USDA supports small rural business with grants

Helene’s Hilltop Orchard, LLC, a family destination and small business in Merrill, Wis., was recently selected as a recipient of a U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development Renewable Energy for America Program Grant. A $19,750 grant will be used to help lower the energy costs of running their rural business.

Helene and Dave Pagoria are purchasing a new photovoltaic system for their 30 year old eco-apple orchard in rural Lincoln County. The estimated energy production from the new solar panels is 40 percent of the total energy consumption of the orchard’s operations.

Helene’s Hilltop Orchard is celebrating their 19th year of operation as a U-pick apple orchard and family attraction. The orchard, sitting on the original 1919 dairy farm owned by Helene’s grandparents, includes 20 acres of dwarf size apple trees perfect for picking and 10 acres of pumpkins.

Each year from September 18th through Halloween, the orchard is open to the public and sells fresh baked goods, their own “solar” apple cider, U-pick and pre-picked apples, pumpkins, and fall décor items. In addition there is a corn maze, a barnyard play area for children, and hayrides available for guests and families during their visit to the orchard. The remainder of the year the orchard sells their produce and other products at the Wausau Farmer’s Market.

“Like our apples, our demand is growing, and to meet those demands, our business needs to grow too,” said Helene Pagoria. “This is one way we can, by improving our energy costs.”

On September 10, 2010, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was at a Dairy Farm in Osseo, Wis. where he announced that 45 businesses and producers across Wisconsin have been awarded nearly $2.7 million in loans and grants through REAP funding for energy efficiency improvements and new renewable energy systems.

USDA Rural Development’s Renewable Energy for America Program (REAP) provides loan guarantees and grants for renewable energy systems, energy efficiency improvements, feasibility studies, and energy audits.

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