Stories from the Field: Boosting the Economy in Rural Nebraska
November 8th, 2012
Due to Congressional inaction, the 2008 Farm Bill has expired without a new bill or extension to take its place. In the absence of a farm bill, numerous innovative programs that invest in sustainable agriculture systems are shut down and left without funding. This post is part of our 10-week blog series that features both program facts and stories from the field of those farmers and communities that are impacted by expired farm bill programs. To read this week’s earlier post on rural economic development, click here.
By Steph Larsen, Assistant Director of Organizing, Center for Rural Affairs
Imagine that you’re the owner of a small business in a small town in the middle of the United States. You and your family built your business in your living - from the ground up – and now it’s time to expand. Your consumer demand is steadily growing, and you and your spouse want to hire some additional help and make a real income from your business. But your business is a little unconventional – not the typical business that banks see or loan to everyday. There’s a building up for sale on Main Street, and you need a loan, quickly. Where do you turn?
Rebecka and Allen Fleischman from eastern Nebraska faced exactly this dilemma with their business Soup ‘N More. Help came in the form of a loan from the Center for Rural Affairs and the federal Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program. Established in the 2008 Farm Bill, the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program provides loan capital and training and technical assistance grants to organizations who help rural small business owners. To date, 125 organizations in 41 states have received funds.
The impact of RMAP on Soup ‘N More has been enormous. With their loan, the Fleischmans bought the building that used to be an exercise gym and a barber shop, both of which were rarely used. A little remodeling, and Soup ‘N More now has a storefront and a new commercial kitchen. They’ve hired staff and contracted with local farmers for additional produce, generating jobs and income in their community of 850 people.
Soup ‘N More is a special business, because their products are tailored to consumers who want quick, easy food without the chemicals and additives that make processed foods unhealthy. What makes them unique is also what makes local banks afraid to loan to them. RMAP’s ability to provide loans to buy real estate, coupled with the training and technical assistance provided by the Center for Rural Affairs, made the expansion possible for Soup ‘N More.
Now, picture this example in a thousand small towns across the country, and you begin to see the impact of the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program. This is how jobs are created in rural communities – a few at a time, by the people who already live there.
But the program is in danger – rural economic development funding in the Farm Bill continues to decline. This small program makes a big splash for small towns, and Congress needs to reauthorize mandatory funding at $5 million per year to keep the helping rural entrepreneurs.
The Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program creates jobs and helps businesses grow. It’s time Congress invest in our rural communities through programs that work!
To help us fight for a better farm bill that includes funding for rural economic development, sign our petition and be prepared to take action when Congress returns to Washington next week!