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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.

Taking the Mystery Out of USDA Tools for Organic Agriculture

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.

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.

Organic and Local Food Opportunities in New York

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.

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.

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.

Building Ladders of Opportunity through Rural Small Business Development

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.

Secretary's Column: New Farm Bill and 2015 Budget Expand Opportunity in Rural America

This week, President Obama released USDA’s fiscal year 2015 budget proposal, which supports our ongoing work to create jobs and opportunity in rural America.

The budget builds on the new opportunities available to us through the recently-passed 2014 Farm Bill to achieve reform and results for the American taxpayer; foster opportunity for the men and women living, working and raising families in rural America; and support innovation through strategic, future-focused investments.

My team at USDA has been hard at work identifying everything that will be required—regulations, guidance and other activities—to develop a plan to implement the new Farm Bill.

Keeping it Close to Home: How USDA and Small Business Saturday Help Rural Businesses Thrive

By now, we’re all familiar with the uniquely American shopping frenzy known as “Black Friday.” Almost before the Thanksgiving leftovers are even in the fridge, Big Box stores throw open their doors, offering sales geared toward holiday shoppers wrangling for the best deals. Black Friday has become as much of a November tradition as pumpkin pie, but for the past few years, small businesses around the country have been offering an enticing alternative to the long lines and early wake-up calls that come with the craze. USDA’s Rural Business-Cooperative Service (RBCS) is pleased to join the White House, the Small Business Administration and 1,400 American communities in celebrating Small Business Saturday on November 30.

Small Business Saturday is all about buying local and shopping small. Shopping small for both holiday gifts and everyday items not only can save you money, it also offers you access to one-of-a-kind, locally-made products as an alternative to “cookie-cutter” gifts. Small Business Saturday is designed to support the businesses that drive commerce in small communities; businesses that account for 44 percent of the private sector payroll and create two out of every three new jobs in America.