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Grant winners use USDA funding to jumpstart businesses

The grants to farms and ranches are intended to spur economic development in rural areas.

By Eric Mortenson

Capital Press

Published on August 26, 2014 4:02PM

Willow Coberly, left, with Gian Mercurio, will use a USDA grant to hire four new employees at her organic grain milling business in Brownsville, Ore.

Courtesy of USDA

Willow Coberly, left, with Gian Mercurio, will use a USDA grant to hire four new employees at her organic grain milling business in Brownsville, Ore.

Greenwillow Grains, based in the heart of Oregon’s Willamette Valley grass seed industry, began growing organic grain in 2003. Farmer Willow Coberly says the move came from her desire to see more food grown in the valley, instead of seeds for turf or lawns.

Greenwillow now grows wheat, oats, flax, buckwheat and other cereal grains around Tangent, and mills the output in the town of Brownsville. The farm sells stone-ground flour and rolled oats to a couple grocery chains and to specialty bakeries, but Coberly acknowledges the operation is supported by the more lucrative grass seed crop, which the family still grows.

A grant from the USDA may bring balance. The agency’s Rural Development wing announced that Greenwillow Grains has received a $200,000 Value Added Producer Grant, intended to help develop new product lines, hire workers and stimulate the local economy.

Coberly said she’ll use the money — $100,000 a year for two years — to free up funding for expansion. She expects to hire four new employees right away, and up to 15 over five years. The company has a storage “bottleneck” between field harvest and milling, and the money could alleviate that problem.

“It’s a boost we could use right now to get going,” Coberly said.

The grant, which doesn’t have to be paid back, was one of nine issued to Oregon agricultural operations, more than $900,000 total. Nationally, the USDA awarded about $25 million in grants to 247 entities. A full list of recipients, including farmers and ranchers in Washington, Idaho and California, is at http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/supportdocuments/RD_2014VAPGRecipients.pdf

Jill Rees, with the USDA’s Rural Development office in Portland, said the grant program is carefully monitored, given the amount of money involved.

“The application process and documentation is extremely rigorous,” Rees said. “There’s a lot of due diligence that comes up front.”

Other Oregon grant winners were:

• Morale Orchards, Hood River: $200,000 to process and market a freeze-dried pear “puff” product.

• Champoeg Creek Farm, St. Paul: $200,000 to increase production and sales of pasture-raised turkeys and make other production improvements.

• Carman Ranch, Wallowa: $199,960 to hire a marketing director, update the website and manage public relations; also to improve wholesale operations and develop direct to consumer sales.

• Hawley Cattle and Land Co., Cottage Grove: $49,000 to make and market a new line of beef jerky, beef sticks and lamb sticks.

• Low Input Viticulture and Enology, Salem: $23,500 to help fund a membership organization that has developed and certifies sustainability standards for the Pacific Northwest wine industry.

• Palace Dairy/Rogue Creamery, Central Point: $22,782 to assess development of organic ice cream.

• Finnegan Cider LLC, Lake Oswego: $10,922 to bottle, cap, keg and label 1,200 cases of hard cider during the grant period.

• Chickadee Farm, Ashland: $5,000 for a feasibility study on the potential for website and direct farm sales of organic flower, vegetable and herb seeds.


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