Grants designed to expand Vermont's diversified farm economy


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.


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