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Community & Economic



Rural Food Business Assistance

About the Program

The Commission’s partner, NC Rural Center, has partnered with USDA to launch the Rural Food Business Assistance Project. The Rural Food Business Assistance Project provides direct technical assistance and training to agribusinesses and builds regional support networks of organizational stakeholders supporting local farmers, value-added processors and food service businesses.

The Rural Food Business Assistance Project is a program launched by the NC Rural Center in partnership with the USDA Rural Business Development Grant. Its goal is to support current and aspiring food entrepreneurs in order to stimulate the growth and development of thriving agribusinesses across North Carolina.

The Rural Food Business Assistance Project focuses on breaking down the barriers between food entrepreneurs and the business knowledge they need to be successful while also connecting them to the resources and markets in their region.

Support and Technical Assistance are provided to project participants in the following ways:

  • Scholarships: Project participants may receive a scholarship to cover the registration costs of any courses, trainings, and conferences they are interested in attending that relate to their specific businesses.
    • For example: If a farmer or aspiring farmer in Cleveland County would like to attend a training at the Organic Grower’s School, the Rural Food Business Assistance Project will pay their registration fee. That way, they can learn about ways to improve their business at no cost to themselves.
  • Assessment: Each project participant is assigned a coach who assesses the participant’s business goals, skills, and needs.
  • Connection: Based on their individual assessments, coaches direct participants to the organizations, experts, programs, conferences, capital, and regional contacts that can further support them reaching their business goals.

Who does it support?

All food entrepreneurs who live, or have a business located, in the Foothills Region (Cleveland, McDowell, Polk, or Rutherford counties) are eligible to apply to participate in the project. Other eligible regions and counties can be found on the NC Rural Center’s program page. Food entrepreneurs include anyone who is currently (or who is aspiring to be) a farmer, agribusiness, value-added food processor, food service provider, or any other food-related business owner.

Examples of Eligible Applicants include:

  • A farmer who grows produce in Polk County
  • A person interested in opening a restaurant in Rutherford County
  • A business owner who makes and sells jam in McDowell County

What is the NC Rural Center’s Role?

The NC Rural Center is a nonprofit organization that has been working for over 30 years to to develop, promote, and implement sound economic strategies that improve the quality of life of rural North Carolinians. It supports rural food entrepreneurs through initiatives that place food at the center of economic development by providing rural entrepreneurs with support in growing and innovating food businesses within their communities.

As the administrators of the Rural Food Business Assistance Project, the NC Rural Center is responsible for identifying potential applicants, awarding scholarships, and helping them to build their business capacity and skills. The Rural Center will also provide the coaches that are assigned to each project participant. The collaborative approach of this project combines this individual technical assistance provided by the NC Rural Center with the resource coordination efforts of the Foothills Regional Commission and other regional organizations.

The Rural Food Business Assistance Project aims to strengthen the Foothills region’s food network and to encourage its rural citizens to get involved in their local and statewide food system.

Why is this project so important?

The ability for food entrepreneurs to operate their business in their community is essential to the growth and strengthening of local food systems and economies; however, starting and growing a business requires access to knowledge that these entrepreneurs don’t have available, or may not realize is available, when they begin to create their businesses.

The Rural Food Business Assistance Project enables rural food entrepreneurs to go where they need to go and learn what they need to know in order to sustain their businesses.

A video on the project is available here.

Food & Community Development Program

In addition to the Rural Food Business Assistance Project, the NC Rural Center is engaged in other projects involving food council support and food innovation. To learn more about the Food and Community Development program, visit their program page.

Agricultural Economic Development in the Foothills Region

The Foothills Regional Economic Development Strategy identifies agriculture as a target industry cluster in the region. The Commission is working to connect agricultural industry leaders across the region with each other and with helpful programs and resources. Click here to learn more about agricultural economic development in the Foothills Region.