WASHINGTON, Nov. 10, 2015 - Small farms and processors across the country as well as some major agricultural cooperatives have been awarded Agriculture Department grants to expand or start new businesses. 

Some 258 businesses in 47 states, Puerto Rico and the western Pacific will benefit from the 2015 round of awards from the Value-Added Producer Grants (VAPG) program. 

The grantees included Mauna Kea Tea, which is getting $193,335 to develop new green tea products; Dierks Farms Grass-Fed Beef and Produce in Illinois, which was awarded $213,707 to expand sales of grass-finished beef; and Virginia’s Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery, which is receiving the maximum $250,000 grant to expand its product line and pay for labor, marketing and packing expenses. 

“This funding will enable farmers and ranchers to develop new products, improve the bottom line for their operations and help create a robust local and regional food system,” said Veronica Dore, USDA’s under secretary of rural development. 

She announced the grant list in Ferguson, Missouri, where EarthDance farm was awarded a $19,000  grant to conduct a feasibility study and develop a business plan for marketing organic local produce.

More than one-third of the 2015 awards are going to farmers and ranchers for marketing to the local foods sector.

The Bohemian Creamery in Sebastopol, California, is getting $100,000 to produce and sell goat whey sodas and soft-serve frozen yogurt. In Madison County, Viginia, North Cove Mushroom is receiving $250,000 to market and process locally produced mushrooms.

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Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, said the program is USDA’s “premier producer-led rural development program.”

“With this latest announcement, VAPG builds on its track record of helping farmers and ranchers across the country create jobs and enhance rural economies through value-added businesses,” he said. 

Among large co-ops, California’s Blue Diamond Growers is getting $250,000 to pay for international marketing and promotional work. Sunsweet Growers was awarded $250,000 to  market its new, natural prune-based nutritional supplements.