Between August and December 2020, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets distributed $25.6 million in Vermont COVID-19 Agriculture Assistance Program (VCAAP) grants to agriculture, food, and forestry businesses and organizations. The purpose of the program was to help offset revenue losses and expenses the sector experienced due to market and business disruptions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The funding for VCAAP was appropriated by the Vermont State Legislature from federal Coronavirus Relief Funds in four bills that determined business eligibility criteria and maximum award amounts.
The program awarded over 1,100 VCAAP grants in just five months thanks to an outstanding effort from dozens of staff at the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets and partner organizations. Over 85% of VCAAP recipients who completed a follow-up survey reported that that their award helped moderately, a lot, or a great deal to stabilize their business. Funding requests far exceeded the money that was available, and 90% of grantee survey respondents reported that they would be likely to apply for a similar grant in the future.
The Vermont State Legislature designated several categories of VCAAP applications with specific amounts of funding. The largest appropriation was for dairy farmers and dairy processors, such as businesses producing yogurt or cheese. In total, $18.3 million was awarded to 525 dairy businesses. Of that, $16.8 million was granted to dairy farms with the remaining $1.5 million going to dairy processors. Dairy businesses, if qualified, were eligible for two disbursements up to a maximum amount based on their farm size or processing capacity.
The second largest appropriation was for other Agriculture and Working Lands businesses and organizations, including farmers, meat processors, slaughterhouses, farmers’ markets, value-added food product businesses, forest products businesses, and producer associations. Over 300 businesses in this category were awarded a total of $6.7 million on a first-come, first-served basis. To qualify, Agriculture and Working lands applicants needed to meet eligibility criteria that included demonstrating at least $10,000 in 2019 revenue. Award amounts were capped based on 2019 revenue.
Smaller allocations were designated for small farmers’ markets, schools and child care providers, and agricultural fairs. Farmers’ markets with less than $10,000 in annual sales were eligible to apply for up to $2,000, and seven farmers’ markets were awarded a total of $12,643 to offset pandemic-related expenses and losses. Schools and child care providers were reimbursed for equipment and supplies necessitated by COVID-19 for farm to school programs. In sum, twenty-two farm to school programs received grants totaling $100,000. Many of these grants allowed children to safely learn, eat, and play outside during the pandemic. Finally, twelve of the state’s agricultural fair and field days organizations received a total of $500,000 to compensate for income loss, additional expenses, and event disruption.
We recognize that many businesses and organizations have ongoing relief needs. While VCAAP applications are now closed, businesses and organizations can learn about federal relief options from the U.S. Small Business Administration and and from the USDA.