Skip to main content

Move to Williston Brings More Customers to Mama’s Farm

March 13, 2024

There is increasing interest among New Americans in Vermont for locally grown meat and vegetables produced in the traditions of their home countries.

“Sourcing fresh food like they used to eat back in their homeland is what attracts people to the farm,” Theogene Mahoro of Mama’s Farm in Williston said of the nearly 3,000 free-range meat chickens they sell each year, dozens of sheep and goats for meat, along with eggs and vegetables. “Many customers have different ways they want their meat slaughtered.

For example, Muslim customers like meat to be slaughtered in a certain way so it can be halal.” Theogene Mahoro and his wife, Hyacinthe Ayingeneye, the owners of Mama’s Farm in Williston, came to Vermont as refugees from Rwanda. They have been meeting the need for culturally-specific foods since they established their farm in 2015 on leased land at Pine Island Community Farm in Colchester, while it was owned by the Vermont Land Trust.

Theogene is holding a chicken and stands with Hyacinthe in front of red building

In August of 2022, they took the leap to farm ownership and purchased five acres of farmland in Williston, with a house, apartment, and two small barns. It was made possible with support from the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board's Farm & Forest Viability Program, the Vermont Economic Development Authority, the Vermont Land Trust, and the Intervale Center's farm business planning group.

Beyond transferring their animals and equipment to the new farm site, they also needed to find nearly $85,000 to transfer their facilities – an inspected slaughter facility erected by the Vermont Land Trust in 2021 and a superstructure barn. Without the funds, they faced having to leave the barn behind. Not knowing when the barn would be moved, their chickens were housed in Williston in half a dozen small huts, which increased the time for feeding and slaughtering, ultimately decreasing their profitability. That’s about to change, though.

Thanks in part to a $32,000 Working Lands Enterprise Initiative Grant, the slaughterhouse and superstructure were moved to the property in 2023. The slaughterhouse became operational in September and the superstructure is nearly finished. Mahoro says it’s going to allow them to scale up their business. They expect to increase their gross annual sales by 75 percent from $51,925 to $91,000.

Chickens in a barnyard

“Just getting up and running in the first year in Williston ate up our savings; moving forward, we are going to be able to save money, which we hope will allow us to expand,” Mahoro said. “We have been struggling with attracting customers in the wintertime – when they come, they either stay in the car or stay outside in the cold; sometimes five to ten show up at the same time; we would like to have a sheltered place for them to be, which could also be a farm store.”

Mahoro says customers interested in meat simply stop by the farm to hand-select their animal for slaughter, and often buy eggs and veggies, too. Their primary customers are New Americans from Southeast Asia and Africa, they say. The farm is the busiest during Ramadan and in October for Nepalese and Bhutanese religious festivals. Since they moved to Williston, they’ve added to their customer base and have become busier during the Christmas holiday season.

“Recently, we started having regular Americans coming to buy chickens and eggs, which is quite new for us because at the other farm, we never had that,” Mahoro said. “People are finding out we provide fresh meat, eggs, and vegetables, so we are having a new community tapping into the farm.”

Theogene with animals