Pastures A Plenty Growing Market Share with VAPG Assistance

hogs in a pasture

Pastures A Plenty in Kerkhoven, Minnesota has been a family-owned farm since 1952 when the VanDerPol family started growing soybeans and other grains.  As part of the family farm’s second-generation, Jim VanDerPol began raising pastured hogs in 1977. By the 1990s Pastures A Plenty was primarily a livestock operation, and in addition to hogs they had added chickens and cattle.

In 1998, the conventional hog market took an economic nosedive and VanDerPol knew that in order for Pastures A Plenty to thrive into the future, they had to look at new ways of doing business. At the same time, Minnesota food cooperatives were seeking producers of local, naturally-raised meats. VanDerPol believed that going direct-to-consumer could be a way to deliver their value-added pork products to customers and retailers in ways that could sustain the family farm, but he needed to do more research.

He had heard about the USDA’s Value Added Producer Grants (VAPG), and approached CDS to help him with the process of securing one. “The first thing we did was ask for a smaller grant to help with business planning,” said VanDerPol. In 2009, with the assistance of CDS, they were awarded $17,500 that supported a market study and business plan creation. “It was very important to organize our thoughts and figure out what we needed to do to grow the business. We worked on that for a year,” he said.

“CDS was very good at helping us with analysis and focusing on what we needed to be thinking about. They also have strong knowledge and deep relationships with the food business community in the Twin Cities,” VanDerPol said.

The preparation and business development work was absolutely necessary in order to secure $300,000 in VAPG funds in 2011 to implement their plans and grow the business. “Part of the impetus for the small grant was to make sense of the direction we wanted to go and make decisions about what to do for the future,” VanDerPol said. With their stated business plans, Pastures A Plenty was poised to maximize the opportunities the larger grant presented, including expanding their wholesale production and partnering with other area farmers to take advantage of a fast-growing market.

“I’d definitely recommend other people look into these grants, especially for business planning.  It was a very good thing for our business,” VanDerPol said.