Happy Valley Adventure Bureau President and CEO Fritz Smith, left, and CBICC President and CEO Greg Scott spoke on Monday, May 23, at RE Farm Café at Windswept for the announcement of the 2022 Happy Valley Agventures grants. Photo by Geoff Rushton | StateCollege.com
More than two dozen Center County farms and agricultural-related businesses have been awarded a combined $220,000 in grants to improve visitor experiences and boost agritourism in the region.
The grants from the Happy Valley Agventures program — a joint effort of the Happy Valley Adventure Bureau and Chamber of Business and Industry of Center County — were announced on Monday morning at RE Farm Café at Windswept Farm in Patton Township.
“This grant funding provides a boost to farms and ag-related operations at a time when visitors are seeking unique, authentic experiences that connecting with animals and farm life provides,” Fritz Smith, president and CEO of HVAB, said. “So inviting visitors and local residents to enjoy what we grow, graft and create is the mission of Happy Valley Agventures. Projects put forward will make it even more inviting to visit Happy Valley and enjoy and appreciate our agricultural heritage.”
HVAB and CBICC launched the Agventures initiative in 2019, as both organizations recognized the value of a concerted effort to promote two of the county’s largest industries: agriculture and tourism. The grants announced on Monday (which are separate from the annual HVAB tourism grants to be announced in June) are the first from the program and were made possible by $400,000 in funding from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development secured last fall with the assistance of state Sen. Jake Corman.
The funding also will be used for an Agventures marketing campaign.
“This new era of agritourism creates new customers and a new way to generate income from the land,” Greg Scott, CBICC president and CEO, said. “For some of the recipients, this grant money may even ease a financial burden that allows them to keep their land or a family farm. That’s important for all of us here in Center County. We get fresh food. Our open spaces are preserved. Our heritage is preserved. We learn new things and we have fun doing it.
“And let’s not forget these destinations boost tax revenue and increase jobs directly and indirectly. When they succeed, we all succeed, because they boost our businesses and our shared communities, our restaurants, our hotels and our retail stores.”
Grants of up to $10,000 each were awarded to all 28 businesses that applied.
“Everyone I have spoken with that has received money for this initiative is incredibly excited and happy that they are able to put some money into their businesses, help the community grow, as well as bring in visitors,” Christie Black, Happy Valley Agventures grant program and marketing consultant, said.
That money will be used for projects big and small, but all of which are vital to preparing for visitors and enhancing their experience.
RE Farm Cafe was among the recipients and its $9,800 grant will support the addition of an outdoor deck already under construction, with a canopy, seating, stairs and a fire pit.
For the farm-to-table restaurant that opened in 2019 and sources most of its found onsite at Windswept, being outdoors is a much-desired part of the customer experience, owner Duke Gastiger said.
“Our customers tell us they want to be outside,” Gastiger said. “They want to be close to the land. They want to be close to the soil that their food grows on and this gives them direct access to the farm life. I think that the future of restaurants is to get closer to the food, not to get further away from it. It really gives us an opportunity to do that.”
At Common Ground Farm in Potter Township, a $9,500 grant will fund infrastructure improvements that will allow it to welcome more visitors.
The 175-year-old farm counts among its offerings a “farm stay experience” that allows guests to stay in cottages and spend time encountering agricultural life. Owner Leslie Zuck said that as fewer people have connections to family farms, she wanted to offer day tours to visitors as well.
“I got to thinking, wouldn’t it be great to offer those farm tours to other people not just those who are spending the night on our farm?” Zuck said. “To do that we would need a public restroom, a small parking lot, a seating area. So we’re super grateful to Happy Valley Adventure Bureau as well as CBICC for this grant that’s going to allow us to be able to do that and put those enhancements into our farm and incorporate them into the farm tour and make it more comfortable for visitors .”
Center County Grange Park in Center Hall may be best known as home of the Grange Fair, but it’s also a year-round venue for agricultural events. A recently completed expansion of the park’s livestock arena will allow it to compete for events it couldn’t land in the past, and a $9,000 Agventures grant will support accompanying technological improvements that will make it even more attractive.
Matt Naylor, technology manager at Grange Park, said those will include livestreaming capabilities for agricultural shows and events, projectors and screens for presentations and equipment like iPads, laptops and printers to be available to facility renters.
“With the assistance of this grant we hope to promote even more agribusiness to Center County by improving the attractiveness of our venue and facilities, which will encourage repeat rentals and continued business from organizations looking to host their agricultural events,” Naylor said. “…From a technology standpoint, our goal is to ensure that the facility will have nearly everything a group would need to implement technology into their event at Grange Park.”
Rimmey Road Farm, which specializes in raising heritage breed Mulefoot pigs on the grounds adjacent to Rhoneymeade, will use an $8,500 grant to become an agritourism destination with upgrades for retail and events.
“Our growth hit a plateau this year because with feed prices as high as they are right now, any potential
profit or infrastructure money went into operational expenses,” owner Keith Brainard said in a statement. “This funding could not come at a better time.”
Some projects being funded by the grants “aren’t real sexy, but they’re important for the visitor experience,” Smith said, and add up to building an attractive destination for visitors and local residents.
At Pine Grove Hall in Pine Grove Mills, the restaurant has missed out on customers because of limited parking on site, Smith said. A $9,500 Agventure grant will help with an expansion that will double parking capacity.
For Meyer Dairy Farms, a $9,800 grant will help with a long-needed renovation and expansion of restrooms at the dairy store, manager Shannon Gibson said.
“We are going to be upgrading our bathrooms to be ADA compliant, making them larger,” said Gibson, who is among the fifth generation of Meyer family members involved with the store and whose father, Denny, is the current owner. “We’re hoping to do two bathrooms and each of them be gender neutral, put in baby-changing tables, just larger overall. We have some water leaking problems and things like that we’re hoping to take care of… It’s been a long overdue project. It’s probably been five to 10 years we’ve been wanting to do that.”
Ag-related businesses are about creating connections, Gastiger added, and the Agventures grants will assist each of the recipients in further building those.
“What binds us all together, everybody that… has received a grant and others, is that we’re in the business of creating connections,” he said. “If you’re a farmer, you’re creating a connection between all that soil and the food that it grows. Think of it then as a connection between the food that is grown and the people who enjoy it. The third one that is certainly a little more visible is creating connections between people. I think we’ve gotten away from, in certain aspects, enjoying other people’s company. What we do and what other grant recipients do is create that connection that they want to create.”
Here’s a look at each of the 28 Happy Valley Agventures grant recipients:
• Bear Meadows Farm – $7,800 for additional paved parking spots, road widening and
• Bee Tree Berry Farm – $8,600 for controlled outdoor storage for fresh fruits and vegetables
• Central PA Tasting Trail – $10,000 for two promotional billboards in Center and Mifflin counties
• Center County Farmland Trust – $5,000 for the reprinting of three Farm Routes guides and program postcard
• Center County Grange Fair – $9,000 for technology improvements to the livestock judging area to
attract different agriculture shows
• Common Ground Farm – $9,500 infrastructure and resource improvements to be visitor ready
• Ferguson Township – $8,000 for infrastructure needs for Route 45 Getaways participants, Tourist
Oriented Directional (TOD) signage, banner displays
• Gutter Essa – $9,800 for pavilions and an outdoor picnic area at the cheese shop
• Happy Valley Vineyard & Winery – $9,000 to expand the outdoor seating area, including a
pergola, sail shade covers and picnic benches
• Harner Farm – $4,100 for a parking lot and deck
• JL Farm and Cidery – $9,800 for a paved driveway and outdoor pavilions
• JNJP Holdings (University Wine Company) – $5,000 for stone signage for better driveway visibility
• Meyer Dairy Farms – $9,800 for the renovation/enhancement of public restrooms
• Nittany Meadow Farm – $9,000 for construction to meet Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture
licensing requirements for goat dairy operations
• Nittany Meadow Farm – $2,000 for bus retrofitting to travel with goats to promote agricultural
and educational opportunities
• Pasto Agricultural Museum – $8,000 for improvements to the museum entrance, including
lighting and a gift shop
• Pine Grove Hall – $9,500 for parking lot expansion
• Pole Cat Hollow Farm – $5,500 for the conversion of a farm shed into an ag education area for
• RE Farm Cafe at Windswept – $9,800 for the addition of an outdoor, ground-level deck with
canopy, seating, stairs and a fire pit
• Rhoneymeade – $8,800 for sound system, DJ equipment, lighting and other needs to support
• Rimmey Road Farm – $8,500 for upgrades to the farm for retail space and events
• Rooted Farmstead – $9,000 for site enhancements, point of sale equipment and the
establishment of a peony garden
• Schaeffer Farm – $6,000 for a year-round farm stand, refrigeration/freezers, parking
• Scott’s Roasting – $8,000 for food truck vehicle wrapping or farm
• Seven Mountains Wine Cellars – $8,500 for a permanent outdoor food facility
• Sinking Creek Meats– $8,500 for the construction of retail space
• University Wine Company – $5,000 for enhancements to the outdoor seating area
• Wasson Farm – $8,500 for facility expansion to increase production, meet customer demand for