by Enrico Villamaino

The USDA Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program was created to help ag producers enter value-added activities to generate new products, create and expand marketing opportunities, and increase producer income. In selecting awardees, the USDA focuses on beginning and/or socially-disadvantaged farmers, small and medium sized farms, ranches structured as family farms and farm and ranch cooperatives.

Jeff Backer, co-owner and operator of Short Creek Farm, located in Northwood, NH, spoke to Country Folks about his business and its recently awarded VAPG grant.

Backer and Dave Viola founded Short Creek in 2015. They first started out with beef cattle, pigs and an acre of vegetables. “We’ve always had a focus on the value-added products,” Backer said. “In fact, the vegetables we grew on that acre were used for seasoning our sausage, sauerkraut and kimchi.”

Overall, the duo operates on 300 acres. Some of it is owned and some of it is leased. It includes both woodlands and open pastures. They have between 22 to 24 sows, with one or two boars in the mix. There are currently about 150 pigs, and last year they processed around 350. As for the beef cattle, they’re raising close to 20. The herd is a mixture of Angus and Belted Galloway.

Over the years, they’ve switched from feeder pigs to farrowed pigs. “Since our focus has shifted to our pork products, we no longer grow our own vegetables,” Backer explained. “We’ve also moved away from preparing meats for local farmers markets to more of a wholesale operation.” They’ve also started selling dry cured salami.

Short Creek Farm retains four full-time employees in addition to Backer and Viola. There’s also one part-time employee on the team.

From retail to wholesale at Short Creek Farm

Dave Viola, owner of Short Creek Farm in Northwood, NH, looks in on peppers in his smoker. The peppers will be added to Short Creek Farm’s seasonal sausage products. Photo courtesy of Jerry Monkman

They don’t have an actual on-site store, although a few of their more local customers can place orders online and make pick-ups in person. There is also a delivery option. The farm also has partnerships with about a dozen wholesalers, two online wholesalers and four distributors. Their products are sold in the seacoast region of New Hampshire, southern Maine and northeastern Massachusetts. They recently broke into markets in Portland, Maine, and Boston too.

“We always wanted to transition from a more retail to a more wholesale operation, but there was a stumbling block,” Backer said. “The facility we were renting to prep our fresh sausage wasn’t USDA approved. The facility was approved by the State of New Hampshire to prepare sausage for sale directly to consumers, like we were doing at farmers markets. But a USDA approved facility would allow us to sell our products wholesale. We wanted to use the value-added grant to do this.”

Thanks to the grant award, they now have a USDA approved facility for use in Kennebunk, Maine. This allows them to sell their sausage as wholesalers.

“We’re going to expand our market reach even more,” Backer said of Short Creek Farm’s future. “In a few years we hope to have our products sold across all of New England as well as the New York metropolitan area.”

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