September 25, 2014
On September 12, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development agency announced almost $3 million in awards through the Rural Business Enterprise Grants (RBEG) and Rural Business Opportunity Grants (RBOG) programs to promote sustainable economic development in rural regions.
Eleven projects in New York, North Dakota, and Vermont received RBEG funding, totaling $1,258,825. RBOG funding went to 21 projects in 12 states, totaling $1,676,042. The state-by-state breakdown for both grant programs is available here.
This year, Vermont was a big winner in both grant categories. In this post, we take a closer look at three projects in the Green Mountain State funded by RBEG and RBOG to promote sustainable agriculture and local food systems.
Connecting Farmers to Institutional Consumers in the Northeast Kingdom
Though agriculture is pervasive on the landscape of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom—a tri-county area in one of the nation’s most rural states—a quarter of the region’s children are food insecure.
Enter Green Mountain Farm-to-School (GMFTS), a non-profit connecting the region’s schools to local farms through locally procured food and educational programs. USDA awarded a $102,010 RBEG grant to the organization (listed as Vermont Farm-to-School on the awardee list) for one of its largest projects—Green Mountain Farm Direct, a food hub established in 2008 with the goal of bringing together agricultural producers across northern Vermont. Last year, Farm Direct sold over $338,000 in food from 43 farmers to 115 schools and other institutions. This year, with the help of the RBEG award, Farm Direct organizers are projecting $450,000 from 45 food producers to 125 customers.
By aggregating products from local farmers through the food hub, Farm Direct helps facilitate food distribution and access while giving farmers an economic boost. On average, Farm Direct participants see a 278 percent increase in sales.
Money from the RBEG grant will help GMFTS expand technical assistance to help farmers boost their online presence, and promote local food consumption through marketing campaigns and events, like creating a local food guide and hosting on-farm dinners. As a result of the RBEG award, the food hub’s expansion will create or save three jobs and assist three businesses.
Assisting Vermont’s Farmers and Foresters
Since its founding in 2003, the Farm & Forest Viability Program has provided services and grants to farmers, food producers, and foresters throughout the state. Services include on-site business planning, marketing assistance, and management coaching.
The VHCB will use the $129,998 RBEG to add service providers throughout Essex, Caledonia, and Orleans counties and expand the program to provide support for loggers and forest product businesses in the state. The grant is expected to assist 56 businesses, create 56 new jobs, and save 168 existing jobs.
Planning for the Region’s Food Future
In 2011, the Center for an Agricultural Economy (CAE) created the Regional Food Plan for the Northeast Kingdom in collaboration with the Northeastern Vermont Development Association (NVDA). The 111-page document outlines strengths and opportunities for expansion and diversification of the region’s agricultural economy, including increased technical assistance for small businesses and more education.
Funds from the $71,921 RBOG will be used to begin the food plan’s five-year update. Specific focus areas for the update include an emphasis on regional economic development planning and identifying value-added business opportunities in the Northeast Kingdom. Additional funds will help provide technical assistance coordination to rural business owners. The grant is expected to assist nine businesses and create or save 50 jobs.
Program Background and Links
The RBEG program provides grants for projects facilitating small and emerging rural business development, distance learning networks, and employment-related adult education. Rural public entities, Indian tribes, and non-profits are eligible to apply for the grants, ranging from $10,000 to $500,000.
The RBOG program funds feasibility studies, strategic planning, business incubators and other services to spur rural economic development. Through RBOG, public entities, non-profits, Indian tribes, rural cooperatives, and colleges and universities can apply for grants of up to $100,000.
The 2014 Farm Bill merged RBEG and RBOG into the the Rural Business Development Grant program, with authorization for $65 million in discretionary funding annually over five years. The bill also limited funding availability for certain RBOG-type projects, allowing no more than 10 percent of allocated money to go to planning projects, technical assistance and training to existing or prospective entrepreneurs and managers, localized economic development planning, and certain business training centers. USDA is currently working on implementing these changes from the most recent Farm Bill but has yet to merge the programs.
Read the USDA press release on the RBEG and RBOG grants here.
For more information on the RBEG and RBOG programs, see the USDA Rural Development Agency’s website.