Access to capital for farm and food businesses was the focus of a two-day workshop in December sponsored by the Vermont Farm Viability Program and the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund. The event was supported by the Vermont Agriculture Innovation Center which provides technical assistance to small value added food businesses and producers through a USDA Agriculture Innovation Grant to the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets.
As the first day unfolded, the new and existing food businesses, farmers and farmers-to-be heard about how USDA Farm Service Agency , Vermont Economic Development Authority, and Vermont Agricultural Credit Corporation and lenders can work together to provide funding for projects at different phases of growth. The key components of business plans were presented, along with the necessary information that lenders require.
The Second day now-Governor Peter Shumlin and soon to be Secretary of the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets Chuck Ross (now the State Director for Senator Leahy’s Vermont office), who are both farmers, spoke of the vitality and energy of the local foods movement here in Vermont. Governor Shumlin’s vision of using a 200 mile radius for the definition of local will include Montreal, Boston and New York City, already a market for certain “boutique” foods from this second most rural state in the nation.
A session on financing renewable energy and energy efficiency was especially well-attended. Rural Development officials joined VT Ag Agency, NRCS and VT Clean Energy Development Fund to discuss funding options and application instructions to farms, consultants, lenders and other service providers. Anaerobic digesters were the major topic of discussion, with technical questions, but mostly “big picture” questions such as:
- How does the system operate so that power can be transferred to the grid for other users?
- What benefit is there to the state?
- Will this help reduce our electrical reliance on traditional sources?
In general, a digester produces enough excess kilowatt hours to provide electricity for 300 homes. They also reduce greenhouse gases and help reduce agricultural runoff, the biggest source of pollution in Lake Champlain. Currently there are nine anaerobic digesters operating in Vermont, and three more under construction with the assistance of Rural Energy for America Program funding. The Vermont Community Loan Fund (with Rural Business Enterprise Grant funding) and Central Vermont Public Service fund feasibility studies for anaerobic digester technology for farms of 500 animal units of more.
As a result of the session, several more farms are pursuing anaerobic digesters for their businesses.