GREAT FALLS - About a year ago, Discount Meats at 2020 Second Avenue North in Great Falls unveiled some unique vending machines to sell meat and other products to customers when they're not open on the weekends.
They’re refrigerated and dispense cookable meat, a business tool that helped the business tremendously. A few months later, however, they were vandalized last year.
Ben and Rosy Handl run the store and estimate a couple thousand dollars in damages to the machines. They also need a few thousand to enhance their security and can do so thanks to the Growth Through Agriculture Program.
Theirs is a 50-50 match, meaning they will contribute $40,000 and get an additional $40,000 from the program. They are hoping to have the machines fixed within a few months.
“This is super beneficial for us,” Ben Handl said of the GTA program. “Fixing our building is a huge one too, to help keep the agricultural value and giving people Montana quality beef at a reasonable rate so it is super beneficial to us.”
The GTA program is a grant and loan program that was established by the Montana Legislature years ago. It was built to strengthen the state's agricultural industry through developing new products and processes.
The GTA program is overseen by the Agriculture Development Council, part of the Montana Department of Agriculture.
“Popularity of the program has really increased,” said Bureau chief Andy Fjeseth. “We set some records the last couple of years with the number of applications, so there's a lot of interest in it, which is exciting because the goals of the program are really to help producers and help food and ag businesses add value to Montana products.”
Prior to last year, the program averaged around 40 to 50 applicants. Last year they were looking at more than 150 concept applications and accepted about 35 of them to apply for a full application.
Through the program, eligible applicants can get up to $50,000 through a grant or $100,000 with a loan.
Discount Meats applied to help repair their meat vending machines.
“It's a way for us not to be open on six days a week. We can't run six days a week, so these will help a lot,” Handl said. “We’ll be stocking them on the weekends and after hours. These will be tremendous.”
The process to apply involves a pre-application deadline and then they will filter through those to let a select number submit a more thorough application. The first deadline to apply is Sept. 12 at 5 p.m.