Not a day goes by without an official USDA press release on the subject of rural development, like the announcement yesterday of a federally guaranteed loan for a small, rural co-operative grocery in St. Peter, Minnesota. The Business and Industry Loan Guarantee program made it possible for this small community to have retail access to local, organic, and fair-trade foods.
Program funding is open to any rural business entity which will provide employment, improve the economic or environmental climate, promote the conservation and development of water for aquaculture, or reduce reliance on non-renewable energy resources through investment in renewable energy systems. That is an expansive definition, broad enough to include some of the ambitious project being talked about on the East End.
Rural development is a big thing these days at the USDA. So is local food, but federal and state governments understand the logistical challenges small-scale farmers face when they try to bring cost-effective products to the consumer. Often they simply lack the infrastructure they need to efficiently process their goods. The federal response is to throw money at the problem. So far, they seem to be throwing it with a higher degree of accuracy than one would expect. The St. Peter food co-op will serve as the anchor for its local food system, the retail hub for the region’s local goods.
Notwithstanding the giant yachts in Sag Harbor and the multitude of South Fork mansions, the USDA considers the East End to be a rural area. There are ample opportunities for our farmers and food producers to seek creative funding for their ambitions, especially for the sorts of projects that will improve the infrastructure of the local food system. Somebody needs to step up and ask for it.
To check out the rural development eligibility in your area, click here.