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Grants designed to expand Vermont’s diversified farm economy



The Working Lands Enterprise Initiative awarded 37 grants for agriculture and forestry projects Tuesday at a ceremony at Grow Compost in Moretown.

MORETOWN — The face of agriculture in Vermont is no longer a field full of Holsteins.

Agriculture means hard cider, compost, winter vegetable production. It means goat’s milk caramel, sheep’s milk cheese and swine industry development.

Tuesday, the board of the state’s Working Land Enterprise Initiative presented 37 grants for these types of agricultural and forestry projects, awarding $1.1 million in state money, and leveraging $1.5 million in matching funds. Nineteen enterprise investment farms and businesses received awards of between $3,000 and $20,000, to make investments to expand production, or improve facilities or infrastructure.

The uses for the money are as diverse as the enterprises. Doolittle Farm in Shoreham will purchase egg-washing equipment, for example, and Green Mountain Hardwood in Ripton will put nearly $10,000 toward a portable sawmill and materials for a solar-assisted lumber kiln.

“They’re diversifying, we support that, we think it adds strength to the industry,” said Michael Snyder, commissioner of the Department of Forest, Parks, and Recreation. “It reflects a lot of creativity and entrepreneurship in land-based businesses and we’re really into it.”

The money will be sent to the recipients in three installments, with reports required by the board to measure outcomes after each period. This year, the state received 129 applications, before deciding on the eight forestry projects, 28 agriculture projects and one combined forestry and agriculture initiative.

The Working Lands Enterprise Initiative, now in its second year, is a joint effort of the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets; the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation; and the Agency of Commerce and Community Development.

“Every time we invest in working landscapes, we’re actually making an investment in our economy … we’re making an investment in our ecology, and we’re undergirding the very culture that makes this place so special. And we’re building community,” Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross said to the gathering.

Gov. Peter Shumlin added $75,000 to the fund this year, a 5 percent increase over last year, officials said.

The awards ceremony Tuesday, Snyder said, was meant “to celebrate the people who do the work — who make Vermont look and function like Vermont.”

The ceremony was held in a compost and equipment storage barn of Grow Compost in Moretown, which was awarded $75,000 to help businesses and farms comply with Act 148, the mandatory composting bill. The speaker’s podium sat on a plywood stand on a dirt floor with forested hills to the west. One entrepreneur said he was reluctant to overdress for the occasion, so he settled on clean pair of Carhartt shorts.

The event was informal, but the entrepreneurial efforts that were recognized on Tuesday are significant, organizers said.

“We’re trying to identify places in the economic chain where we can make an impact on behalf of Vermonters,” Ross said.

“Looking at where the money is going, it’s all over the state and it’s in enterprises that are so creative and so full of spirit and hard work,” said Lucy Leriche, deputy secretary of Commerce and Community Development. “You can’t help but be inspired by their work and vision.”

Grant recipient Calley Hastings, 29, of Fat Toad Farms in Brookfield, described the way in which the grant application process helped clarify the future of their family-owned operation, which sells goat milk caramel sauce to 300 stores nationwide. They received $15,000 to purchase more efficient caramel equipment to expand production on their 30-acre, 80-goat operation.

Josh Karp and Maria Schumann own Cate Hill Orchard in Greensboro, where they raise sheep, keep bees and run an apple orchard. The couple received $20,000 for an on-farm processing facility for value-added products and plan to begin producing farmstead sheep’s-milk cheese.

“Right now, we make cider on our front lawn, and if we want to enter the modern arena, we need to have a proper facility with the commercial kitchen specs,” Karp said.

Karp, who says he will be doing much of the construction himself, added that the facility will offer space for walk-in coolers and storage.

“It’s not incredibly glamorous, (but) it’s setting the stage for the next 10 years,” he said. “It’ll really make us much more viable in terms of cash flow.”