Last week, BBGG coordinated an Information Meeting to facilitate an opportunity for Valley farmers and agricultural producers to learn more about the funding opportunities available through the USDA Value-Added Grant (VAG) program. We all gathered at the offices of Dutchess County Tourism, generously offered for use by Mary Kay Vrba, Director.
The USDA VAG program provides funding for the "soft" costs associated with marketing agricultural products through Planning and Working Capital Grants.
Planning Grants can be used to develop business operating plans, develop marketing plans, and obtain legal advice and assistance related to the proposed venture.
Working Capital Grants can be used to implement a marketing program, pay for advertising, web site design, packaging design, or pay operating costs (such as salaries, supplies and supplemental raw product costs) of the value-added enterprise.
Gary Pereira of Rural Development, USDA, presented on the requirements of the program and the basics of the application process to those attending.
In a nut shell, these USDA grants are appropriate for:
- bringing new products to market, or
- bringing existing products to a new market
Gary explained that agricultural products qualify as value-added if they:
- have experienced a change in physical state – such as dicing tomatoes, processing milk into cheese or grapes into wine.
- are produced in a way that enhances their value – organic production, grass-fed beef, eggs and meat from free-range chickens.
- are locally-produced or raised and marketed within 400 miles.
Although held in Dutchess, farmers at the meeting came from Orange, Columbia, Ulster, and Dutchess Counties. Interest was high, and Gary emphasized the importance of starting early on the application process. It will take time, he counseled, and he advised on beginning the process as soon as possible. FarmNet, the Cornell Cooperative Extension, and the Hudson Valley Agribusiness Development Corporation all have programs and services in place to assist producers in putting together the business plans and feasibility studies necessary to pursue a Working Capital Grant.
For our part, we'll continue to connect farmers and producers with the USDA and other services that can help them, and facilitate as many Hudson Valley farmers as possible to pursue these grants. We can assist in writing the narrative piece of the application.
Please feel free to contact me, Deborah Garry, at 695-1880, or Gary Pereira directly at (315)-736-3316, x129