Wisconsin has much to be proud of, from our diverse agriculture industry to fruitful businesses. One of the best parts of my job as Alice is to share the success stories of those who provide food, fuel and fiber for the world. Those tales are becoming more prominent as Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin grants give a big boost to opportunities in agriculture.

The grants were designed to help farmers, producers and processors grow their local markets. Take Brix Cider in Mount Horeb, for example. Brix Cider started with Marie and Matt Raboin. The Raboins planted their first trees in 2014. Today, they have more than 1,000 trees and are still growing. Having experimented with ciders for more than 10 years, the couple had an idea of what they were getting into but were not sure how to source apples for their cider varieties. They needed an estimated 1,500 bushels of apples in the startup year, which required working relationships with some of Wisconsin’s more than 300 commercial apple orchards.

For Brix Cider, the Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin grant was ripe for the picking. The business had already crafted a few commercial batches of cider and started establishing their brand. Matt recognized Wisconsin’s apple industry has smaller orchards than other states where cider is more prominent. The grant gave them a chance to take a risk and innovate.

“The perceived challenges of working with a lot of small orchards has led several of Wisconsin’s cider makers to ship in juice from out of state rather than sourcing locally,” Matt said. “The Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin grant allowed us to test out the idea of sourcing apples from a large number of small orchards in a way that could be cost-effective.”

Two years later, Brix Cider successfully sources apples from 18 Wisconsin farms to craft dozens of cider varieties. Matt said they keep costs competitive while still providing a fair price for farmers.

“The relationships we’ve developed with the farmers and the unique ciders that we’ve made with Wisconsin-grown apples have become the defining feature of our brand, differentiating us from other craft beverage producers in an otherwise crowded market,” Matt said.

Since its inception in 2008, the Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin grant program has funded 58 projects totaling more than $1.6 million. Previous grant recipients have generated nearly $10 million in new, local food sales, created 211 jobs and benefitted more than 2,700 producers and 2,900 markets, according to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

The chance to strengthen roots in Wisconsin’s food industry is still available. Proposals for the next round of grants are due to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer PRotection by noon on March 20. A total of $170,000 is available in grant funding with the maximum award for each project being $50,000.

More information can be found at datcp.wi.gov or by contacting Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin program manager Kietra Olson at 608-224-5112 or kietra.olson@wisconsin.gov.