More than $20 million is being distributed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help encourage economic growth and job creation in rural Virginia communities.
Eighteen Virginia projects will receive funding through USDA grant and loan programs, including the Business & Industry Loan Guarantees, Rural Cooperative Development Grant and the Value-Added Producer Grant programs. Projects receiving funding range from new business development and construction to expansion of existing businesses and those creating value-added products.
The funding is part of a broader rural development program under the Biden administration’s Build Back Better plan. Through this initiative, the USDA is investing $1.4 billion to help keep resources in rural communities through job training, business expansion and technical assistance.
“These grants help businesses grow and develop their operations,” said Whitney Perkins, assistant director of agriculture, development and innovation for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “For example, a woman-owned, small beef cattle operation in Virginia Beach can expand sales of their local beef; and a small, beginning farmer in Highland County can increase their operational capacity to sell black walnut syrup.”
Some of the producers and businesses that received these grants were aided by the Virginia Foundation for Agriculture, Innovation, and Rural Sustainability, which assists rural agricultural enterprises with business development and grant assistance. VA FAIRS helped 13 farmers across the commonwealth obtain $2.61 million of the $20 million funding from USDA’s value-added grants. It also helped several producers apply for other state and federal programs.
“In all, VA FAIRS assisted more than 20 producers to access more than $3.25 million across a variety of state and federal programs,” said Perkins, who also serves as a VA FAIRS staff member. “Together, these projects have a realized economic impact of more than $11.2 million and directly saved 17 jobs and added 20 jobs in rural communities.”
Projects receiving the grants involved a wide range of commodities, including fresh produce, wine, cider, oysters, retail beef and lamb, turkeys and lavender. In addition, Perkins noted, the grants focused on smaller-scale producers and family farms, woman- and veteran-owned businesses, and new or beginning farmers.
“We’ve seen on full display, with a front-row seat, many supply chain issues arise and persist, especially within our food systems,” Perkins noted. “Each of the VAPG recipients sell directly to consumers, and these producers are helping fill those supply gaps in rural communities across Virginia. It’s important now more than ever, that we invest in these entrepreneurs and give credit to their significant contributions to our food system and our rural economy.”