Nearly three hundred small producers — many of them growers of specialty crops — have been awarded more than $40 million in U.S. Department of Agriculture Value-Added Producer Grants.

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan made the announcement of the 298 recipients Feb. 3 at a Local/Regional Food System Conference at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

The value-added producer grants have a proven track record of success and for assisting in the development of new products for the marketplace, said Tom O’Brien, Washington, D.C., representative for the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association.

Merrigan said the recipients will be able to create jobs and grow local economies with the grants.

“This funding will promote small business expansion and entrepreneurship opportunities by providing local businesses with access capital, technical assistance and new markets for products and services,” Merrigan said in a news release.

Merrigan described a few of the grants, but the USDA only provided a list of the recipients and the amount of each award, and not the nature of the business or for what the grant will be used.

Living Water Farms, Inc., a producer of hydroponic greens located in Strawn, Ill., received $300,000 through the program. Merrigan said the grant will help the farm evaluate its brand and expand distribution to other restaurants, specialty retailers and institutional outlets in the Midwest.

Another example of the effect the grants can make, Merrigan said in the release, is the case of Agriberry LLC, Mechanicsville, Va. The operation, which received a $300,000 grant this year, has expanded to more than 35 acres of red raspberries and other fruit, according to the release.

Under the program, grant money can be used by producers for feasibility studies or business plans, working capital for marketing value-added agricultural products and for farm-based renewable energy projects, according to the release.