Earlier this month, Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced almost 300 Value Added Producer Grant recipients across the Nation. Each one of those recipients has a story, and a dream that, with help from USDA, will become reality. From producing pumpkin puree and gourmet cheese to expanding a caviar production operation in Idaho (Yes, Idaho), Rural Americans are using these matching grants to grow their businesses and bring high quality products to market.
The Deputy Secretary made the announcement in Illinois: home to four of this year’s recipients.
Living Water Farms, Inc. is a three-year-old family-owned company that 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 consider year-round sales. Living Water Farms applied for a VAPG to expand the market for their greens. Their current market includes Illinois supermarkets, high-end restaurants in Chicago and St. Louis and a Midwest college food service program. The grant will help them evaluate their brand and expand their distribution to other restaurants, specialty retail and institutional outlets.
Another grant went to Justin Kilgus, who, along with his brother Trent, started raising meat goats as a 4-H project in 2006 on their parents’ farm. The VAPG grant will be used for two purposes: to create a 10-year business plan, and to identify additional local markets for fully dressed, fresh goat meat cuts. They currently sell their products to a number of up-scale restaurants.
For seven generations, the Marcoot family has milked Jersey cows in Southern Illinois and has gained a national reputation for dairy excellence. In 2010, they built a small farmstead Creamery on the farm where they process all of their milk into Jersey-based artisan cheeses. The new Creamery features a cheese-make room, a second processing room, an aging cellar and an on-farm retail store. The dairy now uses the milk produced solely by their cows for 12 cheese varieties requiring three distinct processes. The farm will use its grant to expand sales and markets by producing a range of small batch, artisan cheeses exclusively from their milk to meet the needs of the local marketplace and its consumers.
Lime Rock Brown Swiss Cheese, LLC uses its Grade A Brown Swiss milk to make a variety of high quality cheeses for local market sale. Brown Swiss milk, with its higher protein and fat component, makes excellent specialty cheeses because of its silky, smooth texture and rich flavor. Lime Rock will use its grant for working capital to expand markets and customer base for the on-farm cheese produced from Grade A Brown Swiss milk.