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Success of value-added grant program linked to VA FAIRS
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Success of value-added grant program linked to VA FAIRS

RICHMOND—The U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development Value-Added Producer Grant program marked two decades of operation last year, and part of its success is attributed to its partnership with the Virginia Foundation for Agriculture, Innovation and Rural Sustainability.

VA FAIRS, which offers rural business and enterprise development services to help farmers create business plans and secure grants, has worked with numerous farmers in obtaining value-added grants.

The VAPG program helps Virginia farmers expand their market opportunities by developing and packaging new products for farmers markets, online and direct farm sales. The maximum award for working capital grants is $250,000 with up to $75,000 available for planning projects.

“While most of our programs are only available in areas designated as rural, VAPG applicants can be located anywhere in the state,” said Perry Hickman, Virginia director for USDA Rural Development. “They don’t have to meet income requirements or be considered beginning farmers. We’re actually looking for operations that already have an established track record of success.”

Since the program began in 2001, more than 160 projects have been funded with value-added grants, including over 140 helped by VA FAIRS.

“We assist producers who add value to a wide a range of commodities,” said Elijah Griles, Virginia Farm Bureau commodity specialist. Those clients include the Rappahannock Oyster Co. and Ruby Salts Oyster Co., both of which sell premium Chesapeake Bay oysters; Richlands Dairy and Creamery and Homestead Creamery, which sell local milk, ice cream and other dairy products; and a host of other farms that raise green tea, local produce, lavender, honey and beef.

“VA FAIRS provides technical assistance that helps producers across the commonwealth access value-added producer grants,” Griles said. “Whether a project is small or niche, large or well-developed, we work to take each client’s operation to the next level. With our business and cooperative development services they can access capital that will help them expand their business to new customers, new products and new markets. This builds economic resilience and sustainability and helps newer producers grow and generational farms last.”

Virginia has consistently ranked among the top states for the number of VAPG awards and the amount of funding. The total grant amount for awards in Virginia now stands at $23.2 million. In 2022 alone, VA FAIRS helped Virginia farmers access over $1.8 million in VAPG funds.

VA FAIRS currently is at capacity for assisting with applications for this year’s grants, but the organization helps develop applications year-round. Griles encourages interested farmers to contact him to be added to next year’s list of applicants.

Farmers who wish to submit applications without VA FAIRS’ assistance can contact Laurette Tucker, who spearheads the Virginia VAPG program, at 434-439-3588 or laurette.tucker@usda.gov.

Electronic applications will be accepted via Grants.gov until 11:59 p.m. EST on May 11. Completed paper applications for Virginia projects may be submitted to the USDA Rural Development’s Virginia office by close of business on May 16. Envelopes must be postmarked and mailed, shipped or sent overnight or hand carried by this date.

Media: Contact Griles at 804-290-1713 or Tucker at 434-439-3588.

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