PERALTA — Patches of shade from cottonwoods and elms bring relief from the heat at Bluefly Farms, LLC, and a friendly dog with a group of inquisitive alpacas greet visitors.
Arthur A. Garcia, the state director of USDA Rural Development recently visited the peaceful little Peralta farm to congratulate the producers, Kemper Barkhurst and Elizabeth Arnold.
The couple was awarded a $5,000 USDA Rural Development grant to hire a consultant to complete a business and marketing plan for their certified organic lavender enterprise.
“This is a very unique project,” said Ernie Watson with the USDA.
More than an acre of land is filled with the purple blooms and there are greenhouses and herb gardens dotting the property.
Arnold explains that they grow two distinctly different types of lavender, one for culinary purposes, which is sweetly aromatic, and the other for essential oils to create body sprays, hydrosol for aromatherapy and skin treatment, hand salve, lip gloss and hair styling wax.
The culinary lavender is used in making a lavender sparkling water drink.
Various lavender products displayed on the kitchen table fill the air with the sweet scent eliciting murmurs of “mmms” from the USDA visitors.
Garcia says partnerships with people like Barkhurst and Arnold are what make the USDA agency successful.
“Rural America is our niche,” Garcia said.
The purpose of the USDA Rural Development grant program is to help rural economies with energy, water and waste water systems, as well as housing needs and business development.
Garcia, who has been with the agency for 17 years, said USDA’s loan portfolio is at $223 billion nationwide and is the largest in the federal government.
“And all of that goes out to rural America,” Garcia said. “We are invested in helping rural America stay rural, where people can live and have a viable life in rural areas.”
Matching the USDA grant with $5,500 of their own, the couple now have a total of $10,500 to hire a consultant to complete a business and marketing plan for the entire Bluefly business.
“We’ve been kind of blindly following through and I think it’s going to be really helpful to have help to put together a really solid business plan so that we can move forward on more than just a whim,” Arnold told the USDA agents.
Right now, Bluefly Farms produces an average of 300 pounds of certified organic lavender annually, plus value-added products. They would like to double or triple their output.
They sell their products at several local growers markets and La Montañita Coop. They also sell on Etsy, an online handmade products market, and recently a local brewery expressed an interest in carrying their sparkling lavender water.
With the business plan, the couple will be able to look at different wholesale avenues and direct retail for their sparkling water and body products.
Since the couple started the business in 2012, they have applied for and been awarded a couple of other grants.
Through the USDA National Resource Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program, they received a grant to improve their irrigation system, build a high tunnel greenhouse and livestock drinkers.
“We’ve seen how having a grant and having that help is a huge boost,” Arnold said. “It doesn’t mean that it’s still not work, so we really want to make sure we’re going in the direction we want and not getting sidetracked.”
Arnold and Barkhurst have also been working with Western SARE, Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education station out of Utah to find the most effective weed control for their farm without using herbicides.
Twelve months from now with business plan in hand, Arnold said they plan to apply for another USDA Rural Development grant for working capital to expand their production.
The value-added producer grant is awarded to different types of independent farmers and ranchers or associations for funds to expand production, said Jesse Bopp, the USDA rural business program specialist.
The grant can be up to $250,000, and the USDA expects some buy-in in that they put up half, either in kind or cash, Bopp said.
Working capital funding is usually awarded for labor costs or marketing or a combination, she said.
“We have so many ways to help people no matter which direction they pick,” Bopp said. “We’ll be able to help you somewhere down the line with your dream.”
There are also USDA Rural Development grants to convert to solar power, something the couple is considering.
Bluefly Farms plans to increase its customer base from 500 to 1,000 and sales from $29,000 to $60,000 annually by 2019-20.
For information about USDA Rural Development business grants call Jesse Bopp at 505-761-4952 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.