Earlier today, I had the honor of joining non-profit organizations, state and federal agencies, institutions, CEOs and others involved with agriculture and economic development to kick off the “The Many Faces of Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” conference hosted at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. I was there to continue the work that President Obama highlighted in his State of the Union address last month.
President Obama was clear that we need to do more to create jobs and promote economic growth. One way that USDA is doing that is by encouraging the development and marketing of locally grown, processed and packaged foods. And we are supporting that effort through the Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) Program, administered by USDA Rural Development.
You may recall my now famous video on VAPG grants from last year and my other posts from around the country highlighting VAPGs – like this farmer in New Jersey or Fifth Generation Farms fresh market in Lake City, Fla. Well we are keeping the momentum going and today I announced that about 300 recipients in 44 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico are receiving VAPG business development assistance.
The VAPG projects will provide financial returns and help create jobs for agricultural producers, businesses and families across the country. This funding will promote small business expansion and entrepreneurship opportunities by providing local businesses with access to capital, technical assistance and new markets for products and services.
One of the examples of how VAPG can make a difference is Virginia-based Agriberry LLC, located near Mechanicsville. Agriberry is the dream of Anne and Chuck Geyer of Hanover, Va. Their mission statement is to establish consumer-supported summer berries and be a premier agricultural training facility for motivated first-time workers. They realized that there was a regional demand for an assortment of fresh, local, seasonal berries and fruits. With the assistance of a USDA VAPG grant, Agriberry now cultivates 35 acres of raspberries, blackberries, peaches, nectarines, plums, and cherries and employs local first-time workers each growing season.
Here in Illinois, Living Water Farms, Inc., a family-owned company, focuses on the production of hydroponic greens for specialty markets in the Midwest. Located in Strawn, two hours south of Chicago’s Loop, three generations of the Kilgus family are part of a group called Stewards of the Land which was organized to market produce from small farms. The hydroponic complex was developed to supply fresh produce year-round. The current market includes Illinois supermarkets, restaurants in Chicago and St. Louis and a Midwest college food service program. A VAPG grant will help them evaluate their brand and expand distribution to other restaurants, specialty retail and institutional outlets.
There are many more examples. The owners of the Chapel Hill (NC) Creamery, a dairy farm where the milk of about 30 Jersey cows is used to make up to seven different cheeses sold locally, want to see their farm mature. The farm’s owners got a grant to help them do just that. The VAPG grant will supply working capital to help the farm meet its goals. You can read their story in Chapel Hill’s local paper: The Herald-Sun – Chapel Hill Creamery wins grant.
If you are a producer and want to conduct a marketing study, add value to a product or expand your business, look into the USDA VAPG program. For more details, click here.