Posted by: FBRuralDevelopment | 07/23/2014

New website means limitless opportunities for rural entrepreneurs

By Morgan Slaven, American Farm Bureau Federation Program Assistant – Membership and Program Development

REI website1 - website blog

American Farm Bureau and the Global Social Enterprise Initiative at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business have joined forces to provide resources for entrepreneurs in rural communities. The partnership website,, was launched on Monday, July 21.

Technology, market prices, and consumer trends are among the thousands of variables that can make or break a business in today’s world. Overcoming these obstacles can be hard for any entrepreneur, but proves especially difficult for those living in rural America where resources can often be limited. Giving rural businesses the opportunity to succeed is the driving motivation behind the Rural Entrepreneurship Initiative, a partnership between American Farm Bureau Federation and Georgetown University McDonough School of Business Global Social Enterprise Initiative. Both groups are proud to present a new program website,, which was launched early this week.

“We asked our Farm Bureau members what they needed to become more successful in their businesses,” said Dr. Lisa Benson, AFBF’s director of rural development. “They told us they wanted more training in business development, including developing marketing plans and acquiring financing. We hope this website will provide those critical business resources to our members and other rural entrepreneurs.”

REI website2 - website blog
The website features a Rural Entrepreneurship Hub, a step-by-step guide of resources for new businesses. The Rural Entrepreneurship Initiative will also be hosting a free monthly webinar series that showcases expert knowledge of successful business development and expansion.




Scheduled webinar topics include:
• Introducing AFBF’s Rural Entrepreneurship Initiative on Tuesday, July 29 at 3:00 p.m. Eastern
• Finding and Using Business Information on Tuesday, Aug. 26 at 3:00 p.m. Eastern
• Telling Your Business Story on Tuesday, Sept. 23 at 3:00 p.m. Eastern
• Finding Money To Grow on Tuesday, Oct. 28 at 3:00 p.m. Eastern
• Finding and Keeping Talent on Tuesday, Dec. 2 at 3:00 p.m. Eastern

More exciting news about the Rural Entrepreneurship Initiative will be out later this week. Stay tuned to our blog and the Rural Entrepreneurship Initiative website for more information.

By Erin Anthony, Editor of Farm Bureau News, American Farm Bureau Federation


Scott George on George Farms in Cody, WY

Faced with having to ship their milk a far-too-costly 500 miles to be processed and bottled, the Cody, Wyoming-based George family is looking closely at the advantages and drawbacks of building and operating their own milk processing plant. With the help of a value-added producer grant from USDA, the family is evaluating local markets for demand, forecasting financial prospects, looking at quality control and plant design, as well as considering whether it would be more feasible for the farm to market its own milk products or contract with a major distributor, like a nationwide or regional grocery store chain.

In the business for six decades, the George family raises 600 dairy cows, 100 commercial beef cows and grows crops on 2,000 acres of irrigated farmland. With no milk or cheese processing plants in Wyoming, the Georges typically ship their milk 90 miles to Billings, Montana, where it’s processed, bottled and sold in both states. However, when the Montana facility is at capacity, the Georges have to send their milk an additional 410 miles to Colorado.

“These transportation costs will break the operation,” said Scott George, co-owner of George Farms.

As part of the feasibility study, members of the family toured a number of producer-owned plants in Wisconsin that are similar to what the Georges have in mind. Scott George said whether they proceed or not, they’re grateful for the USDA grant because it’s helped their family take a very realistic look at the value-added proposition they’re considering.

The goal of the USDA Value-Added Producer Grants program is to generate new products, create and expand marketing opportunities, and increase producer income. The grants are given to individuals, producer groups, farmer or rancher cooperatives, and producer-based business ventures.

For more information on the grants, go to:

Posted by: FBRuralDevelopment | 05/22/2014

Homegrown By Heroes Transcends Memorial Day

By Cyndie Sirekis, Director of Internal Communications, American Farm Bureau Federation


Homegrown by Heroes

The Farmer Veteran Coalition recently announced the national launch of the Homegrown By Heroes initiative. The timing of the roll-out close to Memorial Day is terrific, as much of America is thinking about and honoring those who have served our nation in the armed forces.

Homegrown By Heroes is a labeling program that transcends Memorial Day. It allows farmers, ranchers, and fishermen in all 50 states and U.S. territories who have served or are serving in any branch of the U.S. military to use the label on their food and farm products. Consumers will soon see the label at the point-of-purchase and on signage in businesses, enabling them to select products that support farmer veterans.

Mark and Denise Beyers are the first certified Homegrown By Heroes farmers outside of Kentucky, where the program was first started by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. The high school sweethearts entered the Marine Corps in 1998 and 1999, respectively. While serving in Iraq in 2005, Mark’s team hit an improvised explosive device, resulting in combat injuries that led to the loss of his right arm and right leg. Upon returning from service overseas, Mark and Denise built a thriving maple syrup business on their 15-acre property in upstate New York. The couple will use the Homegrown By Heroes label to help sell the maple syrup they produce on their farm, as well as eggs and vegetables they will market this summer.

“Farming and military service are more closely linked than one might think. Thousands of our service men and women leave the rural communities and farms they call home in order to serve our country in the military,” explains Michael O’Gorman, executive director of the Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC). “Upon completion of their service, they often return home to resume work on the family farm,” says O’Gorman.

FVC also works with hundreds of veterans with no agriculture background who, upon returning from service, see opportunity in farming and ranching and decide to embark on a new career path in agriculture. FVC works with veterans who have served their country twice—once by defending it and now by feeding it. Only 16 percent of America’s population lives in rural areas, yet 40 percent of the men and women who serve in the U.S. military come from those same rural communities.

By supporting the label, consumers can help veterans who are serving our country in a new way–by producing the food and fiber that feeds and clothes us all. Thousands of young veterans are finding a new calling in a farming community with an average age of 58 years, according to the latest Census of Agriculture released by the Agriculture Department. O’Gorman’s goal is to have up to 500 veterans using the label by the end of the year.

To qualify for the Homegrown By Heroes label, one must have served honorably or still be serving in any branch of the U.S. armed forces, and be at least 50 percent owner and/or operator of the farm business. Veterans of all eras are encouraged to apply. FVC staff can assist applicants in developing food safety plans and, if needed, business plans.

The American Farm Bureau Federation and a wide array of other farm organizations, including Farm Credit, also support the label.

Posted by: FBRuralDevelopment | 05/02/2014

Food hubs offer benefits to beginning farmers

By Lisa Hightower, Director, Rural Development, American Farm Bureau Federation


The Local Food Hub in Charlottesville, Virginia,

The Start2Farm Together Conference in Bloomington, IL was an incredible success thanks to the hard work and planning of the Illinois Planning Committee made up of the Illinois Farm Bureau, University of Illinois Extension, and the Illinois Department of Agriculture. The conference had great participants that included more than 60 beginning farmer and rancher educators from 12 states. Many of the conversations taking place at the conference revolved around food hubs, aggregating products from smaller farm operators so they can process, ship, market, and distribute their goods together. Many beginning farmer programs with food hubs were successful because they were able to leverage existing infrastructure. Instead of building a commercial kitchen, some program directors were able to partner with local schools to use their commercial kitchens in the evenings and over the summer. Other programs directors were able to partner with larger producers to use their refrigerated trucks when they were not in use. The key was building relationships and partnerships with local organizations.

The Wallace Center was mentioned by many conference participants as a great resource for information on food hubs. To learn more about creating a food hub in your community, visit the Wallace Center website.

Posted by: FBRuralDevelopment | 04/18/2014

National Value-Added Agriculture Conference

By Lisa Hightower, Director of Rural Development, American Farm Bureau Federation


Baltimore Inner Harbor

Next month I’m excited to be attending the 16th Annual National Value-Added Agriculture Conference in Baltimore on May 13-15. This year’s conference focuses on “Enhancing food security and rural viability through innovative food system practices and opportunities.” The conference offers great information and networking with a wide range of people, including producers, educators and Farm Bureau service providers.

I’m looking forward to sessions on effective extension education in food entrepreneurship and the West Virginia Farmers Market Training Network. The conference is hosted by the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development and packs in a ton of great sessions into only two days.

The American Farm Bureau Federation is hosting a breakfast at the conference for Farm Bureau members and staff. If you’re interested in attending the breakfast, please email me at

To learn more about the National Value-Added Agriculture Conference, click here.

Posted by: FBRuralDevelopment | 04/11/2014

Joining the American Farm Bureau Federation

lisa-hightowerHello! My name is Lisa Hightower and I’m the new director of rural development at the American Farm Bureau Federation. Sabrina Matteson left a four-year legacy of rural development work at the American Farm Bureau Federation and my goal entering into this position is to make sure that the incredible foundation she laid becomes a springboard for our work in the future.

I have a passion to see farmers and their communities thrive. Before coming to the American Farm Bureau Federation, I completed a PhD at Virginia Tech in agricultural education. I also worked with a beginning farmer program called the VT Earthworks Growers Academy that provided training to a range of farmers, including young farmers, second-career farmers, and Somali Bantu refugees. I saw that farming could be an incredible tool to strengthen local communities by providing new jobs, offering more sources of fresh food, and networking people together. I joined the American Farm Bureau Federation family because they share my passion to help farm families be successful and their rural communities thrive.

In the coming week I’m thrilled to be attending the Start2Farm Together Conference in Bloomington, IL. The conference brings together educators from beginning farmer programs from across the country to learn from each other. I’m looking forward to hearing their stories and learning what strategies they’ve used to support farmers in their local communities. I hope to share their success stories in future posts.

To learn more about the Start2Farm Together Conference on April 15-16 in Bloomington, click here.

Posted by: FBRuralDevelopment | 04/04/2014

New Generation of Families Drawn to Rural Communities

By Kyle Perry, Director, Leadership Development, American Farm Bureau Federation

For decades, rural communities across the U.S. have experienced outmigration—young adults graduate from high school and leave their hometowns for new opportunities in larger cities. A recent University of Nebraska study shows that a new group of young adults and their families are reversing this trend and moving to rural communities. According to census data there was a population increase for adults in their 20s and 30s living in rural communities in Nebraska. In fact, for every 100 people 20 to 24 years old living in a rural community in the year 2000, there would be 125 for the same age group in 2010, at that point they would be 30 to 34 years old. These adults are looking to rural communities to live, work, and raise their families.

These young families offer some great benefits to the rural communities where they are living. These adults are often highly educated and bring strong work experiences. They have the tools, resources, and perspectives to make great contributions to their local rural communities.


Photo courtesy of

There is still a lot that is not known about the individuals moving their lives to rural communities. It would probably be best to start by exploring the motivations of this group. I think we should start by having conversations with residents of rural communities, asking why they choose to live there and if they ever moved away, learning what brought them back. If we can better understand why middle-aged people are moving to rural communities we can do a better job of creating infrastructure, opportunities, and marketing that supports and encourages this trend.

Posted by: FBRuralDevelopment | 01/29/2014

Are you an Entrepreneur?

Posted by: FBRuralDevelopment | 01/13/2014

Super Fast Broadband Arrives in Rural Texas

By: Jessica Ditto, Communications Director, Connected Nation

Connected Nation is a leading technology organization committed to bringing affordable high-speed Internet and broadband-enabled resources to all Americans.  AFBF President Bob Stallman serves on the Connected Nation Board of Directors. Farm Bureau and Connected Nation are working together to bridge the digital divide in rural America.

Two communities in rural Texas are joining the elite list of “gigabit cities” in the U.S. Last month, LiveAir Networks began offering ultra-fast 1 Gbps download speeds via their new Fiber to the Home (FTTH) network to residents in Smithville and La Grange, Texas beating out their urban counterpart in neighboring Austin.
“Fiber-based Internet has traditionally been limited to urban areas, such as Verizon’s FIOS, AT&T U-Verse, and Google Fiber. Our rural communities are getting bypassed. It is our hope that by starting our FTTH project in these two core cities in Eastern Central Texas that we kick start a new chapter in these areas’ economic development,” said James W. Breeden, LiveAir’s CEO and founder in LightWave Online.

Smithville is located in Bastrop County, which was designated in November by Connected Texas as the first certified Connected Community in the state. Bastrop County proves that great things can happen when the right folks get together to make technology a priority in local planning.

Our team has been hard at work with partners and providers across the state to expand affordable, high-speed access to more communit ies including those populated primarily by farm and ranch families. The efforts are paying off.


“To be able to offer 1 gigabit service in any area, let alone a rural community, is a big deal. The technology has advanced to where providers can offer faster broadband to our rural areas and we’re partnering with them to make it happen. These investments help drive the economy and will no doubt benefit our state,” said Don Shirley, Executive Director of Connected Texas, in the Austin Statesman.

Broadband is the key to ensuring access to better healthcare, educational opportunities, customer interaction, and much more. The cost of being on the wrong side of the digital divide is too great. Connected Texas is a statewide broadband initiative run by Connected Nation in partnership with the Texas Department of Agriculture with a mission of increasing economic and rural development through broadband expansion.

How can other communities follow? Connected Nation has worked closely with state and local community leaders, broadband providers, and organizations like Farm Bureau, to increase collaboration toward achieving faster and more affordable broadband in homes, schools, and businesses in all areas.

As reported in previous posts, the Connected Community Engagement Program gives community leaders a framework for inventorying broadband assets and developing a plan for increased access, adoption, and use. To learn more visit,



Posted by: FBRuralDevelopment | 12/20/2013

A Message from AFBF President Bob Stallman

There are many principles that build the foundation of an organization, especially one that endures for 90-plus years.  The Farm Bureau mission is to be the unified national voice of agriculture, working through our grassroots organization to enhance and strengthen the lives of rural Americans and to build strong, prosperous agricultural communities.  In January 2008 we homed in on a very positive personality to accomplish specific projects and rural focused outreach, and AFBF acquired the talents and the passion of Sabrina Matteson as our director of rural affairs.

Sabrina ProfileSabrina and her husband Gary relocated from New Hampshire.  They had experienced rural community life, and together they have an unmatched passion to build rural communities nationwide.  Sabrina’s efforts and dedication were tireless as she forged alliances and increased understanding of a broad and diverse audience while assisting county and state Farm Bureaus to create and implement initiatives and projects in their local communities.

So it is with mixed emotion that I become the first guest writer on this blog and share with the broader community the news that Sabrina has been battling metastatic breast cancer for several years and entered palliative care just after Thanksgiving.  The Mattesons have created a website to allow others to follow and post comments,, and we encourage you to visit the site.  I have been moved in reading many posts and tributes.

Rarely have I had the privilege of meeting anyone as dedicated, passionate, enthusiastic and competent in their chosen work.  Former USDA Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan also commented in a post “…(Sabrina) your persistent and effective advocacy has really changed hearts and minds… have truly made the world a better place.”

We are reminded at this time of year about what’s really important—our faith, our health and spending time with our loved ones. That reminder is especially meaningful to the Farm Bureau family this year as one of our own is so close in our thoughts and hearts.  We will continue to build on the solid foundation that Sabrina has helped to build to strengthen rural America and agriculture.

To help us continue this important work and move forward in our efforts to serve rural communities, we are posting the position for a director of rural development.  Strong rural communities and a successful agriculture economy are at the heart of our work, and we will work to hire someone with a similar dedication, drive and passion.  I am very excited about the outcomes we will continue to achieve.

Good tidings to all,

Bob Stallman, President
American Farm Bureau Federation

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