Viroqua, WI, Apr 02, 2012 -- Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan today highlighted the importance of local and regional food systems as key contributors to job creation and economic development at a local food enterprise center.
"The Obama Administration supports efforts to strengthen local and regional food systems as one strategy to promote job creation in rural communities," said Merrigan. "Investments in local foods can help stimulate the Wisconsin economy, create jobs and support our country's diverse agricultural industry so we can create an America built to last."
In February, Merrigan announced funding of 298 Value-Added Producer grant projects across the country, many of which support local and regional value-added processing and marketing. Wisconsin received 27 of these grants totaling more than $7.1 million. Since the program's inception in 2001, USDA Rural Development has funded 110 Wisconsin VAPG projects for more than $21.6 million.
These projects have aided in the creation of new economic opportunities for farmers and communities looking to keep a greater share of retail food dollars at home by processing and packaging them locally, rather than shipping commodities elsewhere for processing. For example, the Westby Cooperative Creamery, a farmer owned cooperative and producer of cultured dairy products and hard cheeses located in Westby, Wis., has successfully utilized the VAPG program. The cooperative is comprised of more than 140 area dairy farmers and their families. In 2002, Westby Cooperative Creamery received its first Value Added Grant to analyze the development of nine new product lines and marketing opportunities. The following year, the Cooperative utilized a VAPG to provide the working capital needed to develop the new products. The VAPG funding has helped the cooperative market and package their product lines and purchase raw commodities to process organic cottage cheeses and organic sour cream. These endeavors have helped to create and additional six jobs at Westby Cooperative Creamery.
Earlier this year, first time recipient Jolivette Family Farms was awarded a $300,000 working capital grant to develop marketing strategies help increase sales of locally grown produce from the Jolivette farm and 20 other local farms in the area. Known for their homegrown strawberries, sweet corn, and fresh flowers, Jolivette Family Farms is a 500-acre farm located in West Salem, Wis. This will add to the sustainability of area small and medium sized family farms and the increased marketing and production will create an additional eight jobs at the Jolivette Family Farms, Inc. store and processing facility.
Since taking office, President Obama's Administration has taken historic steps to improve the lives of rural Americans, put people back to work and build thriving economies in rural communities. From proposing the American Jobs Act to establishing the first-ever White House Rural Council – chaired by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack – the President wants the federal government to be the best possible partner for rural businesses and entrepreneurs and for people who want to live, work and raise their families in rural communities.
USDA, through its Rural Development mission area, administers and manages housing, business and community infrastructure and facility programs through a national network of state and local offices. Rural Development has an active portfolio of more than $165 billion in affordable loans and loan guarantees, including the Value-Added Producer Grant program. These programs are designed to improve the economic stability of rural communities, businesses, residents, farmers and ranchers and improve the quality of life in rural America.