How did AgConnect evolve? It all started with the Chester County Economic Development Council and the need to serve farmers and the agriculture workforce.
While working as a statewide contractor for the PDA’s PAgrows program since 2002, CCEDC staff encountered many farmers with needs for services other than loan acquisition. At times, those requisite services were entirely nonexistent or, if available, only by a service provider who had little background or experience in the agricultural sector. If the service were available from an acknowledged provider, they often had insufficient capacity to meet regional needs.
In 2009, CCEDC expanded on its PAgrows experience and established the Southeastern Pennsylvania Agriculture Partnership (Ag IP), a public-private partnership funded in part by the Chester County Workforce Investment Board (CCWIB) and the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry (PADL&I) to address other critical business needs identified by the agricultural industry cluster in southeastern PA (the Counties of Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia). While PAgrows focused on low-interest and subsidized financing for farm business expansion and reinvestment, the Ag IP focused primarily on workforce and business development including advancing regional farmers’ retail business and marketing skills; promoting and elevating the perception of agricultural production and processing as viable livelihoods; and, increasing the availability of local processing for meat and dairy producers. CCEDC’s Ag IP provided these services in partnership with private sector businesses and other partner organizations including the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA), Penn State Extension, Chester County’s Agricultural Development Council and the various Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs).
In 2013, the Southeastern PA Agriculture Partnership changed their name to the current partnership name, AgConnect. AgConnect more accurately reflected the partnership’s mission to connect farmers and agricultural business owners with the business resources, training, and financing they need to grow their business and promoting agricultural economic development within Southeastern PA.
Since 2000, AgConnect has:
- Administered the Next Generation Farmer Loan Program, a tax exempt loan program for first time farm buyers, closing more than 150 loans for more than $47 million helping farmers purchase 8,420 acres in PA.
- Supported training of 2,003 workers from more than 943 companies through grants from the PA Department of Labor & Industry and USDA’s Specialty Crop Block Grant program from 2007-2015.
- Promoted agriculture as a viable career option to 3,900 students through career exploration showcases, career fairs, and events.