USDA offers loans to farmers who grow for locals

With interest in locally grown food soaring, the federal government said Tuesday it has created a small loan program to help community farmers who might not be able to borrow money from banks. Call it seed money.
By ADRIAN SAINZ Published: January 16, 2013
Advertisement
;
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — With interest in locally grown food soaring, the federal government said Tuesday it has created a small loan program to help community farmers who might not be able to borrow money from banks. Call it seed money.

The low-interest microloans” of up to $35,000 are designed to aid startup costs, bolster family-run farms and help minority growers and military veterans who want to farm. The past three years have had a 60 percent rise in local growers selling directly to consumers or farmers markets, Agriculture Department Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

Kay Jensen, an organic farmer who grows broccoli, strawberries and tomatoes in Wisconsin, saw two immediate benefits from the program: paperwork would go from about 30 pages to seven, and it would be easier to borrow a manageable sum. “A lot times what we need is just small amounts of money, but a lot of times the only funding available is large amounts of money,” she said. “This whole concept of a microloan, where you're looking at smaller, reasonable amounts of money, this really fits an incredible niche.”

The loan can cover costs of renting land, buying seed and equipment, and other expenses. One goal is to create more opportunities for entrepreneurship and employment in the farming industry, Vilsack said. Another is to provide beginners a chance to build credit, so they can eventually qualify for higher-value loans and expand.