The Tale of an Olive Farmer and the School Fundraiser Idea – USDA Grants Now Open and Due 3.5.20

14 Jan 2020

“The olive tree is surely the richest gift of heaven.”             — Thomas Jefferson

Lisa and Felipe Ternero’s story began in Estepa, Spain, where Felipe learned generations-old olive-farming practices and olive oil craftmanship. The two settled in Placer County, CA northeast of Sacramento and not too far from where Lisa grew up in Stockton. They opened Ternero Farms and now provide direct access to the family’s Spanish oil varietals.

Lisa was a busy mom of two school-aged children during the harvest of 2016. She was running many aspects of the business. Her novel business proposition: Produce and distribute health-conscious extra virgin olive oil in custom-labeledbottles. The added “hook” was the product positioning as a healthy fundraiser over alternative “candy and wrapping paper” campaigns.

In her words, they applied and received the USDA Value-Added Producer (VAPG) working capital matching grant because of my tenacity and knowledge as a grant writer. I tucked that email away for the inevitable days that I will hear “no” and I do appreciate her gratitude. I, however, primarily credit wins and losses to the client/writer dynamic and, in retrospect, the Terneros did many things well.


I dissected each element of the Request for Proposal (RFP) and raised the bar high. I especially dug in where the project budget for market expansion was concerned. We somewhat negotiated back and forth, carefully articulating what verbiage and concepts were appropriate and competitive. We focused on the industry and their unique capabilities as a producer. Lastly, requested a draft review from the USDA Sacramento field office requiring us to go back to the writing table at great length.


Lisa’s heart behind the project was a health-conscious option for her consumers. There’s nothing wrong with this mantra by any means, but it was at times too lofty for a federal grant. We worked together to build the parallel between a healthy product offering and the goal of the USDA: to see the farmer expand the offering through a tight marketing plan to include carefully planned logistics and placement, web improvements, social media and drive-time radio spots.


The words stung. “We missed the cut.”After all of the hopes of what could be, re-writes, and hours on the phone, we were on the line between those funded and those not. The Terneros considered other plans for growth in the wake of the difficult news and began collecting thoughts for second try the next year. Eight months passed. Lisa texted me to get in touch immediately. She had just received a message. “There’s a change and we at the USDA are funding four more applications to include yours.” Oh the joy!


The second call stirred new life into Ternero Farms’ business plans and daily operations. Per Lisa, “It has helped us grow! I no longer am as concerned over new hires and marketing costs as the USDA covers half. As a small farm, it is a great feeling to order simple things [product packaging] and to know the USDA will cover half of the cost promptly.”


The agricultural farming community is a strong collaborative.  When one benefits, they all benefit. In true form, Lisa shared her story with a number of neighboring wineries. Together, she and I are assisting a family-owned winery in the same region to apply to the 2020 VAPG opening.


To learn more about the current, national USDA VAPG announcement and the opportunities it provides for agricultural small business growth, go here.

Rhonda Poppen is an independent grant consultant and certified grant writer, working from San Francisco alongside Buddy, Labrador/Great Dane and office mate. She is a self-proclaimed pen, paper and word nerd who pours her heart into writing winning grant proposals.

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