Producers can add value to raw agricultural products in a multitude of ways such as drying or canning, but often this requires an upfront investment in materials, processing equipment, or marketing that can be difficult to fund. This is where a USDA Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) can help, but the application process can be daunting. Farmers gathered in Pearl, MS, in September to learn in detail the process of applying for a VAPG. NCAT Specialist Felicia Bell and Pathway to Sustainability grant writer Lynne Young led a full day’s workshop about VAPG applications for approximately twenty Mississippi farmers. This workshop was supported by funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
Some producers in attendance had experience with grant proposal writing, while some had never written a proposal. Some said they were there to get ideas about value-added opportunities for their farm operations. Young was able to provide participants with a step-by-step approach to completing and submitting an application, walking the group through the many different parts of the application and submission process. Bell, an experienced farmer in addition to working with NCAT, was able to lead discussion about identifying value-added enterprises and incorporating them into a farm business.
This workshop was conducted because farmers had approached Bell with a need for this kind of training opportunity, wanting more ways to grow their businesses and increase profitability. Young partnered with NCAT to put together an information book for participants to take home and review that included all the information they went over in the workshop. Another product participants took home was a budget template necessary for the application process.
Participants told Bell afterwards that just by going over each section of the application in detail and being able to ask questions about it as they went demystified the proposal writing process. At the end of the day, the conversation shifted to include other grant opportunities like Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) grants, state-funded grants, and other regional opportunities that potentially could be additional funding sources for farmers.
One workshop participant, Britonya Gort, whose business is Sweet Heat Canning with Class, went on to submit sixteen different canned products to the Mississippi State Fair. She ended up winning three blue ribbons and thirteen red ribbons for her products. Bell has continued to provide one-on-one technical assistance to Gort and NCAT will be able to continue support as her value-added business grows.
NCAT is hoping to have the opportunity to conduct more of these workshops, having heard from folks in other parts of the Gulf States region interested in this important topic. To learn about upcoming events in your area, be sure to sign up for NCAT’s e-newsletter, The Weekly Harvest, to stay current with sustainable agriculture news, events, and funding opportunities. Sign up here: https://www.ncat.org/subscribe/.
You can also find a collection of resources and information on value-added products by visiting NCAT’s ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture Information Service website: https://attra.ncat.org/value/.