Federal grant to give organic company a boost
HARRISONBURG, Va. — A $3.6 million federal grant will help a Virginia organic poultry company double its processing capacity and potentially the number of farmers who grow for it.
The grant, announced late last month, will help Farmer Focus pay for an $18 million expansion to its existing processing facility in Rockingham County, expected to begin this summer, said Corwin Heatwole, the company’s founding farmer and CEO.
The grant was awarded by the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Processing Expansion Program, which the Biden Administration launched after the COVID-19 pandemic exposed structural weakness across local and national food networks.
Farmer Focus, the country’s fastest-growing organic chicken company, partners with 78 farmers in the Virginias, with 130 more on a waiting list.
The company will be able to run a second production shift, allowing its already-swift growth to continue.
Corwin said the company’s number of partnered farmers, which grew 60 percent in 2021, could double once the expansion is complete.
“That’s just a testament to growers’ interest and appetite for a model that is different from the vertically integrated systems” of more typical poultry companies, he said.
At Farmer Focus, growers own everything, including their flock, and the company doesn’t impose in-house production standards beyond whatever’s necessary to meet several well-known certifications, including USDA Organic, Non-GMO Project Verified and Certified Humane.
“When the flock comes to the farm, they know what they’ll be paid down to the tenth of a cent,” Corwin said. “It’s clear, it’s set, and every farmer gets paid exactly the same.”
Farmer Focus welcomed USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, joined by U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine and others, to its production facility to announce the grant award on Feb. 21.
“The Biden-Harris Administration and USDA are taking action to advance a sustainable vision of agriculture that prioritizes the needs of our resilient producers and small businesses, strengthens our food supply chain and brings value back to rural people and places,” Vilsack said. “Through investments like this one, USDA will continue to work tirelessly to give farmers and ranchers a fair chance to compete in the marketplace, which in turn helps lower food costs for the American people.”
The grant program is trying to expand independent processing capacity across the country and create jobs in rural areas.
Farmer Focus’s expansion will create 300 new jobs in Harrisonburg.
Farmer Focus’s products are available in 4,000 stores across the East Coast and Midwest.