By Reg Godin, Vermont Agency of Agriculture
Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that the Vermont Agency of Agriculture (VAAFM) will receive a $92,200 matching grant from the Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program (FSMIP) to enhance domestic export opportunities and market channels for Vermont agricultural products. Out of a total $1,005,906 in FSMIP funding awarded to 15 different projects in this 2015 application period, the state of Vermont received the third largest grant at $92,200.
VAAFM, in collaboration with the Agency of Commerce and Community Development (VACCD), Vermont Specialty Foods Association (VSFA), Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association (VMSMA), Vermont Fresh Network, and University of Vermont Extension will utilize FSMIP funding to connect rural Vermont farmers and producers with regional and national markets in order to increase out-of-state sales. Through research, stakeholder engagement and education, the grant project will address some of the barriers facing Vermont businesses seeking increased market access for their products, including:
- Supply chain relationships
- In and out-of-state distribution channels
- Statewide marketing & branding
- Buyer connections
This 2015 FSMIP grant is the second of its kind awarded to the VAAFM in the last 3 years, allowing the agency to provide a continuum of tools and services to Vermont businesses. The previous FSMIP grant, awarded in 2013, focused on developing Vermont’s Agritourism industry, which not only draws out-of-state visitors to Vermont and drives economic development, but also plays an important role in promoting agricultural literacy. VAAFM and its partners, Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing (VDTM), University of Vermont Extension, Shelburne Farms, and DigInVT utilized 2013 FSMIP funding to help Vermont farms amplify the economic impacts and mitigate risks of agricultural and culinary tourism.
2013 Project initiatives included:
Ten agritourism workshops serving 509 participants, including 168 Vermont farmers.
- Of participating VT farmers, 78% reported a positive impact on profitability, 76% reported an increase in visitors, and 41% reported adding jobs to their business.
- Promotional campaigns in key regional markets (Boston, New York, mid-Atlantic) encouraging visitors to experience Vermont’s authentic agritourism offerings.
- Development of free educational videos regarding best practices for inviting visitors onto farms - available for viewing on UVM’s Vermont Agritourism Collaborative website.
- Development of free sign templates designed to promote safety of people and animals during farm tours - available for free download at Vermont Agritourism Collaborative.
“Vermont has seen an explosion in farm and food businesses over the last decade and these FSMIP grants help to ensure that Vermont businesses have reliable markets for their products, both inside and outside our state,” according the Vermont’s Agriculture Secretary, Chuck Ross.
“The joint efforts between the Agency of Agriculture, statewide agricultural organizations and VDTM have reaped a significant award for the future of Vermont agritourism,” Megan Smith, Commissioner of VDTM said. “Especially when compared to the grants received by larger states, this funding is yet another testament that Vermont is a leader in this field.”
In addition to USDA FSMIP grants, the VAAFM oversees a number of additional resources and funding opportunities dedicated to increasing market access for Vermont producers, including the Trade Show Assistance Grant, part of the VAAFM’s Domestic Export Program, which can allocate up to $25,000 to Vermont producers of agriculture and wood products to attend out-of-state trade shows. (Limit $2,000 per business.) The beginning of the open application period for Trade Show grants will be announced in mid-October, 2015.
For more information about VAAFM Business Development and Market Access programs and resources, please visit: http://agriculture.vermont.gov/producer_partner_resources