Loudoun is one of two counties to win a $20,000 grant from the Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund Planning Grant program to support local agriculture during the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Ralph Northam announced Friday.
Loudoun County will use the money to support the Department of Economic Development’s e-commerce platform, “Loudoun Made, Loudoun Grown Marketplace,” to connect farmers with consumers and offer support through advertising, technical assistance, and establishing drop-off locations.
The marketplace was launched in mid-April during the COVID-19 statewide lockdown, provides a direct, online link between farmers and their customers. Farmers set their own prices, delivery and pick-up locations, and 100% of proceeds go immediately and directly to the farmers.
The platform charges a flat monthly fee, which Loudoun Economic Development is covering for the first six months, through the end of September. It currently available for free to any farmer or rural producer that’s part of the “Loudoun Made, Loudoun Grown” program. Memberships, browsing and shopping are available online at biz.loudoun.gov/marketplace.
“Agriculture plays a key role within our local economy, generating jobs, fueling Loudoun’s tourism industry, providing residents access to high-quality products, and giving Loudoun a unique asset within the region. But farms can’t exist without customers,” said Loudoun Economic Development Executive Director Buddy Rizer. “At a time when restaurants, hotels and other bulk buyers were unable to make wholesale purchases from farms, the marketplace gave Loudoun farms access to a retail audience.”
More than 660 product types are currently available on the marketplace, provided by 40 Loudoun farms. Thanks to Loudoun’s rich soil and nine-month growing season, new products are constantly cycling through the Marketplace.
The additional funding will be used for advertising, technical assistance, and establishing drop-off locations.
“Nearly all of our farms are family-owned and operated, which forces them to wear sales and marketing hats in addition to agriculture. The Loudoun Made Loudoun Grown Marketplace helps automate that sales process while they focus on what they do best,” said Business Development Officer for Agriculture and Business Services John Magistro. “This is a service that was born out of a crisis, but can be a powerful tool to support the Loudoun farming community moving forward.”
In addition to the $20,000 grant, Loudoun County has already committed at least $31,000 to marketing and administration, along with $30,600 in staff time during the two-year grant cycle.
The state grants are meant to help agricultural producers mitigate the short-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and prepare for their future growth. The two $20,000 grants in Loudoun and Floyd counties will be matched by more than $80,000 from the counties communities and non-profits.
“Our administration is committed to using every tool at our disposal to support Virginia’s agricultural and forestry industries during these uncertain and challenging times,”Northam stated. “I commend the efforts of Floyd and Loudoun counties to partner with stakeholders in their communities and help local farmers adapt to the new realities of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed opportunities for improvement in our food supply chains and highlighted the significance of having local options for fresh products,” stated Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring. “I am pleased that we can partner with these localities and make good use of the AFID Planning Grant program to build innovative new connections between producers and consumers that will strengthen our local agriculture sector.”
Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development or AFID grants are administered by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis, and must demonstrate a clear need, a proposed solution, strong support from local government and the agriculture and forestry community, and the ability to provide matching funds.
This story was updated Friday, Aug. 28 at 4:39 p.m. with additional information about the Loudoun Made, Loudoun Grown Marketplace.