Fields of Gold Farm Trail awarded $98,625 USDA Rural Development Grant

fields of gold farm trailThe Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission will receive a $98,625 grant from USDA Rural Development to provide technical assistance to rural agricultural producers in the central Shenandoah Valley. The funds will go towards programs developed for members of the award-winning Fields of Gold – Shenandoah Valley’s Farm Trail agritourism program.

The Fields of Gold Farm Trail was initiated in 2012 as a way to promote the region’s farms and their products.  By visiting farms on the Fields of Gold Farm Trail, visitors and residents can enjoy, learn about, or participate in local agriculture.  The Fields of Gold Farm Trail also includes off-farm activities such as farmers’ markets, farm-related festivals, farm-to-table restaurants, and stores that feature local farm products. Funding through this grant will assist in marketing the program’s over 200 Fields of Gold Farm Trail businesses, and will support the start-up and growth of these ag-related businesses through comprehensive market planning, educational workshops, and business support services.

Fields of Gold member Valerie Crummett of Cool Breeze Farm in Mount Sidney, Virginia reacted to the grant award: “The opportunity to work with the Fields of Gold Farm Trail program has been a boost to our ability to get the word out about our farm business, our events, and our newly opened market that features forest/pasture grazed pork, grass fed beef, free-range eggs and seasonal produce. As a rural business…getting noticed is often challenging. We like the fact that Fields of Gold encourages partnerships and collaboration among a wide-range of agricultural businesses and helps us be more visible to residents and visitors to the Valley. It’s given us an additional avenue for building our customer base.”

Since its inception, the Fields of Gold Farm Trail program has leveraged partnerships and grant funding to establish a robust experience for visitors interested in local food and the farm experience. New navigation tools were recently installed on the website enabling visitors to customize their Farm Trail trip planning. A “Create Your Own Adventure Tool,” can be found on the website where visitors can get printable information and driving directions for the itinerary they have created. The site also is capable of filtering Fields of Gold members by locality and keyword search as well, allowing easy access to a list of farms in a desired area, or that carry specific products/services that the user wants to locate.

New grant funds announced were made available through the USDA Rural Business Development Grant program, which is a competitive grant designed to support targeted technical assistance, training and other activities leading to the development or expansion of small and emerging private businesses in rural areas that have fewer than 50 employees and less than $1 million in gross revenues.

“Our mission is to improve the economy and quality of life in rural Virginia, and working with organizations like the Central Shenandoah PDC is one of the best ways to accomplish that goal,” said Basil Gooden, Ph.D., Virginia State Director, USDA Rural Development. “The small businesses this grant will support are essential to the Valley’s and the state’s economies, so empowering them to grow and build capacity is something we’re all very proud of.”

         
 

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