As part of its weeklong observance of National Small Business Week, acting Rural Development Under Secretary Doug O’Brien today highlighted the agency’s continuing support for small businesses involved in local and regional food systems.
“USDA is proud to help small entrepreneurs, businesses, farmers and producers develop new products and bring them to market – whether that market is across the globe or down the street,” O’Brien said. “During this 50th anniversary of National Small Business Week, we are proud to honor small businesses that have gotten their start in the local foods market.”
Many small businesses are interested in marketing their products directly to local consumers, tapping into a rapidly growing, multi-billion-dollar local foods market. USDA has responded to this interest through the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, which coordinates the Department’s work to support local and regional food systems. USDA Rural Development’s Value-Added Producer Grant program (VAPG) supports this initiative by encouraging the production and development of locally-produced and marketed foods.
The VAPG program is helping rural businesses increase their bottom line while expanding the capacity of the nation’s local food systems. Here are some recent examples:
- In Madison, Wis., the Wisconsin Food Hub Cooperative was awarded a VAPG to assist in the startup of a regional fresh produce hub and packinghouse that will aggregate local produce under the Wisconsin Farmed brand. The facility will increase local farmers’ access to wholesale markets and create private-sector jobs.
- The Wisconsin project follows in the footsteps of Grasshoppers Distribution, a farmer-owned food hub in Louisville, Ky. Grasshoppers Distribution received a VAPG to connect farmers in Kentucky and southern Indiana to wholesale markets in the region. Founded in 2006, Grasshoppers now works with more than 70 farms and a dozen small food businesses, marketing and distributing their products to grocery stores, restaurants, businesses and local schools.
- In Nevada, River School Farms received a VAPG to implement a direct marketing campaign to expand sales into the Truckee River Watershed and the Eastern Sierra Nevada region. River School Farms is a beginning urban farming operation in the high deserts near Reno, Nev. It provides organic vegetables, fruit, herbs and honey exclusively to its local community. River School Farms projects that the direct marketing campaign will double the customer base and triple gross revenue by the end of 2014.
Congress made several enhancements to the Value-Added Producer Grant program in the 2008 Farm Bill to facilitate support for local and regional food systems. It expanded the definition of value-added to include locally-produced agricultural food products and gave priority to projects that focus on increasing opportunities for small and mid-size family farmers and ranchers, beginning farmers and ranchers, and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
In January, Congress took short-term action to extend many 2008 Farm Bill programs for nine months. These programs will expire in September. If that happens, USDA programs will be limited in their effectiveness and will not be able to provide long-term certainty for rural communities, farmers and ranchers. Secretary Vilsack continued a call this week for Congress to pass a comprehensive, multi-year Food, Farm and Jobs Bill as soon as possible.
The Value Added Producer Grant program is one of many USDA Rural Development programs designed to improve the economic stability of rural communities, businesses, residents, farmers and ranchers and improve the quality of life in rural America. Other programs help establish revolving loan funds, provide loan guarantees, support technical assistance, and help finance business infrastructure such as broadband, electric lines and water and wastewater systems.
USDA has provided more than 15,000 loans and grants through its business programs since 2009, helping more than 60,000 rural businesses. Last year, USDA funding from these programs helped create or save an estimated 53,000 jobs for rural residents. For more information on USDA's business and cooperative development programs, visit http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/Business.html.
President Obama’s plan for rural America has brought about historic investment and resulted in stronger rural communities. Under the President’s leadership, investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure have empowered rural America to continue leading the way – strengthening America’s economy, small towns and rural communities.
USDA, through its Rural Development mission area, has a portfolio of programs designed to improve the economic stability of rural communities, businesses, residents, farmers and ranchers and improve the quality of life in rural America.