By Matt Perdue, NFU Government Relations Representative
When my mother was growing up on her family’s farm near Bergen, North Dakota, they produced most of the food they ate. Their eggs, butter, milk, cream, fruits, vegetables, beef, pork, and chicken were all raised and processed on the farm. The good Germans that they are, my grandparents took special pride in their homemade sausage, and I’ll never forget the taste of their homemade ice cream.
While my grandparents simply saw processing their own raw produce, dairy, and meat as a way to put food on the table, the same practices today present key opportunities for small and beginning farmers to reach new markets. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development (RD) Value Added Producer Grants (VAPG) provide key financial assistance to help producers generate new products, create and expand marketing opportunities, increase income, and improve their operations’ resilience. With priority given beginning farmers and ranchers, the VAPG presents excellent opportunities to a variety of new producers.
The challenges beginning farmers face in accessing land and capital are often offset by their creative ideas and innovative spirits. For instance, a young farmer with a small apple orchard can increase his income by making and selling homemade apple pies and apple cider. A fourth generation dairy farmer faced with an uncertain market can use a VAPG for construction and promotion of an on-farm ice cream shop. A VAPG can help an organic hog farmer brand and market her pork to area restaurants. From food hubs and farmers markets to wineries and distilleries – the opportunities are seemingly endless.
Value-added activities have been a cornerstone of agriculture for centuries. While subsistence farming is no longer the norm in the United States, producers still find great fulfillment in caring for their produce at every step from the field, pasture, or garden to the consumer. Fortunately, there is a growing market for locally produced and processed foods; the local foods and organic movements are indicative of consumers’ continued desire to know where their food comes from. Value Added Producer Grants may be the opportunity you’re looking for to increase your income and directly connect consumers to the food you produce.
Is there a market for value-added agricultural products in your community or region? How could value-added activities enhance your operation?