Resources for a Woman-Owned Value Added Agriculture Project

I was asked what organizations would help with grants or loans to a woman-owned start up value added agriculture project. I found quite a few sources, including the national USDA Value Added Producer Grant program, accepting applications until July 7, 2015.

Iowa was the locale of interest. Supposing many of you have similar challenges, I hope these ideas will get you started, no matter where you live.

Funding may come from agricultural sources or from standard business-development channels. The ag sources will want to see a close tie to a farm. Conversely, others may not want to hear about the ag side.

As mentioned above, the USDA Value Added Producer Grant program is the main grant source, and it's open now. Applications are due July 7, 2015. You'll find the Center’s guide on the program here, and the National Sustainble Agriculture Projects’s application guide here.

Your state offices of USDA Rural Development can help. In Iowa, a first stop is with Jeff Jobe, who oversees the VAPG grant at the state level: 515.284.4480, In other states, find your state office here and ask them for the VAPG contact person.

Iowa State University Extension has a division to help develop value-added ag businesses. They may know of programs at other land-grant universities. Or search for your land-garnt (see a list here) and inquire with them.

Women Food & Ag Network may have some suggestions for grant assistance or other funding sources. Contact Lynn Heuss, 515.201.9405,

Practical Farmers of Iowa may have some advice to offer on the grant or other sources of funding. In Iowa they may be able to suggest a farmer-advisor who has dealt with value-added funding before. You can call 515.232.5661.

Michael Fields Ag Institute has previously had funding to help women apply for USDA grants. The contact is Deirdre Birmingham,, Michael Fields Agricultural Institute Grants Advisor.

USDA Farm Service Agency may consider the funding request to fit within its farm operating loan standards. The best way to find out is to check with your county FSA office to determine the fit. Find your state office, and then look for county offices from there.

Town, county, or state economic development agencies may be able to provide advice or funding. Iowa Economic Development can advise on funding. One of its programs is the Community Development Block Grant, which can fund job creation or retention. Search for similar agencies in your state.

The Small Business Administration sponsors a nationwide network of Women's Business Centers (WBCs). These are designed to help women start and grow small businesses. SBA’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership (OWBO) oversees the WBC network.

Iowa has a Women’s Business Center. Small microloans may be available here. We also have a Women’s Business Center serving rural Nebraska through our Rural Enterprise Assistance Project, better known as REAP.

Value added agriculture projects are great building blocks for small towns and rural communities. And women-owned farms are growing. Both make a vibrant rural future more promising. Let me know if you have questions, And good luck!