From the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition On Wednesday, February 23, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan held a press conference call regarding today’s release of the interim final rule for the Value-Added Producer Grant program. Calling VAPG “one of my all time favorite programs,” Merrigan spoke about how the grants fund innovation and entrepreneurship among American farmers and ranchers and provide opportunities to expand the nation’s economy. Specific to the interim rule, the Deputy Secretary said the agency “really took to heart the input we had from the public” and then noted several changes from the proposed rule that are consistent with comments submitted by NSAC and its members. For example, outlined in the interim rule, applicants can count time spent as an in-kind contribution up to 25 percent of the total project’s cost. Explains Merrigan, “this is really important because there is no one who will be working harder than the entrepreneur.” Other achievements for NSAC and its member that Merrigan discussed included a greater emphasis on mid-tier value chains that “will go a long way for regional food systems” and an increase in the threshold for medium-sized farms to $1 million in annual gross sales, which benefits agriculture of the middle. In an effort to raise awareness about the substantial and widespread possibilities and benefits of VAPGs, Merrigan created a video in which she tests several value-added products that have received funding through the program. Click here to read the USDA press release about the interim rule and here to watch the video from the USDA test kitchen. Finally, Merrigan confirmed that the much-anticipated Notice of Solicitation of Applications (NOSA) for the next grant period is forthcoming. NSAC will notify its members when this occurs.