Rich Larson has been in the dairy business since he was a youth.
“I grew up on a dairy farm in Connecticut, but my wife and I came to Vermont in 1975. The family farm was slated for development, and Vermont was the ‘land of opportunity,’” says Larson.
After working as a herdsman on a farm in Rutland and later renting a small farm, Rich and Cynthia purchased their own farm in Wells where they could raise their eight children. Forty years later, their milking herd is smaller, but their business is growing.
On May 16th, Larson Farm & Creamery received a $19,980 Working Lands grant, funded by Ski Vermont, to launch a new product line of value-added dairy products, including organic gelato, butter, yogurt and skyr.
“Our Agriculture Viability market study suggested this is a great time to launch new products,” says Rich. “We hope to be the first 100% grass-fed cow-to-cup certified organic farmstead offering gelato in Vermont.”
Larson Farm is a 35-cow, 100% grass-fed, organic Jersey dairy. The Larsons currently market their milk directly to consumers and sell excess milk to a high-end cheese maker. The Larsons hope the addition of value-added products will increase profitability.
Although the Larsons have already established much of the groundwork for their new line of products, including the addition of a creamery, they believe the Working Lands Grant will help them refine and enhance their new product offerings.
“We are so grateful for the Working Lands program,” says Rich. “We are in a critical stage of our business growth, with no solid cash flow from our new products yet. We recognize the need for some additional consultation for product development and marketing. We couldn’t do it without the grant.”
The Larsons are enthusiastic about building a sustainable farming business, but also about exercising true stewardship of the land, soil, and animals.
“We believe our service to the world is to provide the highest quality of food to nourish bodies. In doing so, we hope it will help all of us think a little better about the world,” says Cynthia.
Ultimately, the Larsons hope to grow their business, maintain its viability, and provide employment opportunity for other Vermonters.
“Our real passion is to keep our farm in farming for the next generation, whether it is through our children or someone else,” says Rich.
Since the Vermont Working Lands Enterprise Initiative was signed into law in 2012, the Working Lands Program has funded 148 Agriculture and Forestry Projects in all 14 counties, distributed over $4.4 Million, and leveraged $8.6 Million in matching funds to strengthen and grow the economies, cultures, and communities of Vermont's working landscape. The Working Lands Enterprise Board makes essential catalytic investments in critical leverage points of the Vermont farm and forest economy and facilitates policy development to optimize the agricultural and forest use of Vermont lands.
“The Working Lands Enterprise Fund demonstrates the state’s investment in the working lands enterprise economy,” says Secretary of Agriculture, Anson Tebbetts. “With more than 80% of Vermont’s farmland dedicated to dairy, the Working Lands Enterprise Board values the dairy industry and wants to help dairy businesses innovate and grow.”
Over $516,000 of the overall $4.4 Million has been awarded to farms and organizations in 9 counties to support the dairy industry in Vermont. Grants have been awarded for a wide variety of dairy projects, including fluid milk bottling lines, a cheese aging cave, the addition of value-added dairy products, such as yogurt and ice cream, and equipment for manufacturing or processing facilities.
The 2017 Grantees included two businesses in the Dairy category--Larson Farm & Creamery in Wells, and Sweet Rowen Farmstead in West Glover.
Larson Farm & Creamery’s $19,980 grant was funded through a generous donation from Ski Vermont and will be used to launch a new product line of value-added dairy products, including organic gelato, butter, and skyr.
Sweet Rowen Farmstead received a $50,000 Working Lands Grant to help build an on-farm creamery and community space that will increase production capacity by reducing time, fuel, and utilities needed to process milk into cheese.
In addition to the grant program, the Working Lands Board partners with Vermont Agricultural Credit Corporation (VACC) to provide no-interest, deferred-payment loans for conventional dairy businesses transitioning to organic production. Loans may be used for operating and/or capital expenses, including infrastructure improvements, transition of land base and dairy herd, change in cropping methods, and losses or extra costs, related to the transition. The Working Lands Enterprise Initiative Grant funds provide subsidy for these loans.
According to a new study funded by the Vermont Dairy Promotion Council, the Vermont Dairy Industry brings $2.2 Billion in economic activity to Vermont annually, accounts for more than 70% of Vermont’s agricultural sales, and produces 63% of the milk in New England.