This post is part of a Microloan Success feature series on the USDA blog. Check back every Tuesday and Thursday as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s Farm Service Agency.
USDA’s Microloan program allows beginning, small and mid-sized farmers to access up to $35,000 in loans using a simplified application process, and up to seven years to repay. Through the Farm Service Agency (FSA) USDA is focused on increasing opportunities for farmers and ranchers and has made several modifications to farm loan programs, including making Microloans to beginning farmers and veterans exempt from direct loan term limits. Producers have more flexible access to credit for initial start-up expenses, family living expenses, minor farm improvements and hoop houses to extend the growing season.
Kentucky couple Kim and Jeff Essig, owners of Middlebridge Blueberry Farm, know about the benefits of the Microloan program first-hand. Kim shares their story:
I married a man who was already in love — with Kentucky. Although we were both born and raised in Orange County, Calif., he grew up visiting his grandpa Martin’s farm in Oakland, Ky. during summer breaks.
So it was no surprise that six months after our 1992 wedding, we packed up our things and blazed the trail from Southern California to Smiths Grove, Ky., to live on the land.
The first several years we had limited land and dabbled in growing food for ourselves and trading produce with neighbors. In 2006, we were able to purchase a few acres in Bowling Green, Ky. It was then we started thinking large scale.
We chose blueberries as our main crop. Between 2010 and 2011 we installed an acre of blueberries and also started beekeeping. By 2013, we added blackberries, raspberries and strawberries. As our berries grew, the customers came as did the idea of branching out into blueberry plant propagation for selling, expanding our bees and maximizing what we could do with our little piece of earth.
One day I saw an announcement for the Kentucky Farm Service Agency (FSA) Microloan program. I contacted the FSA office for an application. The application process informative, organized, helpful and painless. And Farm Loan Officer Tracy Bailey called and met with us right away.
Looking back over these past two years, we find ourselves very grateful to God for the opportunity to expand our farm and take hold of opportunities that we most likely would have had to pass up if not for the FSA’s Microloan program.
What we found most helpful were the people behind the program. Tracy Bailey, as well as others in the office, really made the process friendly and smooth. The interest rate and payment terms have been key in helping us to grow into our farm vision.
Kim and Jeff Essig
USDA is proud to see the progress that farmers and ranchers are making in their daily operations with the help of the Microloan program. To date, USDA has issued more than 4,900 Microloans totaling $97 million. The microloan program is part of USDA’s StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity Initiative, our commitment to growing economies, increasing investments and creating opportunities in poverty-stricken rural Kentucky and 19 other states.