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Pennsylvania farmers receive over $676,000 to grow their businesses

A man talks to a woman inside a small farm store.
Isabela Weiss
WVIA News | Report For America
MudPond's owner Ben Rust talks to State Representative Bridget Kosierowski at his new shop.

Ben Rust launched his farm-side store three weeks ago through a federal grant.

After living in the city for years, Rust said he wanted to get back to his roots. He bought his land in 2012.

“It’s in your blood. I think once you’ve been raised on a farm, you love it. It’s a great lifestyle. It really is. I wanted that for my family and my own kids,” said Rust.

Rust owns MudPond Meats – a butchery in Dalton. Last year, Rust received over $77,500 from the PA Department of Agriculture’s Very Small Meat and Poultry Processor Grant. The grant is part of the state’s Farm Bill, which invests federal funds into educational and financial developments in agriculture. Pennsylvania is the only state to have its own. The other 49 states only use the U.S. Farm Bill. Pennsylvania follows both.

Several wrapped cuts of beef on a table.
Isabela Weiss
WVIA News | Report For America
MudPond now sells a selection of meats and cheeses at their shop.

The grant helped Rust diversify his business so he could avoid taking a job off of the farm. He had a growing butchery clientele. MudPond got into the meat processing business five years ago.

“We saw an opportunity. And it was a good way to raise a family. It allowed me to be home. And I wanted to be home to be able to be with my kids and raise them. So, we did. And we had good help – guys who came to teach us, and showed us how to do it,” said Rust.

Rust’s grant gave him access to business consultants and the financial freedom to expand MudPond’s infrastructure.

At a press conference and tour on Nov. 21, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said consultants guide farmers through the application process. He and Rust agreed that it gives farmers more control over their finances.

“We have some grantees who only use the consult for purposes of certification. This grant, I think Ben [Rust] used it for both equipment, facilities, and training. As well as the certification. So, [the grant’s] sort of a pretty comprehensive approach,” said Redding.

“I’m so glad we had that flexibility to use the grant money in that way. We weren’t hamstrung one way [or the other,]” said Rust.

A man points to meat hanging in a locker.
Isabela Weiss
WVIA News | Report For America
Joshua Cassar shows MudPond's meat before processing. Cassar consulted Rust on obtaining his USDA certification. He is a food safety consultant for HACCP Assurance Services.

Rust used part of his grant money to certify his products under the USDA. Redding said the seal of approval is a game-changer for small businesses.

“It allows for interstate shipment. It allows for direct retail. So, he can establish any relationship with a restaurant. He can retail that product. He can put it into grocery stores if he desires. And he can put it into surrounding states’ food service,” said Reeding. “Without that, he is very limited to where he can move the product.”

According to Reeding, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture awarded 12 grants to businesses in 11 counties through this year’s PA Farm Bill. Since writing the state’s Farm Bill in 2019, USDA awarded 47 grants in 25 counties. They have invested over $2.5 million in local developments through their Very Small Meat and Poultry Processor Grants.

In this most recent cycle, NEPA and Central PA’s farmers received $231,000 from the grant. For a list of past and present awardees, go to the PA Farm Bill grants and other investments website.

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