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USDA Helps Small Business Grow Into Something Big

Posted by Sam Rikkers, Administrator, Rural Business Cooperatives Service in Rural
May 02, 2016
USDA Rural Development RBS Administrator Sam Rikkers and USDA RD State Director Basil Gooden, Ph.D at Shenandoah Organic Valley
USDA Rural Development RBS Administrator Sam Rikkers and USDA RD State Director Basil Gooden, Ph.D., visit the Shenandoah Organic Valley, a VAPG grant recipient, on April 18th, 2016.

Corwin Heatwole describes himself as quite the stubborn - though innovative - teenager. Leaving home at 17 years of age, this hardworking young man from Harrisonburg, Va. started several successful businesses in his early 20s before he discovered that there was a growing demand for organic chicken in the U.S. In 2013 he bought 300 chickens with not one buyer yet in sight. Now, with the help of USDA, he has more demand than he can handle.

Since that day, Corwin has grown the business from 35 employees to nearly 350 in just 25 months with the assistance of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In October of 2014, Corwin received $200,000 in a working capital Value Added Producers Grant from USDA Rural Development and in January of this year, he also received a $600,000 Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan (B&I). He used the guaranteed loan to upgrade a very old plant with state-of-the-art packaging and processing machines. Without the packaging machines in particular, he noted, he would have never been able to fulfill his growing orders from Costco and Whole Foods. And through this growing business, he has been able to increase his farmers’ end-of-the-year net income by 75 percent.

Perhaps what sets him even further apart from his more traditional competitors is that Corwin, who claims he has been given many second chances in his own life, likes to extend such opportunities to others. His processing plant employs current and past inmates who have the drive and the commitment to learn about the poultry industry. In fact, he boasts that one of his top managers was an inmate until three months ago.

President and CEO of Shenandoah Valley Organic Corwin Heatwole (left) with RBS Administrator, Sam Rikkers (right)
President and CEO of Shenandoah Valley Organic Corwin Heatwole (left), discusses with RBS Administrator, Sam Rikkers (right), how his business has increased the net income of his local organic chicken farmers by 75% during the chicken processing visit in Harrisonburg, Virginia

Dressed in a black sweater adorned with his logo and the SVC motto ‘Healthy Farmers, Healthy Families’, Corwin says his approach is simple: to care for his farmers, his chickens, and his employees.

With the recent release of $44 million in the VAPG fund, we look forward to reviewing other terrific applications this summer.

Visit our USDA Rural Development homepage today to see how we can help your business to grow like Shenandoah Valley Organic:

All this week, the Obama Administration is celebrating Small Business Week (#DreamSmallBiz). Since 2009, USDA Rural Development (#USDARD) has invested $11 billion to start or expand 103,000 rural businesses; helped 1.1 million rural residents buy homes; funded nearly 7,000 community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care facilities; financed 180,000 miles of electric transmission and distribution lines; and helped bring high-speed Internet access to nearly 6 million rural residents and businesses. For more information, visit

Chicken at Shenandoah Valley Organic
With the USDA B&I $600,000 guaranteed loan, Shenandoah Valley Organic was able to expand their production and sales for such internationally renowned vendors as Whole Foods and Costco.
Category/Topic: Rural