Georgia Agricultural Innovation Center to Bring Farmers From Fresh to Value-Added Markets

Lillian Dickens

Tuesday, May 28th, 2024

Georgia has a rich agricultural history in fresh produce owing to factors including a favorable climate and long growing season. During times when fresh produce cannot be actively grown and harvested, growers would benefit from diversifying their income streams through value-added markets.

In rural areas where farms are primarily located, many entrepreneurs have limited access to appropriate business development resources and opportunities to break into value-added markets.

Introducing VIBE

The University of Georgia is launching the Value-Addition Institute for Business Expansion (VIBE), a new center for rural food business assistance and resources headed by professors from the Department of Food Science and Technology in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES) and the Department of Nutritional Sciences in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences (FACS).

VIBE is funded by a $1.5 million grant from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Innovation Center, a national program that establishes and operates centers that provide aid to agricultural producers seeking to engage in developing and marketing value-added agricultural products.

UGA's multidisciplinary team will travel to meet people for personalized support and to host workshops across the state.

Partnering up for one-on-one support

“Georgia farmers do an incredible job producing a raw product, but there is significant room to expand processing and value-added opportunities in our state. The new VIBE center at the University of Georgia will help us bridge that gap — bringing new investment and jobs to Georgia and helping return more of the retail dollar back to the family farm through new, value-added opportunities,” said Tyler Harper, agriculture commissioner for the state of Georgia. “The University of Georgia’s incredible record of success speaks for itself, and we’re thrilled to continue the longstanding partnership between UGA and Georgia’s No. 1 industry through the VIBE center.” 

VIBE will bring these value-added markets to rural parts of Georgia, providing farmers with resources through education and financial assistance to help them move from fresh packing to value-added processing.

“Farmers using this program would be able to use some of the crops that might not have been suitable for fresh harvest and sale, which would eliminate food waste and provide an additional revenue stream for themselves,” said Kaitlyn Casulli, an assistant professor of food science and technology who is leading VIBE along with CAES food engineer Kevin Mis Solval and FACS food safety specialist Carla Schwan. “Take blueberry production, for example. There are many varieties of blueberries that you can plant and harvest at different times of the year and sell while fresh. If you add a value-added processing string to that, you could produce blueberry jams, jellies, juice and all kinds of other products using those blueberries not suitable for fresh sale, and not just rely on the sale of the fresh fruit, creating year-round revenue.”

VIBE is also partnering with Good Agriculture, a Georgia-based nonprofit that helps farmers with ongoing financial management and obtaining funding.

“I want to bring everyone who helps the food economy in Georgia together. We have the right people and the right resources across Georgia to get the job done. Together we will be able to help farmers get the help they need,” said Casulli.

VIBE is now available to provide one-on-one technical support and workshop offerings on product and process development to help rural farmers and entrepreneurs start food businesses. For more information and to make inquiries, contact CasulliMis Solval or Schwan.