RICHMOND—There are plenty of possibilities for Virginia’s producers of value-added agricultural products.
Whether someone is reaching new customers, finding niche markets, applying for grants or expanding processing facilities, staff of the nonprofit Virginia Foundation for Agriculture, Innovation and Rural Sustainability
can connect producers with crucial resources.
An overview of available services, including strategic planning, grant assistance, feasibility studies and cooperative assistance for rural agricultural enterprises, was presented at the VA FAIRS Cooperators Conference in Richmond on March 23. Speakers from U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services discussed dozens of potential funding sources like loan assistance programs and grants.
While VA FAIRS is not a funding source, it helps link producers, business owners and cooperatives with those resources, said Whitney Perkins, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation assistant director of agriculture, development and innovation
“We really do our best to take your ideas and projects, see what’s available and connect you to the best resources that exist, and help you take advantage of those programs,” she said. “Having a viable business idea is where it all begins!”
Tony Banks, ADI’s senior assistant director, shared opportunities for retail meat enterprises. U.S. meat inventory has declined in the past 20 years as the local food movement has steadily grown, he said. Consumers are willing to pay more for locally grown and processed meat.
Pandemic-related supply chain and processing disruptions rallied demand for local meat when consumers saw empty grocery shelves. Now the economy is reawakening.
“It’s a herky-jerky jump-start, and we’re still feeling the effects,” Banks said. “To circumvent market behavior as a local meat processor or retailer, you have to think outside the box. This can be accomplished by offering quality products and making sure your marketing is personal—tell them how the product was raised and processed. It’s about customer relationships. Social media makes it easier.”
Kerry Messer, owner and operator of Sweethaven Lavender of Williamsburg
, understands the power of social media in growing her niche business. She discussed strategies to market handcrafted lavender products, attract her target demographic to the site, and develop the brand.
“Who is going to have an emotional connection to your product?” Messer asked. “Think about how your product will enhance the lives of your (customer) base.”
To learn more about VA FAIRS, visit vafairs.com or its Facebook page, facebook.com/vafairs
Media: Contact Perkins
at 804-290-1155 or Nicole Zema
, VFBF communications, at 804-370-6298.