Working Lands Enterprise Initiative supports Farm and Forest Organizations
June 7, 2018 / Montpelier, VT – The Working Lands Enterprise Board awarded over $750,000 in grants to 25 Vermont agriculture and forest sector businesses and service providers at the statehouse today, in support of businesses and organizations that support Vermont’s working landscape. The Working Lands Enterprise Initiative has distributed over $3.8 million in grants since its inception in 2012, leading to an additional 428 jobs and $18.1 million in sales.
This year, the Working Lands Enterprise Fund received a donation of $16,000 from Ski Vermont. The annual Ski Vermont Grant went to Fairmont Farm from East Montpelier and will be used to fund the dairy farm’s Life on the Farm Camp. Every summer, this camp brings many non-farm families to the dairy farm to enjoy a firsthand farming experience.
Secretary of Agriculture, Food & Markets Anson Tebbetts; Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, Food & Markets Alyson Eastman; Special Projects for Commerce & Community Development, Tim Tierney; Commissioner of Forests, Parks & Recreation, Michael Snyder all participated in the presentations to the grantees, a list of which is included below:
Business Investment Grantees, (12) Agriculture and (3) Forestry Grant Recipients:
- Champlain Valley Creamery, Moira Cook, $14,266 Champlain Valley Creamery small-scale bulk milk tankering to increase production capacity, Middlebury
- Full Belly Farm, Sarah Park, $5869, Cold Storage capacity and Low Tunnel Infrastructure, Hinesburg
- Stannard Farm Vermont Maple Syrup, Riva Reynolds, $19,000 Increasing Capacity for Maple Retail marketing in The Northeast Kingdom, Starksboro
- Small Axe Farm, Heidi Choate, $9,000, Solar Installation/New Washroom, Barnet
- Vermont Land Trust, Chuda Dhaurali, $35,000 Improving Slaughter Capacity at Pine Island Community Farm, Colchester
- Rico Balzano, Walnut Hill Farm, $9,750 Freezer Storage in Pawlet, VT, Pawlet
- Northeastern Vine Supply, Inc, Andrew Farmer, $19,700 Increasing Market Competitiveness through Transition to Virus-Certified Grapevine Nursery Stock,
- Fairmont, LLC, Clara Ayer, $16,000 Life on the Farm Camp, East Montpelier
- Burtts Apple Orchard, Gregory and Stef Burtt, $10,000 Burtts Apple Orchard Pick your own and retail operation, Cabot
- Sawyer Made, George Sawyer, $20,000, Sawyer Made Facilities Upgrade
- Vermont Salumi, Pete Coleman, $50,000– Improving Market Access with an automatic Meat Slicer, Plainfield
- Rhapsody Natural Foods, Sjon and Elysha Welters, $20,000 Rhapsody Natural Foods Annex and Walk-In Cooler/Freezer, Calais
- Food Connects, Richard Berkfield, $50,000 - Building a Southeast VT Multi-use Hub for New Regional Partnerships and Increased Local Food Sales, Brattleboro
- Sustainable Timber Investment Exchange, Eli Gould, $16,000, Vermont Mass Timber Ceiling Prototype
- Clear Lake Furniture, Brent Karner, $19,978 Genuine Vermont Made showroom, Ludlow
Service Provider Grantees (Statewide impact) (6) Agriculture, (1) Forestry:
- Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT), Jen Miller, $19,525 Vermont Organic Dairy: Improving Farm Efficiencies and Cash Flow in a Stagnant Milk Market, Richmond
- Vermont Grass Farmers Association, Meghan Sheridan $11,337 Education and marketing program development supporting grass-fed livestock production, Burlington
- Intervale Center, Amanda Fischer, $18,659 Direct Service to New Farmers in Vermont, Burlington
- Dairy Vison Vermont, Louise Calderwood $5,000 Dairy Vison Vermont Service Provider Grant, Craftsbury
- Vermont Maple Sugar Makers' Association, Amanda Voyer, $9,900 Food safety in the Sugarhouse: Creating Additional Resources for Sugar Makers Waterbury
- Vital Communities, Beth Roy $20,000 Upper Valley Farmer Cooperative, White River Junction
- Vermont Woodworks Council, Kathleen Wanner, $20,000 Strengthening Vermont's Wood Manufacturing Industry, Rutland
Service Provider Pilot Contracts (Statewide Impact) (3) Forestry:
- VT Housing and Conservation Board Ela Chapin, $130,000 Succession Planning and Business Assistance for Working Lands Businesses, Montpelier
- VT Sustainable Jobs Fund, Christine McGowan, $70,000 Vermont Forest Products Value Chain Investment Strategy Phase II – A Networked Approach to Sustain our Forest Economy, Montpelier
- Northern Forest Center, Joe Short, $50,000, Connect businesses to resources, assist with strategic planning, provide technical assistance with research and design
Prior to 2010, Maple Wind Farm, a diversified, pasture-based livestock farm, was producing and processing non-inspected poultry under Vermont’s 1,000-bird exemption. As the poultry part of its business grew, Maple Wind used the state’s Mobile Poultry Processing Unit (MPPU) to expand to 2,000 birds, which was enough volume to reach the wholesale and restaurant market. However, the sale of the MPPU to a private individual would have forced Maple Wind to draw back down to its former exemption level.
“In order to expand our poultry offerings and access new markets, we decided to build a small USDA-inspected poultry-processing facility,” says Maple Wind Owner Bruce Hennessey.
Maple Wind Farm received a $15,000 Working Lands grant in 2013 to help build a Poultry Processing Unit, which was completed, installed, and in operation by July 2013. Maple Wind Farm’s quantity of processed poultry increased dramatically after that—up to 8,000 broilers and 400 turkeys by 2014. The new unit made operations more efficient by decreasing processing time and costs. It also provided an outlet for other local farms seeking inspected processing services.
After an increase in production, Maple Wind Farm Owner Bruce Hennessey looked toward upgrades for efficiency improvements.
“We knew freezing capacity would allow us to freeze meats and other value-added products on-site, increasing product-flow efficiencies and lowering costs,” said Hennessey.
In 2015, Maple Wind received another Working Lands grant--$67,400 for upgrades, including a blast chiller for poultry, increased freezer capacity, and poultry-processing equipment. Hennessey says the benefit of air chilling has been tremendous.
“Most poultry in the U.S. is chilled in ice water baths. While it is a quick way to chill, it results in an inferior product, as the processed bird retains 5-8% of the water and provides increased possibility for contamination. With air chilling, the chicken loses a little moisture, flavor is more intense, and the meat more tender.”
Although Maple Wind produces a variety of pasture-based livestock, including beef and pork, as well as organic vegetables, poultry has grown into its primary enterprise.
“Right now, we are about 80% wholesale,” says Hennessey. “We are not quite at capacity, but an arrangement with one more big company would provide the ability to max out at 20,000 birds per year.”
Hennessey says his farm’s success was made possible through the help of many organizations.
“There are a lot of synergies involved, a lot of directions, with many important pieces. The Working Lands grants were some of those pieces, providing leverage for other loans, grants, and assistance. We are also thankful to many other organizations, including Vermont Land Trust, the Towns of Richmond and Huntington, Vermont Community Fund, City Market, and Efficiency Vermont, for their help in bringing all those pieces together to make it happen.”
The Wilcox Family has been manufacturing ice cream in Vermont since 1928, when brothers Howard E “Dutch” and Roger Wilcox started making ice cream with a machine and handheld motor and ice harvested from a nearby pond each winter.
The family business has a rich and diverse story, with challenges and set-backs, but Howard, fourth-generation, and Craig and Christina Wilcox, fifth-generation, business owners, continue to bring its creamy and delicious treat to Vermont eighty-nine years after the first batch was made.
After a terrible fire in 2001 destroyed their ice cream manufacturing plant, the Wilcox Family was determined to keep the business going. They began manufacturing ice cream in other production facilities in Vermont, New York, and Massachusetts, moving when necessary to support continued business.
“On Production Day, Dad (Howard A. Wilcox) and I drove to a production facility with our inclusions, packaging, and mix,” says, Christina Wilcox. “We made our ice cream, loaded it, took it home, and unloaded it. It was a 20-hour day, but we did it that way for fifteen years.”
While traveling to other production facilities helped maintain the business, it did not provide the capacity to grow the Wilcox product line. Wilcox purchased out-of-state products to keep customers supplied and began transporting frozen goods for other companies.
Everything changed in 2014, when Wilcox Ice Cream received a $20,000 Working Lands grant to help construct a new ice cream production room to house a “continuous ice cream making machine” and a 5000-gallon wash water-holding tank.
“This was a small grant in relation to the size of the project, but it was really the beginning for us,” says Christina. “Without the grant to act as cash-down on our first loan, it never would have been possible.”
Since moving into its new permanent home in East Arlington, Wilcox Ice Cream has seen a steady increase in sales and new business relationships. Last winter, Wilcox began production of an alcohol-infused ice cream and sorbet bar (the “Buzz Bar”) for a company in California. It also launched a project with University of Vermont to make a special “UVM blend” ice cream from UVM dairy milk supplied to St. Albans Cooperative. The ice cream will be served in UVM dining halls and in a new on-campus “scoop shop.”
In addition to new projects and relationships, Wilcox is poised to increase production and distribution of its own line.
“We are working to obtain new customers and new wholesale and retail markets,” says Christina. After the fire, we had to grow the resale line of our business, but now we are ready to grow our own product lines.”
And now “Team Sweet Street,” as the employees have affectionately became known by the local population, is ready for the next chapter in their story.
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.