WASHINGTON — The selection of 34 organizations for grants to help rural cooperatives and small businesses expand and strengthen their capacity to serve rural citizens and communities was announced by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

“Our rural communities have incredible potential to create new jobs and expand opportunity for rural Americans,” Vilsack said.

“The grants announced today will strengthen rural business development by partnering with rural co-ops and nonprofits, expanding technical assistance for Main Street businesses. Today’s effort is yet another example of USDA’s comprehensive focus on revitalizing the rural economy, and it is a reminder that a new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill is pivotal to continue these efforts.”

Funding is being provided through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Cooperative Development Grant program.

The grants are being awarded to nonprofit groups and higher education institutions to create and operate centers that help establish, expand or operate rural businesses, especially cooperatives and mutually-owned businesses.

These competitively-awarded grants may be used to conduct feasibility studies, create and implement business plans and help businesses develop new markets for their products and services. Since fiscal year 2009, the RCDG program has awarded 166 grants for about $33 million and has helped nearly 3,000 businesses.

Vilsack’s announcement includes several recipients who are developing new market opportunities for rural farmers and ranchers by capitalizing on budding consumer interest in locally produced food.

For instance, the Indiana Cooperative Development Center is being selected for a $200,000 grant to assist food hubs — facilities that aggregate local food and market it to large-volume buyers in the region — as part of the “My Local Indiana” effort.

A recent Michigan State University study found that the average food hub creates nearly 20 jobs and generates close to $4 million in sales.

The projects supported through Vilsack’s announcement go far beyond food. For example, Western Illinois University in Macomb, Ill., will receive a $199,871 grant to conduct outreach on renewable energy and bio-based products, among other projects. It also will help build statewide capacity for cooperatives.

Vilsack announced more than $6 million in grants. Funding for each recipient is contingent upon the recipient meeting the terms of the grant agreement.