By Katie Hetherington Cunfer, Director of Government & Community Relations
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”
Time to dress the turkeys, trim the trees, go wassailing and celebrate the bounty of Berks County. Once again, the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance (GRCA) has complied its annual Holiday Gift Guide full of Berks County delights that you can gift to loved ones, use to fill you holiday table or buy for your self – no judgement. This year’s guide features an even wider array of vendors and products from local farmers, restaurants, wineries, breweries, snack food companies and artisans, all of which were vendors at our Taste of Berks event held in November.
New with this year’s guide is our Go Buy Berks gift card program through giverrang.com. This gift card can be used at any location that accepts MasterCard and can be sent electronically or you can purchase a plastic card for a small fee. The Go Buy Berks program encourages users to support local businesses and vendors, keeping dollars in our local economy and helping our small businesses thrive. For every $100 spent in Berks County anywhere from $43 to $68 or more stays local. The Go Buy Berks Local Gift Card helps multiply this impact. The Go Buy Berks page features a listing of the many locations you can use the card and how to purchase the cards. We hope you will give the gift of Berks in 2022!
Supporting the Berks Ag Industry
For the past two years, the GRCA has been proud to support and showcase Berks County’s agribusiness community. Because agriculture is a top industry, GRCA launched its agricultural literacy campaign “Grow Together” on the Rebuild Berks website in 2020 in partnership with the Berks County Department of Agriculture and the Berks Agricultural Resource Network. This program is supported by funding from the Berks County Commissioners and GRCA member companies.
The campaign was created to educate the community about the local products grown and produced right here in Berks County. Did you know that Berks County accounts for 7% of statewide agricultural sales, is ranked third in total crops sold in the state, and in the top 100 nationwide? Berks ranks 14th in counties for nursery, greenhouse and floriculture crops nationwide and 14% of Berks County farms sell directly to consumers, according to the US Department of Agriculture’s 2017 Ag Census. The majority of Berks farms are under 500 acres and 97% are family owned. We are also within three hours of 60% of the U.S. population, offering Berks County farmers a vast array of potential customers for our diverse products.
The “Grow Together campaign” also highlights our growing agritourism industry, where farmers are opening their farms for consumers to reconnect with where their food comes from and experience the fun of corn mazes, picking out a fresh Christmas tree, sipping local wines amongst the vines and much more. November’s campaign features Berks farmers raising fresh turkeys for your Thanksgiving dinner and a reminder to support Berks County famers on Small Business Saturday. December will feature places you and your family can go to find fresh cut Christmas trees and other Berks County grown holiday décor.
While the campaign will still tell the stories of local farmers and their products, the website content will have its own home. In the coming months, www.growtogetherberks.org will launch as its own microsite. GRCA will continue to partner with Strunk Media Group and local photographer Susan Angstadt to assist in populating the pages to add new content and photos.
A new, more interactive directory will be built to highlight the agribusinesses of Berks County. Visitors will be able to toggle between a list view and map view of the directory and filter results by desired product and type of business. We’ll also be including an “Ag Events Community Calendar” to serve as a central location to find farm markets and agritourism events year-round.
GRCA’s support for the agricultural community includes increasing economic development opportunities by offering low interest, manageable term financing through the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority (PIDA) program. This matching financing program is open to eligible businesses and farms that retain or create jobs in Pennsylvania. This program helps them purchase land, buildings, construction and renovation costs, machinery and equipment purchases, working capital and accounts receivable lines of credit and other eligible expenses. GRCA works with the business’ other lender(s) to maximize the utilization of this program and give the farm the best chance for future success.
Farmers across Berks County have successfully utilized this program to expand, grow, and diversify their operations, increasing the diversity of local products and contributing to the capacity of the global supply chain. To find out more about PIDA, visit greaterreading.org/financing.
We also produce a monthly agriculture newsletter for the Berks County agricultural community. To sign up, visit tinyurl.com/berksagnewsletter. This newsletter is full of news you can use, farming financial resources and agriculture-related events. We also use this network to send out important, time-sensitive notifications, such as opportunities for local funding through Berks County during COVID and alerts related to the Avian Influenza outbreak this past spring.
GRCA also recognizes that not everyone in the agricultural community utilizes the internet. In response, it has been sending out postcards to more than 600 recipients each quarter and plans on doing so into 2023. The postcards contain important information and upcoming events with a phone number they can call to learn more about each item or event.