Big New Project in WV Will Help Farmers Expand

A few months ago, West Virginia's small farm economy received a big boost in the form of the Rural Accelerator Grant. These significant, three-year grants were awarded to just 13 locations nationwide, with the aim to create and sustain rural jobs. The Natural Capital Investment Fund of Shepherdstown was awarded a grant for their proposal to provide technical assistance to build a robust local food economy in southeastern and eastern West Virginia. Recently, the Fayette Tribune featured an article on the impact this program could have on small farmers in the region. 

Funding from a federal Rural Jobs Accelerator Challenge Grant will allow NCIF to offer local farmers in 17 counties services like business coaching, training, consulting and marketing help.

“The biggest challenges we’ve seen for small farm businesses isn’t on the production side, we have a very good extension service to work with farmers on growing new crops, but it’s the business plan, the marketing piece,” said Jenkins.

For Smith, a carefully designed business plan could supply him with enough confidence to farm full time. Or it could hook him up with training in hydroponic growing techniques, one of his interests.

For other farmers, the assistance could translate into adding new products, diversifying, starting a slaughter house, or learning ways to aggregate and distribute produce.

Small farmers operate on very small (if any!) profit margins, so it can be very difficult to take a risk, even if it could mean a bigger and strong business. This program can help entrepreneurs manage that risk.
“Say for example you’re a produce farmer and you’re trying to figure out how to create a really great brand to sell your products online. The technical assistance money can pay for you to access online marketplaces, develop a brand and a marketing plan. So it could really expand your business in a pretty serious way and get people over that hump that’s been keeping them from exploring ideas.”
 
Lyons also hopes the program will make it safer for local farmers to try new things, innovate and experiment with less conventional business strategies.
 
“Not only can people build their business, but they can try on new models that could become models for other parts of the state,” she said.

Be sure to read the whole article to learn about the breadth of this exciting program.