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Granting growth

Ten more Tennessee businesses benefit from Agriculture Enterprise Fund
Story and photos by Chris Villines 7/31/2018


Silver Bait, LLC of Grundy County was one of 10 Agriculture Enterprise Fund (AEF) recipients announced June 19 in Adams. Joining Silver Bait owner Bruno Durant, second from left, for the presentation are, from left, Grundy County Mayor Michael Brady, Tennessee Economic and Community Development Assistant Commissioner Amy New, and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s Tom Womack, Deputy Commissioner, and Ed Harlan, Assistant Commissioner for Agricultural Advancement.
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Riley Brothers Farms in Adams was the setting on June 19 as 10 Tennessee businesses were announced as the third group to receive Agriculture Enterprise Fund (AEF) grants.

The AEF is a product of the Governor’s Rural Task Force to create job growth and economic development primarily in the state’s rural areas. Since the program’s inception, 24 projects have been funded in 21 counties, accounting for $923,000 of the $1 million set aside for the AEF.

Tennessee Agriculture Deputy Commissioner Tom Womack and Economic and Community Development Assistant Commissioner Amy New led the announcement of the recipients and were joined by other state and local leaders, as well as representatives of those receiving grants. Attendees at the Robertson County farm were treated to locally produced chocolate milk from Groves Family Dairy in Orlinda.

“We’re here to celebrate the investment that agribusinesses make all across the state and in our rural counties,” said Womack. “The idea behind the Ag Enterprise Fund is to spread that economic growth for our ag economy. Most importantly, it’s about creating jobs in our rural areas, increasing markets for farmers, and making an investment in entrepreneurship.”

In her remarks, New explained that the question of “What do we need to make sure we are delivering that we are not already in the state of Tennessee?” was a central focus of the Governor’s Rural Task Force.

“From an Economic and Community Development standpoint, we were giving grants to companies that were creating jobs in the community, but there was a huge gap there in terms of agriculture,” she said. “Only 28 percent of these incentives were going into our rural communities, and 80 of Tennessee’s 95 counties are considered rural. That was a wake-up call for the Task Force. We’ve developed a host of programs, such as the Ag Enterprise Fund, and through these we’ve increased the percentage of incentives going to rural areas to 48 percent.

“I’m hoping that by the end of Governor Haslam’s term, we’ll be well over 50 percent and even into the 60-to-70-percent range. We need to continue to raise our investment in rural Tennessee.”

Event host Riley Brothers Farm is one of 10 growers in a new cooperative, Melon Pride, that was one of the announced grant recipients. Formed as a way to offset the number of acres devoted to tobacco, Melon Pride will use the AEF grant to allow these producers to diversify their crops. In this first year, the 10 farmers are growing some 160 acres of seedless personal and cannonball watermelons with hopes to expand to other types of produce in the future.

The harvested watermelons will be packaged at Riley Brothers’ warehouses and shipped by Robinson Fresh, a produce broker that works with 98 of the top 100 retailers in the U.S.

“We operate under the same business model as the Co-op across the street,” said Melon Pride member Phillip Head of Adams, referring to the branch store of Robertson Cheatham Farmers Cooperative located close by. “It’s a farmer-owned business. The contract we get from Robinson Fresh is to Melon Pride, not to each individual grower. It’s exciting, but at the same time a big learning curve for us. We hope that we can grow the cooperative and make this a new niche in this part of the world.”

Another Melon Pride member, Corey Winters, cited location as a factor in Robinson Fresh floating this idea to the area’s farmers.

“We are within four or five hours of most major distribution centers,” he said. “That’s key, especially with the increasing cost of trucking.”

In addition to Melon Pride, the nine other grant recipients included:

• Adams Innovation (GeoAir), Grainger County — beta testing mold detection technology on farms

• Dorsett Processing, Gibson County — expanding a meat processing facility to accommodate custom livestock harvesting

• East TN Wood Products, Blount County — expanding business to produce White Oak headings for bourbon barrels shipped to Scotland

• Mooresburg Forest Products, Hawkins County — purchasing a new debarking system to expand a pulpwood processing facility

• Silver Bait and Willow Oaks Farm, Grundy County — extending three-phase power to a worm farm and poultry farm to expand their operations

• Stone Mountain Mulch, Hawkins County — expanding a hardwood and pine bark processing facility through the purchase of a new grinding system

• Sweetwater Valley Farm, Loudon County — creating a renewable energy source from cow, cheese, and food waste

• TMS Family Farms, Macon County — adding a commercial kitchen to expand their direct sales of beef, pork, and lamb products.

“It’s a great honor for our small family business to be awarded this grant,” said Mark Dixon of East TN Wood Products. “We are excited to be able to expand and improve our company with the assistance of the AEF. Our goal is to put the funding to good use for East TN Wood Products, our community, and the state.”

The AEF awards grants to new or expanding agricultural, food, and forestry businesses; farmers, nonprofits, local governments, and other entities in Tennessee, or those whose project will be located in Tennessee. Priority is given to businesses located in at-risk counties, distressed counties, and counties adjoining at-risk or distressed counties.

“The first year of the Agriculture Enterprise Fund has been extremely successful, and we look forward to seeing the economic benefits in the recipients’ communities,” Tennessee Agriculture Commissioner Jai Templeton said. “From Shelby County to Johnson County, from sawmills to mold detection technology, the Agriculture Enterprise Fund has strengthened Tennessee’s No. 1 industry in the places that need it most.”

More information on the Agriculture Enterprise fund can be found at or by contacting the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Advancement Division at 615-837-5160.

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