Pennsylvania Secretary Russell Redding today announced $1 million in Farm Vitality Grants awarded to 133 farms in 46 counties. The grants, which aim to enhance the long-term vitality of Pennsylvania’s family farms, will be administered by the Ag Business Development Center created under the 2019 PA Farm Bill.
“When Pennsylvania farm families succeed, Pennsylvania succeeds,” Secretary Redding said. “These grants will help farm families with all types and sizes of operations create sound plans for their future, and explore the feasibility, profitability and sustainability of those plans.”
Grants fund professional services, including financial and tax planning, research, marketing and other consulting support to plan a farm’s future. The center partners with more than 50 service providers across the state to provide sound business planning for efficient ownership transitions, strategic expansion, diversified production, and financial or technical expertise. Grants will reimburse up to $7,500 of the cost of the funded service.
Grant recipients represent a broad spectrum of farm sizes and products including dairy, fruit, nuts, vegetables, livestock, poultry, Christmas trees, grains, flowers, honey, maple syrup and Pennsylvania’s newest crop — hemp. Their proposed plans seek to conserve land and water resources, expand their capabilities to produce using organic or aquaponic methods, process dairy into yogurt, cheese or other products popular with consumers, or add direct-to-consumer sales to their business models.
Donald Bergbigler’s Butler County beef farm is among sixty of the recipients who operate preserved farms – those whose farms are part of a conservation easement purchased with state, federal, local government and private money and must remain productive farms in the future. Keeping that public covenant to stay in farming rather than sell to developers requires strategic business planning and sustained investment to remain profitable generation after generation. Bergbigler has worked his entire life to build his farm operation from the ground up and is transitioning the farm to a young neighbor who is an experienced farmer.
Camphill Village Kimberton Hills Dairy is a preserved, 250-acre Chester County dairy operation with 100% grass-fed and pasture-raised cows. The operation is part of a 420-acre, sustainable community for adults with disabilities. The farm sells their milk for yogurt and ice cream. They also sell their bottled milk to stores, at a farm market and through a Community-Supported Agriculture, or CSA program, selling shares directly to consumers.
The dairy is seeking funds to create a business plan to explore expanding into cheese-making. The farm is among 34 dairy operations to receive the grants.
Anastasiya Konopitskaya’s 10-acre hemp operation in Berks County grows hemp for fiber and industrial use. She operates a full-service design and build company, and research and development lab to incorporate healthy plant- and mineral-based materials into residential and commercial construction.
Her company has partnered with All Together Now Pennsylvania, Rodale Institute and Jefferson University and is seeking to develop a formal business plan to help grow their business, ultimately creating revenue and local jobs.
United Somali Bantu of Greater Pittsburgh is leasing land in Mercer County through Western PA Conservancy and plans to produce culturally appropriate, in-demand foods for Somali Bantu refugees in the region. The project involves support from Penn State Extension, PASA Sustainable Agriculture, Western PA Conservancy, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, and the USDA’s Natural Resources and Conservation Service.
Seventeen grant recipients will be involved in PASA Sustainable Agriculture’s Diversified Vegetable Financial Benchmarking Study, an opportunity to improve their bottom line, working with more than forty peer Pennsylvania and Mid-Atlantic farms, and two consulting organizations. Insights from the report aim to give achievable targets for revenues, scale and profit margins. Meetings among participants will also connect them to a group of peers to help support them as they improve their long-term viability.
“Whether supporting Somali Bantu farmers in the Pittsburgh region or vegetable farmers across the commonwealth, the Farm Vitality Grants program will make a tremendous difference in farmers being able to create plans for a more viable future,” Pasa Executive Director Hannah Smith-Brubaker said. “None of us could have anticipated the extreme demands that the current pandemic would have on farmers, and we all know that having a plan helps us weather unforeseen circumstances, so the timing for this program couldn’t have been better.”
These are just a few examples of project planning funded through these grants. A full list of grant recipients by county can be found on the department’s website.