April 28, 2016
When farmers and entrepreneurs take raw agricultural products like vegetables, grains, or dairy and transform them into goods like sauces and bread, they increase their bottom line because of the higher prices they can demand and they also contribute to community and rural economic development by creating new jobs in processing, marketing, or retail. The federal farm bill and annual agricultural spending bill supports this type of entrepreneurship through the Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program, a program administered by the Rural Business Cooperative Service of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
VAPG provides competitively awarded grants to independent agricultural producers, producer-controlled entities, organizations representing agricultural producers, and farmer or rancher cooperatives to develop value-added, producer-owned businesses. These grants may be used to fund business and marketing plans, or to acquire working capital.
Last year, USDA announced the availability of $30 million in funding for VAPG in fiscal year (FY) 2016. One successful applicant was Cory Hawkins, co-owner of Central Missouri Meat and Sausage (CMMS) in Fulton, MO. CMMS received $250,000 to support the marketing and processing of locally produced pork and was one of two businesses in Central Missouri to receive a VAPG grant. As part of our work highlighting this important grant program, especially in light of USDA’s recent announcement of $44 million in funding for FY 2017, we spoke with Hawkins and asked him to tell us about his experience as a processor using the VAPG program.
Although Cory Hawkins and his wife, Ginger Hawkins, have been involved in meat processing for nearly their entire lives, they were only able to finance an independent processing operation after finding an investor. When they finally connected with local hog producer Kenny Brinker and his family, they were able to work together to create a new business selling a value-added product.
The Hawkins and Brinker families co-own CMMS, and together built their first processing facility in 2014. They began operations immediately after the facility was inspected by the state in January 2015. Since then, CMMS has expanded rapidly. Last year they were able to develop their own retail store and food court, both of which are supplied with in-house processed meat.
Thanks to their VAPG award, the Hawkins will have the funds they need to add much-needed additional staff to their expanding operation – helping them to meet the growing demand for locally raised and processed meat.
A key feature of Hawkins’ processing facility is that it also offers private labeling, ensuring that farmers and ranchers from the region receive the premium they deserve for raising quality local meat. Hawkins processes hogs from nearby Brinker Farms, as well as local cattle, lamb, elk and bison.
“We bring in local livestock and provide a private label for about twenty farmers, so that they can get a good value for their product,” said Hawkins.
With a private label, farmers and ranchers can offer a distinctive, high quality, value-added product to grocery stores or restaurants, or to sell directly at farmers markets. In addition to providing a facility to create value-added products for local farmers and ranchers, CMMS also functions as a locally accessible meat processing facility that community members from Fulton, MO can utilize to process meat for their own consumption.
Hawkins takes pride in offering meat that is guaranteed hormone and antibiotic free; CMMS tests all of the meat brought into its facility prior to processing and labeling. The demand for locally produced, antibiotic-free meat has been steadily increasing, and by accessing VAPG funds Hawkins and his family have been able to meet that demand in Fulton, Missouri.
Skills Training and Community Development
Hawkins is grateful for the support VAPG provided to his business at a crucial time in its growth. The grant will enable CMMS to support the training of additional staff, as well as help them to purchase meat from more local farmers as they continue to expand.
Hawkins currently employs 53 workers, most of whom are new to the workforce, and teaches them trade skills in meat processing.
“Only about three of our staff had previous experience in meat processing; the remaining 50 came in new,” explains Hawkins. “We do everything from making our own sausage to supplying our retail store and food court, all of which is supported by our own employees.”
Hawkins first heard about VAPG through his business partner, Brinker, who raises hogs in Callaway County.
“We had been already been providing value-added services to local farmers and knew that producers could qualify for the grant,” said Hawkins, “but then we realized that we could also qualify as a processor.”
Because of the entrepreneurial spirit of Hawkins and his partners, their VAPG award will go far behind the walls of CMMS. By growing his own business, Hawkins helps to boost economic activity in Central Missouri, creating jobs, adding value to the operations of local farmers and ranchers, and providing on-the-job training and skill development.
New Funding and Enrollment Guide Available for 2016
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has released an updated version of its annual Farmers’ Guide to Applying for the Value-Added Producer Grant Program, a unique resource that walks farmers through the program’s application requirements, including a step-by-step description of the application and ranking processes.
Recognizing that applying for federal grants can be challenging, even for professional grant-writers, NSAC has been issuing updated versions of their Farmers’ Guide for the last four years.
First released in 2012, the Farmers’ Guide is available as a free resource, downloadable online via the NSAC website and has been updated to correspond with the April 2016 announcement that up to $44 million in funding will be available for fiscal year (FY) 2016. Check out the Guide for more information on how to submit a proposal for 2016!