Iowa Farm Bureau has a number of programs to support entrepreneurs in rural communities. The Iowa Value Added Agriculture Support Team (VAAST) is a working group created to assist in the development of value added ag projects in Iowa. VAAST members represent agencies and organizations that provide technical and financial assistance to emerging value added ag businesses and initiatives.
VAAST meets monthly at the Iowa Farm Bureau offices in West Des Moines. These meetings provide an opportunity for those involved in value added ag projects to meet with many of the service providers in one setting. This process saves businesses a lot of “running around time” and speeds up the initial steps needed to develop a business. The meeting proceedings are confidential, which allows for an open and honest discussion regarding opportunities and obstacles the project may face.
VAAST meets on the first Friday of every month at the offices of the Iowa Farm Bureau even if there is no business presentation. This gives the team an opportunity to get up to speed on the various activities of each organization as well as a chance to update each other on specific projects around the state.
The VAAST meetings also give the team an opportunity to organize conferences and cooperate on outreach programs. For example, VAAST with the addition of the Iowa Corn Growers, spearheaded the ethanol education seminars in Iowa that took place in 1999-2000. VAAST also organized the Farm, Food and the Future conferences that focused on opportunities in value added agriculture as well as other meetings and seminars.
“The reason VAAST has been successful in helping launch so many projects,” said Denny Harding, Bio-Economy Manager at Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, “is because the members of the team have a lot of respect and trust for each other, which in turn gives the businesses we work with a lot of confidence in the advice we give.”
In addition to the Iowa Farm Bureau, current members of VAAST include representatives from the Iowa Area Development Group, Iowa Department of Agriculture, Iowa Department of Economic Development, Iowa Institute for Cooperatives, Iowa State University Extension, USDA Rural Development as well as the investment divisions of the GROWMARK and Wellmark, Inc. Representatives of the agricultural commodity organizations are also involved in the meetings if the proposed business is related to their specific industry.