Category Archives: Market Development

USDA Programs in Support of Farm-to-Table Initiatives

If you are looking for grant and loan programs to incubate your local food and farm initiative or enterprise, this graphic from USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food site may be of interest. The color coding refers to the specific USDA agency that manages the grant or loan program (i.e., USDA – Agricultural Marketing Service, USDA – Farm Service Agency, USDA – Natural Resources Conservation Service, etc.).

If you have specific questions and would like to talk with someone about the different programs, please visit your closest USDA Service Center or Virginia Cooperative Extension office for further guidance.

USDA Grant and Loan Programs in support of Local Food System Development.

USDA Grant and Loan Programs in support of Local Food System Development.

Cultivating Healthy Farms and Resilient Communities

Save the Date_2016To learn about healthy farms, resilient communities and more food system topics from farmers, practitioners, and researchers, plan to attend the 2016 Virginia Farm to Table Conference. For the 5th year, Virginia Cooperative Extension, in partnership with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition, Virginia Food System Council, Virginia Sustainable Agriculture Research Education (SARE), Virginia FAIRS, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, Farm Credit of the Virginias’ Knowledge Center, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS), Virginia Division of Energy, Eastern Mennonite University and community partners, present the 2016 Virginia Farm to Table Conference December 6 – 8, 2016 at Blue Ridge Community College’s Plecker Workforce Development Center, Weyers Cave, VA. The theme for this year’s conference is ‘Cultivating Healthy Farms and Resilient Communities.’

The conference will feature engaging and inspirational speakers with broad experience and knowledge of food, farming and pressing environmental issues including Dr. Ricardo Salvador of the Union of Concerned Scientists, Ellen Kahler of Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund,  Chef Michael Twitty of Afroculinaria and the Cooking Gene, Alex Hitt of Peregrine Farm, Glyen Holmes of the New North Florida Cooperative and other great panelists.

Confirmed resource speakers and panelists to-date include the following:

  • Dr. Ricardo Salvador of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Food and Environment Program
  • Ellen Kahler of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund
  • Chef Michael Twitty of Afroculinaria
  • Alex Hitt of Peregrine Farm
  • Dr. Morris Henderson of 31st Street Baptist Church
  • Glyen Holmes of the New North Florida Cooperative
  • Jenna Clarke of Project Grows
  • Tony Kleese of Earthwise Organics
  • Dr. Marcia DeLonge of the Union of Concerned Scientists
  • Dr. Andrea Basche of the Union of Concerned Scientists
  • Maureen McNamara Best of Local Environmental Agriculture Project (LEAP)
  • Trevor Piersol of Alleghany Mountain Institute Urban Farm at Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind
  • Brad Burrow of Artisan’s Hope
  • Katrina Didot of A Bowl of Good Cafe
  • Wendy Wenger Hochstetler of Wenger Grapes
  • Christy Huger of Mountain View Farm Products
  • John Garber of Red Front Supermarket
  • Andrew Wingfield of George Mason University and the Virginia Sustainable Food Coalition
  • Representative of Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community’s Farm at Willow Run.

There will be three specific concurrent session tracks as part of the conference where producers and practitioners share their local and regional expertise on 1) Practical Applications of Soil and Water Health, 2) Making Money in the Middle: Finding Your Niche, and 3) Local Food for All. Additionally, there will be in-depth (3 to 6 hours) trainings on crop and whole-farm budgeting offered by Tony Kleese of Earthwise Organics and food system training on collective impact and other topics  by Ellen Kahler of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund.

What is unique about this year’s conference?

• There will be a full day pre-conference tour of local farms and agribusinesses on Tuesday, December 6 for a close-up look at and discussion with farm and food businesses in the Staunton and Greater Augusta County area. This chartered tour will offer insight to the successes and challenges by local farms and agribusinesses that are stepping outside the traditional box. Join us for an informational and fun experience!
• On Wednesday evening, the Virginia Beginning Farmer & Rancher Coalition will host an informational and networking mixer. This FREE event will be off site at a restaurant in the Staunton area the evening of Dec. 7th.

Look forward to friendly conversation, networking, and a chance to learn more about the Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition. Open to individuals looking for support in the very beginning or early stages of their farming trajectory, or seasoned producers that also want to network and mingle. Refreshments will be available from 7-9 PM. Come join the networking fun!

Anyone interested in gaining a deeper understanding of community, local and regional food systems should plan to attend.

The cost for the conference is $40 each day. The cost of the pre-conference tour is $25.

In addition to a full day of mind-opening ideas from the speakers on food system topics, you will also:
• Network with other like-minded growers.
• A great meal made with food from local farms.

We are currently inquiring about continuing education credits for nutrient management planners and crop advisers.

The full schedule and a link to registration will be available soon at http://conference.virginiafarmtotable.org!

Why Continue to Promote Farmers Markets and Local Foods?

Agriculture is Virginia’s largest industry with an annual economic impact of $52 billion, creating nearly 311,000 jobs for the state (VDACS). With such a strong agricultural industry, why is it important to continue to promote farmers markets and local foods in Virginia?

Market_produceToday, many people are two or three generations removed from farming and actual day-to-day food production. Farmers markets are often the first farming and agricultural enterprise people who did not grow up on a farm relate to in a real and personal way, particularly as they get to know and interact with market growers and vendors on weekly visits. Of course, more can be done to educate people about agriculture and the challenges of farming as a livelihood, but these market relationships are a good starting point for additional conversations.

Farmers markets showcase the sights, smells and sounds of the community, while giving a glimpse into agriculture and local food and farm production. Markets also encourage social and community interaction. A study by the Project for Public Spaces reports that customers have on average 10 more conversations at a farmers market than at a supermarket.

Okay, so why promote locally grown Virginia foods? With the competitive nature of agriculture, it is important to optimize and utilize all markets available to Virginia producers from local and regional scale to national and international scale. Do you know that Virginia households spend over $20 billion buying food each year, including about $12 billion to eat at home! Additionally, tourists to Virginia spend another $5 to 6 billion purchasing food. However, even with Virginia’s strong and diverse agricultural economy, Virginia producers are only able to capture a small portion of these food dollars. Also, it is hard to know what ingredients are actually grown and procured in Virginia.

Therefore, promoting local foods is about trying to capture some of the food dollars that are already out there — even if it is a small bump in the current percentage and amount. The definition of local food can be a bit confusing in how to define a specific geographic boundary, but local food is more about relationships and connections to farming; the story and community; freshness and taste; local economies; seizing the opportunity; enhancing resilience and diversity.

2015 USDA FMPP  LFPP Workshops in VirginiaIn Virginia, there are many people who have good ideas to promote farmers markets and local food system development, but a continuing issue is finding funding to get things moving in the right direction. Also, writing a grant can seem daunting. Virginia Cooperative Extension, in partnership with USDA-Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), Regional Rural Development Centers and Penn State University, is offering three upcoming grant writing workshops in eastern, central, and western Virginia. The workshop materials and resources have been developed and focused to improve the funding success rate of applicants from Virginia and other states to USDA-AMS grant programs, specifically the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) and the Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP).

The workshops are FREE of charge and all are welcome to register and attend these workshops. Please share the attached flier and announcement with producers, farmers market managers, organizations that would be interested in learning more about and submitting grant applications to USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Services’ (AMS) Farmers Market and Local Foods Promotion Programs.

ONLINE REGISTRATION REQUIRED: http://tinyurl.com/vagrantworkshops
Participants should register for only one of the workshops. The workshops will contain the same instruction and training materials
Producers and attendees can review past awarded grants for inspiration and ideas:
USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) Awardees: http://tinyurl.com/fmpp-grantees
USDA Local Foods Promotion Program (LFPP) Awardees: http://tinyurl.com/lfpp-grantees

Again, the workshops are FREE and all are welcome to attend.