The United States Department of Agriculture announces that Sweet Mountain Farm, LLC, a honey producer, custom beehive builder, and honeybee breeder on Washington Island, has been selected to receive a Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG).
Sweet Mountain Farm is one of 15 VAPG recipients in the state of Wisconsin receiving $1.69 million in Rural Development funds. The grant will be used to brand and market organic honey to a new customer demographic; for labor, packaging, labeling, certification, and promotional expenses.
“The grant was complex and highly competitive,” said Sweet Mountain Farm owner Sue Dompke. “The proposal wasn’t easy, we worked long hours to research and write a business plan to strategically secure aspects of successful implementation.”
A grant proposal is evaluated upon being technically feasible, profitable, and economically sustainable. “The grant will help us expand our customer base, build a strong support network, and increase personnel.” “I am investing and verifying a dollar-for-dollar match on all grant funds.”
Sweet Mountain Farm, LLC is more than a honeybee apiary, “the farm produces maple syrup, builds custom northern white cedar beehives and breeds Russian honeybees. The farm is also an educational resource encouraging, motivating and establishing new beekeepers and provides equipment to raise bees.
“Our vision is to develop and implement solutions to declining honeybee populations and colonies that are disappearing at alarming rates due to the cumulative effects of parasitic mites, viral and bacterial diseases, and exposure to pesticides and herbicides,” Dompke reports.
Sweet Mountain Farm is located at the base of a mountain on Washington Island that is 728 feet above sea level. A 35 square foot island located seven miles from the northern tip of Door County mainland.
“Locating Sweet Mountain Farm on Washington Island is essential to our mission as bee breeders,” says Dompke. “The distance from mainland Wisconsin is greater than the 2-3 mile average pollinating fl ight of the honeybee so the isolation gives us added security from threats like Verroa Destructor (a parasitic mite that destroys honeybees).”
Since the island encompasses 15,000 acres, and is set apart from customary shipping routes, the island does not afford the larger farms adequate market access. The absence of large farms reduces the likelihood that the bees will pollinate on potentially toxic fields.
“The size of the island, allows Sweet Mountain Farm to know its farming neighbors, which in turn allows us the unique opportunity to know what is being grown,” Dompke said.
The Russian honeybee was selected for its genetic mite resistance, hygienic behavior and cold hardiness. The beehive is built with local northern white cedar that has the highest insulation value of local tree species, making the cedar hives warmer than pine and better suited for cold climates. The methods used to manage the Sweet Mountain Farm apiary protect the bees from chemicals inside and outside the hive and incorporates a natural integrated pest management system.
Sweet Mountain Farm documents the bee yard operations with hopes to open up the bee yard for entomological research.
“The farms reduced mite loads may correlate with various farm management techniques which may be of interest to a greater audience,” Dompke said.
Sweet Mountain Farm uses a hive sponsorship program to grow the apiary. Hive sponsorship is similar to the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm model, whereby sponsors purchase a market basket early in the season and at the end of the season receive honey and maple syrup in individual gift boxes. The hive sponsorship program adds one new beehive to its apiary for every sponsorship that is purchased. The VAPG will help Sweet Mountain Farm to promote the sponsorship program to corporate clients.
“We are grateful for the opportunity to expand our operation, it must mean that we’re doing something right,” said Sarah Gordon, production manager at Sweet Mountain Farm, who custom builds the beehives. “The grant is significant because it allows me the opportunity to help grow our family business while living in an environment that is optimal for raising kids.”
“Receiving this grant is an honor and a privilege,” said Dompke. “It will enable us to work on the next expansion phase for our farm; certification and branding, and to create jobs while respecting the environment and contributing to our community.”
VAPG funds may be used for feasibility studies, business plans, working capital for marketing value-added agricultural products, and for farm based renewable energy projects. Eligible applicants include independent producers, farmer and rancher cooperatives, agricultural producer groups and majority-controlled produce-based business ventures. Value-added products are created when a producer increases the consumer value of an agricultural commodity in the production or processing stage. USDA selected 247 recipients in 46 states and Puerto Rico to receive $25 million in business development funds through the VAPG program. Since 2009, 863 grants were approved totaling $108 million. The funds are used to create jobs, expand local markets, and strengthen the economic foundation of rural areas.
More information about Sweet Mountain Farm, LLC is found at: sweetmountainfarm.com. Information about the Value-Added Producer Grant is found at: rurdev.usda.gov/bcp_vapg.html