide for one another. Through community gardens, farmers markets, swap meets, sewing workshops and mentoring programs (just to name a few!) our Mini-Grant recipients are truly building greater sustainability for all of us. Since 2008, we have supported 160+ projects with over $60,000 in funding. Left: Neighborhood Mini-Grant Recipient, Black Locust Project, helped the Trumansburg Middle School to implement a garden and root cellar.