Loudoun Awarded $250,000 USDA Grant to Grow Online Farm Marketplace

USDA Marketplace strategy

This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded Loudoun Economic Development with a $250,000 Farmers Market Promotion Program grant, which will be used to ramp up the Loudoun Made Loudoun Grown Marketplace.

In April 2020, Loudoun Economic Development launched the e-commerce platform, powered by Local Line, to help Loudoun’s 1,200 farmers better reach their consumer base. The launch was accelerated in response to the COVID-19 crisis, but is intended as a long-term solution to expand farm-to-consumer sales transactions throughout the county.

This announcement comes after the Marketplace was already awarded a $20,000 Virginia Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development grant in August, to help grow the program.

The additional funding will extend the county’s commitment to the Marketplace for three years, adding to the $92,190 budget and in-kind commitment that the department had already made.

“We’re so pleased to be awarded this USDA grant, which will help take the Loudoun Made Loudoun Grown Marketplace to the next level,” Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair at Large Phyllis Randall said. “Businesses need stronger connections to customers and Loudoun residents will now have more access to locally grown food. This is a win for everyone.”

The Marketplace currently showcases 643 Loudoun-sourced products from 42 Loudoun farms. Loudoun Economic Development has committed to paying the monthly fees for any Loudoun Made, Loudoun Grown program farms to sell consumer products on the platform, making this a no-cost e-commerce solution.

“Traditionally, our agricultural network primarily sold to restaurants and other bulk customers or utilized the county’s farmers markets and on-farm sales,” Loudoun Economic Development Executive Director Buddy Rizer explained. “With the COVID-19 outbreak, many wholesale opportunities vanished and retail trends shifted more and more towards e-commerce options.

“This Marketplace and infusion of funding has the potential to make a significant economic impact on the agricultural economy of Loudoun County.”

One way in which Loudoun Economic Development will increase the effectiveness of the Marketplace is by conducting an impact analysis study. The study will analyze the current platform and county marketing data, and determine any changes needed in order to increase farmer-to-consumer interactions.

Key findings from the report will help guide efforts to:

  1. Increase the ability of Loudoun farmers to meet local demand;
  2. Increased small-farmer visibility to consumers;
  3. Bolstered logistical efficiency and transparency;
  4. Increase profits for Loudoun farms;
  5. Mitigate farmer financial and distribution challenges.

“The Loudoun Made Loudoun Grown Marketplace can be a game-changer for Loudoun farms. Getting additional funding from the Commonwealth and USDA is further proof that we have an idea worthy of our investment,” Supervisor Tony Buffington (Blue Ridge) said. “Loudoun County has never been more committed to the success of our farmers.”

Loudoun County is home to approximately 122,000 acres of farmland. Loudoun farms are an average of 97 acres, with more than 50% of farms totaling 50 acres or less. Agriculture plays a key role in the local economy, generating jobs, fueling Loudoun’s $1.9 billion tourism industry, providing residents access to high-quality products, and giving Loudoun a unique asset within the region.

“Farms in Loudoun County are overwhelmingly small, family-owned businesses, which form the backbone of our economy,” Supervisor Caleb Kershner (Catoctin) said. “Our rural economy greatly benefits by forward-looking programs like this, I look forward to the insights from this study and using that data as we strategically invest in the future of Loudoun agriculture.”

For more information and to shop from the Loudoun Made Loudoun Grown Marketplace, please visit LoudounFarms.org/Marketplace.