Thursday, August 07, 2014

Growth Through Agriculture

  There's a program that's funded in part by Montana's coal severance tax trust fund called Growth Through Agriculture.


   As part of an update (or an introduction, for some) to the on-the-ground good that the Growth Through Agriculture program does, I toured Three Hearts Farm and the Root Cellar food production facility in Gallatin County, both recipients of GTA grants. GTA grant recipients must match grant dollars one-to-one with their own money. Three Hearts Farm and Root Cellar are local producers, expanding to food prep for local restaurants and sellers like the Food Co-Op. Three Hearts Farm employs four people, and their new business, Root Cellar creates jobs, too!

  We hear terms like "economic development" and "value-added commodities" and this local operation is an excellent example of what those terms mean. Three Hearts Farm is a nine-acre operation growing kale and beets, tomatoes, carrots, onions, and more. The farm received a $7,500 GTA grant a couple years ago to help with the purchase of a walk-in cooler. As farm owner Dean Williamson describes it, the cooler itself helped increase exponentially the ability of the farm to keep fresh vegetables marketable for much longer, helping the farm's business.

  This year, Root Cellar matched a $38,500 grant from GTA to purchase a commercial food washer. Dean puts kale and beets and lettuce and all sorts of vegetables through the washer and he can also do food prep, like chopping lettuce and slicing beets and cucumbers for the Food Co-op salad bar or for local restaurants, which helps him to market to those retail locations, too.

  The food prep is "value-added" agriculture because it's the prepared vegetables instead of the fresh but unwashed and unsliced vegetables. The "economic development" is helping a local producer keep his produce fresh, and then helping several local producers wash, prep, and provide that produce via a new business in Gallatin Valley, a business which employs local people for food going to local businesses!

  The state could do more. A few legislative sessions ago, Growth Through Agriculture had $1.2 million to distribute in grants (each grant then matched one-for-one with dollars from the recipients. That's the deal.) In 2011 in a conservative legislature, the funding was halved. And last session, even more dollars from the coal severance tax trust fund were rerouted as part of a funding solution for state employee pension plans.
  This biennium, there were requests from GTA for $1.7 million, but the program only had about $650,000 to distribute. All grant recipients, I was told, requested more money than they were granted (and they could have matched a greater grant amount, too).
  This program is a success. I'll do all I can as a state senator to help to grow the program to make more funds available for our local economic development and value-added products.

  The local NBC affiliate, KTVM, did a story on the tour: http://www.nbcmontana.com/news/bozeman-businesses-show-how-ag-grants-help/27335490


  BOZEMAN, Mont. -Bozeman-area businesses showed state lawmakers and representatives from the Montana Department of Agriculture how grant money is helping diversify the state agriculture industry.
   Council members learned how a small grant made a big impact on a local farm.
   Dean Williamson owns Three Hearts Farm and grows 150 types of plants including fresh produce.
   His operation is a small nine-acre farm, but he says they got help to grow after receiving a Growth Through Agriculture grant of $7,500, that they used to buy a walk-in cooler.
   "Oh, it was gigantic," said Williamson.
   It's a piece of equipment, he said, that allows him to store twice as much produce, which then goes out to local restaurants and grocery stores.
   "I wouldn't be able to do nearly what I am doing, without the cooler, without being able to hold food for longer than an hour or two. Once lettuce is out of the ground, for instance, it is good for about 45 minutes if it is not refrigerated," said Williamson.
   On Tuesday, Williamson got to tell his story to state lawmakers as they toured agricultural businesses in the Gallatin Valley to learn how grant money from the GTA program is making an impact.
   State Director of Agriculture Ron de Yong says the ag industry is growing, especially when it comes to smaller operations like Three Hearts Farm.
   "This will effect everyone locally," said de Yong.
   De Yong said the GTA grants are geared toward helping these local businesses be successful.
   State Representative JP Pomnichowski told NBC Montana that getting a behind-the-scenes look gave her a good idea of how the grants not only impact the farm, but also the community.
"When you come to the farm and then see the washing operation and see the food packaged and then go to the salad bar at the Food Co-op, it's locally grown, locally produced, and it helps the local businesses," said Pomnichowski.
   The state gave out more than $650,000 in GTA grants over the last fiscal year. Other businesses in the Bozeman area that received the grants include the Root Cellar and the Montana Fish Company.
    Copyright 2014 by KECI, KCFW, KTVM. All rights reserved.

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