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value added producer grant

Returning Veterans Put Down Roots with USDA

After 21 years of dedicated service in the United States Air Force, Jim and Laura Leffel looked to establish their “forever home.”  Both natives of the Midwest, they moved to a small farm south of Eau Claire, Wisconsin to plant their roots, quite literally.  Laura and Jim are now owners of Leffel Roots Apple Orchard, a 40 acre property that includes 2,500 apple trees and an on-site store where they sell bakery items, jams, cider, honey and more.

With the help of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Leffels will be able to expand their product lines further.  Last month, I visited their orchard with Wisconsin Congressman Ron Kind to announce the Leffels were among 325 recipients of Value Added Producer Grant (VAPG) funding totaling over $45 million. 

USDA Supports Rural Small Business in Missouri

In Fulton, Missouri lies a hidden gem, a meat-lover’s dream to say the least. Starting out as a small processing center, the Brinker family expanded their business, Central Missouri Meat and Sausage, into a retail store and food court. Filled with the aroma of smoked pork, tender beef and a large assortment of specialty sausages, this small business is making a big impact on the central Missouri meat market.

Co-owner Kenny Brinker says what makes them stand out from their competitors is their local approach and the fact that all the meat is processed and packaged on-site in their processing center. Since the beginning, the Brinkers have been looking for ways to continue expanding to eventually reach a larger market.

USDA Helps Small Business Grow Into Something Big

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.

Mutually Beneficial Cooperation: The Three Sisters

USDA celebrates National Native American Heritage Month in November with a blog series focused on USDA’s support of Tribal Nations and highlighting a number of our efforts throughout Indian Country and Alaska. Follow along on the USDA blog.

For centuries, Native Americans have cultivated the soil and produced corn, beans and squash. Stories, ceremonies, songs and cultural traditions surround the annual planting, growing and harvest of gardens. Life lessons were learned throughout the gardening season. Stories of the Three Sisters refer to a tradition of interplanting corn, beans and squash in the same mound. It is a sophisticated, sustainable planting system that provided long term soil fertility and a healthy diet to generations of Native Americans.

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

“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.

No Sour Grapes for a Nebraska Vinegar Crafter

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.

Fermentation Fest - Innovation and Creativity in Rural Wisconsin

As we enter the autumn season, the harvest is on most Wisconsinites' minds.   I'm particularly excited to be participating in an upcoming gathering in Reedsburg where the Wormfarm Institute’s annual Fermentation Fest will be taking place from October 4th through the 13th.   In addition to workshops on cooking and fermenting food, and even homebrewing, this “live culture convergence” will feature the nationally acclaimed Farm/Art DTour, a 50-mile self-guided drive through the rolling hills and farmlands in the “Driftless Area” of Sauk County.

On that Sunday the 12th, from 4 to 6 pm I will be participating on a panel called "The Art of the Rural – Creating Thriving Places Beyond the City" at the Woolen Mill Gallery, 28 E Main St. in Reedburg. We'll explore how local food systems and arts and culture can combine to be integral strategies for fostering economic development in rural areas. I will be joined by a distinguished panel which includes: Jamie Bennett, the President of ArtPlace America, a national philanthropy consortium; Matthew Fluharty of Washington University who leads Art of the Rural; Sarah Lloyd, a Wisconsin Dells dairy farmer, rural sociologist and member of the Wisconsin Food Hub Cooperative, a 2014 recipient of a USDA Value-Added Producer Grant, and Curt Meine, conservation biologist and Aldo Leopold biographer.

Value-Added Grants Help Minnesota Pork Farm Meet Growing Demand

“We think that fresh air and sunshine are the best health guarantee.” That’s the quote you’ll see after opening a brochure from Pastures A Plenty Farm. Spend an hour with the VanDerPol family and you quickly understand that those words are much more than just a marketing slogan. It’s the family’s philosophy.

Pastures A Plenty’s pork products can be found in many co-ops, retail outlets, restaurants and local stores throughout Minnesota. The VanDerPols feed their hogs on grass and straw and use a wholistic veterinary approach featuring probiotics and spices instead of drugs.

USDA Rural Development Participates in Value Added Day at South Dakota State Fair

The recently concluded South Dakota State Fair is ‘Still the One!’  The Value Added Agriculture Development Center (VAADC) hosted Value Added Ag Day at the 2012 South Dakota State Fair on August 30th.  USDA Rural Development was represented at the tent and State Director Elsie Meeks was on a panel discussion titled Growing Rural South Dakota. The discussion was focused on the respective businesses and their development and expansion of agribusiness ventures that have brought value to our agricultural producers and local-state economies.  Meeks spoke on the long term partnership and support our agency has provided to the Center, provided examples of business and cooperative programs offered through USDA Rural Development, as well as USDA celebrating its 150th anniversary.  Participants were able to view the timeline posters displayed inside the tent.

The Value Added Agriculture Development Center and its member contingency of rural-based commodity groups, trade organizations and cooperatives provide education and technical assistance to individuals, groups and communities.

June Is Dairy Month and Family Farms add Value to Western Kansas

June is Dairy Month.  In agricultural circles, the term “Value-Added” often implies a business venture through which an agricultural producer, or group of producers, further process a commodity in the value-chain that leads to the ultimate consumer.  But sometimes, the value-added of a value-added venture moves well beyond further processing of a commodity.