RICHMOND, Va. — The omnibus bill Congress passed last week to fund the government through Sept. 30 restored $95 million to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Business and Cooperative Service.
That money will benefit Virginia farmers and their communities by providing support for programs that help farmers and groups like the Virginia Foundation for Agriculture, Innovation and Rural Sustainability.
Since 2010, VA FAIRS has secured grants for nearly 100 rural agricultural businesses. It assists such enterprises in partnership with the USDA, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, Virginia Cooperative Extension, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Virginia State University and Virginia Tech.
“If the rural development budget had been totally cut as initially announced by the White House, it would have impacted VA FAIRS and all of the producers we work with,” said Chris Cook, VA FAIRS executive director. “It would have ended all the programs that help producers transition out of commodity markets.” Some farmers choose to focus on value-added products rather than traditional crops and other goods.
Cook explained that when producers take agricultural products like grapes or milk and turn them into wine or cheese they retain more profit. The USDA programs help producers do exactly that.
“Rural development programs like the Value Added Producer Grant Program foster business development and growth, create economic opportunity and encourage business growth in struggling rural areas,” added Julia Schlosser, VA FAIRS project manager.
VA FAIRS has helped aquaculture and beekeeping operations, value-added fruit and vegetable processors, craft beverage makers, meat processors and more. Recently the group helped MountainRose Vineyard in Wise County obtain a VAPG, which helped the family operation expand and add sparkling wine to its offerings.
VA FAIRS also assisted an organic chicken processing facility, Shenandoah Valley Organic, in Harrisonburg. The facility supports multiple producers in the Shenandoah Valley, employs more than 300 workers in its plant and sells organic chicken products to retailers like Costco and Aldi.
Many producers transitioning into value-added products start by selling through farmers’ markets, enhancing local food and beverage choices for consumers.
— Virginia Farm Bureau Federation