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Posts tagged: VAPG

Taking the Mystery Out of USDA Tools for Organic Agriculture

NRCS Resource Conservationist Joe Heller in residue-covered vegetable field in New York. Leaving the plant residue in place reduces soil erosion, increases soil organic matter and overall soil health.

NRCS Resource Conservationist Joe Heller in residue-covered vegetable field in New York. Leaving the plant residue in place reduces soil erosion, increases soil organic matter and overall soil health.

Getting people together to talk can result in great ideas. 

In June, USDA hosted 100 farmers, ranchers, retailers and producers in Chester, New York, in the Hudson Valley, to discuss opportunities and challenges in organic production, and to share information on USDA programs and services available to organic producers and processors.  

Wholesalers and retailers at the meeting all had a common challenge – keeping up with increasing market demands for organic food. Organic retail sales continue to grow at double-digit rates each year. In 2014, the market reached $39 billion in U.S. sales alone. That level of demand means a lot of opportunities for organic producers, as well as those in the process of transitioning to organic production. Read more »

From Tomatoes to Yarn: Value Added Producer Grants Help Agriculture Entrepreneurs Get Ahead

Rural Development Deputy Under Secretary Patrice Kunesh admiring an official USA Winter Olympic Team sweater made with wool from the Imperial Stock Ranch in Shiniko, Oregon.

Rural Development Deputy Under Secretary Patrice Kunesh admires an official USA Winter Olympic Team sweater made with wool from the Imperial Stock Ranch in Shiniko, Oregon. The Ranch used a USDA Value Added Producer Grant to develop the yarn.

“When you are a small farm, you don’t have a lot of capital.” says Julie Donnelly of Deepwoods Farm, a small tomato farm she runs with her husband in Bradley County, Arkansas. Despite being in an area known for its tomatoes, Deepwoods Farms was having a hard time getting ahead.  “We couldn’t get past the commercial tomatoes.” Julie remembers.  “We were almost bankrupt. I thought ‘I’ve got to do something!’ ”

What Julie decided to do was diversify her tomato crop to produce more varietals, including heirlooms and different colored tomatoes. She believed this would give her farm a competitive edge and open up new market opportunities. The tomatoes were growing well and tasted good.  However, no one knew the Donnelleys were doing something different than before. Deepwoods Farms needed marketing and branding support to tell customers why their tomatoes were different.   “When I heard about the Value Added Producer Grant, I thought this might be the answer,” said Julie. Read more »

Organic and Local Food Opportunities in New York

USDA Certified Organic farmer Cathy Stroll of Fresh Meadow

USDA Certified Organic farmer Cathy Stroll of Fresh Meadow Farm will participate in a learning workshop for organic producers in New York’s Hudson Valley on June 2.

On June 2, 2015, USDA will join producers and local stakeholders to discuss opportunities in the Hudson Valley’s organic market.  Nationwide, organic sales reached more than $39 billion last year, and the number of certified operations grew by 5 percent to a total of 19,474 certified operations in the United States.

Many organic wholesalers and retailers report difficulties keeping up with the market demand. This creates an opportunity for local and regional producers, and USDA has numerous programs and services to help them access the organic market. Read more »

Secretary’s Column: In Rural America, Promise and Opportunity Abound for Veterans

Veterans have sacrificed dearly to keep this country safe. Every day, they confront and triumph over those that threaten our national security. We owe it to our military men and women to ensure a different kind of security is waiting when they return home—the security that comes from the promise of a good job, affordable housing, a quality education and dependable health care.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture stands proudly alongside those who have served. Our staff across America includes more than 11,000 veterans – and our team works hard every day to strengthen services and programs in rural areas that support veterans and their families as they achieve their dreams. This includes everything from health clinics and telemedicine services, to distance learning and training opportunities for those who want to start a farm or ranch to grants and loans to help veterans start or expand a rural business. Read more »

No Sour Grapes for a Nebraska Vinegar Crafter

A sampling of the signature 'Emilia' blend from George Paul Vinegars of Cody, Nebraska. (Photo Credit Alan J. Bartels / NebraskaLife)

A sampling of the signature 'Emilia' blend from George Paul Vinegars of Cody, Nebraska. (Photo Credit Alan J. Bartels / NebraskaLife)

Fifteen years ago, George Johnson and his daughter, Emily, began their first foray into winemaking, vinifying local wild grapes and other fruits in their home in rural Cody, Nebraska. At the suggestion of a family friend, they began to experiment with turning their uniquely flavored wines into vinegar, and today, Johnson operates one of the most successful independent vinegar businesses in the nation. With customers in every state and the loyalty of top chefs in Omaha, St. Louis, and Chicago, George Paul Vinegars offers a product ripe with old-world methodology and modern entrepreneurial spirit.

With the help of a $40,000 USDA Value-Added Producer Grant, the Johnsons conducted a feasibility study to gauge the likelihood of success for an independent vinegary in rural Nebraska, and were thrilled when the study indicated enormous potential for their unique product. With continued support from a Nebraska Agricultural Innovation Value-Added Agriculture grant from the Nebraska Rural Development Commission, George Paul Vinegars produces seven handcrafted varieties ranging from standards like apple cider and raspberry vinegars to more specialized flavors, including Johnson’s signature “Emilia” blend. Read more »

Building Ladders of Opportunity through Rural Small Business Development

Zena Forest Products' owner and Value Added Producer Grant recipient, Ben Deumling, explains the uses and values of different sizes of sustainably harvested Oregon white oak to USDA Rural Development Administrator for Rural Business Service Lillian Salerno at the company site near Salem, OR.

Zena Forest Products' owner and Value Added Producer Grant recipient, Ben Deumling, explains the uses and values of different sizes of sustainably harvested Oregon white oak to USDA Rural Development Administrator for Rural Business Service Lillian Salerno at the company site near Salem, OR.

In his Small Business Week Proclamation earlier this week, President Obama said, “Small businesses represent an idea at the heart of our Nation’s promise — that with ingenuity and hard work, anyone can build a better life.”

Having started my own manufacturing company in rural Texas many years ago, I believe small business folks are American heroes. What it takes to get a business going and the immense responsibility of employing others and developing markets is very hard work especially in rural areas.  The work of an entrepreneur is also rewarding and those relationships with employees, customers and the community are lifelong.  For rural entrepreneurs, their companies are part of the fabric of the community.

One of the main obstacles getting a business off the ground is locating the capital to invest in communities.  Seeking a business loan or receiving an equity investment is such a critical path for startups and to keep entrepreneurship vibrant in rural America because we know the type of jobs created by small business are the ladders of opportunity. Read more »