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Windham County rakes in big grants


BRATTLEBORO -- Windham County's agricultural business community got a big boost Tuesday when the latest recipients of the state's Working Lands Enterprise Fund were announced.

More than $750,000 in grants were given out to 16 grantees at a Montpelier ceremony, and included in those awards was $140,000 in grants for two area agricultural enterprises.

Vermont Woods Studios, a Vernon-based furniture business that wants to create a gallery that features Vermont-made hardwood furniture, won a $100,000 grant that will help complete work on its $1 million destination gallery.

And University of Vermont Extension staff members Vern Grubinger and Chris Callahan were awarded $40,000 to increase the supply and quality of local vegetable storage facilities.

The Vermont Working Lands Enterprise Fund was created during the 2012 legislative session with the goal of supporting the state's farming and forestry business community with grants.

About $1 million was set aside in 2012 for the grants.

Peggy Farabaugh, who owns Vermont Woods Studios with her husband, Ken, said the state grant came just as the couple was working to complete construction on what's been dubbed "Stonehurst," the 1800-era farmhouse that will serve as Vermont Woods Studios headquarters.

"We have 90 percent of the renovations complete now," she said. "It's a million-dollar investment and we were at the point where we couldn't complete the last leg -- it would have taken us a couple of years to raise the money."

Farabaugh founded the business, which specializes in Vermont-made wood furniture, in 2005 at her Vernon home. Currently, Vermont Woods Studios operates from a small storefront at 2531 Fort Bridgman Road.

A majority of the business' sales happen online, but administrators last year said they were seeing more customer visits -- with some driving from several hours away.

So they found a "unique property" -- the former farm on Huckle Hill Road. The property also, in the mid-20th century, hosted Pine Top Ski Area.

The idea is to create "destination furniture gallery featuring exclusively Vermont-made hardwood furniture," administrators said.

Farabaugh said the state's working-lands grants, instituted for the first time in the current fiscal year, were "good timing" and a good fit for Vermont Woods Studios.

State agriculture and environmental officials are "dedicated to using forests and fields sustainably and building sustainable businesses in those areas," Farabaugh said.

"I thought this was a perfect match for us," she said. "We're all about sustainable furniture, and all of our furniture is built here in Vermont. And, whenever possible, Vermont wood is used."

She added that "part of the mission with Stonehurst is to bring people in from outside Vermont."

Farabaugh is hoping to relocate her business sometime this fall. She said a photograph of the property from 1869 has helped guide that work.

"Neighbors and friends -- we welcome them to come and visit," Farabaugh said. "We would like to have them visit and tell us about the history of the property."

The first round of grants was given out in May with almost $220,000 going to 20 grantees in the enterprise investment sector.

On Tuesday the additional $750,000 was given out to applicants in the service provider grant area and the capital and infrastructure investment area.

Vermont Wood Studios was one of 22 applicants requesting $2.2 million in assistance for the capital and infrastructure investment sector .

At the ceremony Tuesday about $400,000 was given out to eight grantees.

Gov. Peter Shumlin said the grants were good investments which have long range payoffs in both creating jobs and in protecting farming and forestry lands.

"Vermonters are committed to supporting and expanding our value-added farm and forest industries," Shumlin said. "By investing in technical assistance and infrastructure projects, these grants will help farmers and those who work our woodlands prosper and grow sustainably for future generations."

The UVM Extension grant was given out as part of $350,000 in awards that went to eight grantees in the service provider category.

The Working Lands Enterprise Board received $1.2 million in requests from 27 applicants before handing out the eight grants.

"The Working Lands Enterprise Fund provides a deeper investment in Vermont's working lands and its people," Vermont Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross said. "It represents a historic initiative by the state to advance Vermont's forestry and forest products sector in a way that has never been done before. Vermont's working landscape captures Vermont's culture, character and community."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.