BEDFORD — Agriculture is an economic driver in Bedford County, and staff from the Bedford County economic development office discussed with county supervisors at a Monday work session the possibility of offering a new grant program related to supporting local agriculture infrastructure.
The Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund Infrastructure Grant was created in 2012 by the Virginia General Assembly with an aim to encourage localities to more intentionally incorporate agriculture and forestry into their economic development efforts, according to county documentation. The AFID Grant program was expanded last year to include the AFID Infrastructure Grant, made to encourage localities to make capital investments in local food production and sustainable agriculture.
If implemented in Bedford County, the AFID Infrastructure Grant would favor projects that maintain or establish food hubs; locally owned, or primarily locally owned, processing facilities; farmers markets; and projects “that create infrastructure in proximity to small-scale agricultural producers.”
“It’s not your average grant,” said Robert Hiss, Bedford County administrator. “It’s kind of something different than we have gotten into before, but trying to be responsive and respectful and helpful to our agricultural businesses and community. This is a really good opportunity for us to do something a little bit different.”
The AFID Infrastructure grant would require a 50/50 local match from Bedford County. The grant is reimbursable up to $25,000, according to county documentation, and only one AFID Infrastructure Grant may be active at a time.
The local match required can be made in dollars, or partly cash and partly with in-kind contributions such as volunteer labor or services and staff time, non-profit or foundation contributions, federal funding, or Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission money.
For now, the Bedford County economic development office is in preliminary stages, seeking answers to questions, brainstorming possible internal organization for managing the grant program applications and gaining more information in general.
Only one project per locality is eligible at a time for the AFID Infrastructure Grant, which operates on a two-year cycle. Applications would be submitted through Bedford County, and the county staff involved in operating the grant program would be responsible for selecting one project for recommendation to Virginia government officials, who are in charge of awarding the grant funds.
Pam Bailey, Bedford County’s economic development director, asked supervisors Monday whether they would consider supporting the program before continuing in the process.
Bailey said two local, agriculture-related businesses already have approached her expressing interest in applying for this grant if it becomes available for Bedford County: Great Day Gardens, which Bailey said wants to put in a market garden and a woodfire bakery, and Bramble Hollow Farm, which has a vision to add a patio expansion for various farm outreach activities.
Supervisors decided they would consider board support and wanted further information before any formal action is taken.
“Our comprehensive plan says we support the ag community,” said District 4 Supervisor John Sharp. “This is ag-related.”