USDA announced $25 million in funding intended to help rural businesses grow, diversify, and create jobs in the department's ongoing effort to support local and regional food systems.
The funding is distributed through the Value-Added Producer grants, an element of the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative. The grants can be used for a wide range of purposes, but often help businesses develop markets for niche and specialty products.
For example, grants were awarded for a study to determine if it is feasible to start a sheep cheese creamery at KJ'n Ranch Inc. in Montana as well as a grant providing improved packaging, marketing, and working capital for a crawfish processing facility in Louisiana.
"The funding we are announcing today will have far-reaching, positive impacts in rural communities across the country," Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said, adding that the 2014 Farm Bill expanded the program. "The investments will help businesses create new products, expand their operations, and support local and regional food systems."
Through the grants, $25 million will be dispersed among 247 businesses in 46 states, Puerto Rico, and Micronesia. One such business is Miles Smith Farm LLC in Loudan, N.H., where Vilsack made the announcement. Miles Smith Farm's grant is to market and produce burgers made from 55 percent grass-fed beef and 45 percent ground organic pork. The mix, which the farm's owner calls "the burger that squeals with flavor," hopes to produce a burger with fat and flavor levels a grass-fed burger cannot produce alone.
Since 2009, USDA has awarded 863 Value-Added Producer Grants totaling $108 million. Twenty percent of the grants and 16 percent of total funding has been awarded to beginning farmers and ranchers. The 2014 Farm Bill increases mandatory funding for the program from $15 million to $63 million over five years.