Foundation helps small Virginia farms secure grant money

economic-forecast-headerAlmost 250 agricultural businesses nationwide recently received a total of $25 million to help expand their operations and create value-added products.

The money was awarded as cost-share Value-Added Producer Grants by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Of the funds awarded, $2.2 million is going to 17 Virginia farmers. The Virginia Foundation for Agriculture, Innovation and Rural Sustainability assisted 15 of those producers in getting grants, said Chris Cook, executive director of VA FAIRS.

“This money will benefit farm markets; artisan cheesemakers; on-farm milk bottling; local beer, hard cider and winemakers; organic chicken production; and more,” Cook said. “The working capital provided by these grants is key to small business expansion.”

And part of VA FAIRS’ mission is to help small businesses expand and diversify. The nonprofit foundation formed in 2005 and is housed by the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. It helps rural business owners with strategic planning, grant writing and securing loans.

“Often the biggest barrier small businesses face is the cash crunch involved with transitioning from small-scale production to a larger business model,” Cook said. “The value-added grants help facilitate this transition.” Producers will use the money to expand product lines, hire additional staff, purchase professional packaging or place their goods in new markets.

“Increasing sales for many of these small family farms will enable them to employ children or grandchildren on the farm, purchase much-needed materials and software, and keep up with their community’s growing demand for local products,” Cook said.
In addition to helping individual farmers, the grants have a positive impact on the industry as a whole, he added.

“Because the grants involve matching funds, $2.2 million represents a minimum of $4.4 million in expenditures for supply purchases, worker wages and countless more local sales dollars.”

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