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Ag Link receives nearly $100K in USDA grant
$34.3 million awarded to support local food, farmers markets
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Ag Link Connect founder Jana Nairn explains the new application and the benefits to consumers and local agricultural business owners at an informational event co-hosted by the Turlock Chamber of Commerce in 2014. - photo by Journal file photo

As a business whose goal is to connect consumers to locally sourced products, it only makes sense that the United States Department of Agriculture awarded Ag Link of Ballico nearly $100,000 in grant funding to bolster affordable access to local, fresh and healthy foods.

Ag Link received a $99,280 Local Food Promotion Program Implementation Grant, which was administered by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, for its Local Food Hub. This funding is a portion of the $11.9 million in LFPP grants that were awarded to 160 marketing and promotion projects for intermediary local food enterprises such as food hubs, aggregation businesses, local food processors and farm-to-institution activities.

This program, which began in 2014, has funded 351 projects totaling $24.6 million to support local and regional supply chain activities including processing, aggregating, storing or distributing local and regional food.

“It’s a huge privilege to get this grant and be recognized by the USDA as a business,” said Ag Link CEO Jana Nairn. “This grant is exactly what we are working towards, which is supporting local businesses and connecting consumers to local products.

“It’s the basis of our business and it’s what we are very passionate about,” continued Nairn.

Nairn said that Ag Link will use the award to implement a marketing and sales campaign, add necessary systems and support equipment, and training for its food hub. This includes acquiring equipment for proper food handling and transport, developing a food handling safety program and investing in information technology to integrate the company’s web store to its accounting system.

Additionally, Nairn said that the funding will allow Ag Link to hire two to three additional employees whose main objective will be to facilitate the business’ expansion, including developing a marketing and outreach campaign.

“This will give us some really good opportunities to market, develop and advertise to help grow more efficiently and get the word out about our business,” said Nairn.

Nairn said that Ag Link will also use the grant to promote the business’ new retail location in Ballico. The warehouse and retail building is currently under construction and is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.

Additionally, AMS also awarded $13.3 million in Farmers Market Promotion Program grants to 164 marketing and promotion projects involved with farmers markets, Community Supported Agriculture, and other direct-to-consumer outlets for local food, including $97,207 to the Modesto Certified Farmers' Market to develop educational training for junior high students that incorporates cooking classes at the farmers' market. 

Since 2009, this program has funded 902 projects totaling over $59.2 million to support direct marketing efforts for local food.

LFFP and FMPP are just two of four grant programs that were administered nearly $35 million in new funding to kick off the nation's harvest season. These four grant programs support local and regional food systems, including farmers markets. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has named strengthening local food systems as one of the four pillars of USDA's efforts to revitalize rural economies and communities. Purchases of locally-produced food have surged to nearly $12 billion, while the number of farmers markets has exploded to more than 8,500 from 5,274 in 2009.

"Today, USDA is helping to create economic opportunities for producers, increase access to fresh, healthy food for consumers, and connect rural and urban communities across the country," said Vilsack. "Each of the grants announced today targets a unique part of the growing market for local foods. We are also expanding access for current SNAP participants to the wonderful array of fresh produce at America's farmers markets, which is important to a healthy diet."

"We will continue supporting local and regional food systems, which are drawing young people back to agriculture, generating jobs, and improving quality of life in rural communities,” said Vilsack. “Since 2009, we have seen a 75 percent growth in farmers markets nationwide and sales of local food rose to an estimated $12 billion in 2014, much of it through sales from farms to local grocers, institutions and restaurants."

The local and regional food systems grant projects support the USDA's Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative (KYF2) which coordinates USDA's support for local and regional food systems.