In 2012, the Vermont Legislature and Governor Douglas created the Working Lands Enterprise Fund (WLEF), which was tasked with investing in Vermont’s working lands enterprises to strengthen our economy, advance job creation, sustain our environment, and keep Vermont beautiful.
In 2013, the first grants were made to farm, food, and forest businesses in VT. In the years since then, nearly 500 awards have been made, totaling over $16 million.
This summer, a celebration was held to highlight the transformational impact on VT from the Working Lands Enterprise Initiative (WLEI). A group of recent grantee businesses and organizations, current and past board members, and many who have been involved in administering the program shared their stories about the many ways WLEI has positively impacted them.
As Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts says of the Working Lands Enterprise Initiative, “this is all about those who make their living off the land.”
Grace Meyer of Kalche Wine Cooperative, which received a $35,000 grant for upgrading bottling and canning systems, spoke about the important impact of the grant for the business. “Vermont is going to become more of a wine growing region. With that, we have this opportunity to keep the power and the profits in the folks that are working the lands, touching the grapes, and making the wine – not just wealthy landowners. It’s going well, but we need a lot of help. And that’s why getting the Working Lands grant was so huge for us. It will allow us to scale up a little bit to a point where we can actually see how this future rolls out in front of us. How we can become sustainable. And that makes all the difference.”
Nick Bissonnette of Bissonnette Firewood received a $157,951 Working Lands grant to purchase a new firewood kiln. With it, he says, “we can bundle wood, wholesale wood, sell firewood across state lines. Heat treated wood is a great addition to selling firewood.”
WLEI funds have been critical to getting businesses the advising and technical support they need to thrive. VT Farm and Forest Viability Program manager Liz Gleason shared, “Eleven years ago we were just the Farm Viability Program, and it was with Working Lands funds that we expanded to working with forest products businesses.”
Danielle Fitzko, Commissioner of the Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation, echoed the power of WLEI in putting public dollars to support the public good of Vermont’s working lands. “As we look towards the future, Vermont is looked at as a hub. A hub to grow more food and more trees for growing populations and for climate change. We need working lands not only for Vermonters but really for the region.”
The latest WLEI Impact Report details the significant outcomes from the entire 10 years of the program, as well as specific results of the unprecedented funding in fiscal year 2022. The program continues to grow, and in fiscal year 2023 received an increase in annual base funding from $594,000 to $1,000,000. A two page summary of the report is also available, along with a list of funded projects.