Working Lands grants and a new low-interest, payment-deferred loan offer eligible farm and forest product businesses an opportunity to improve infrastructure, process or profitability.
By Noelle Sevoian, VAAFM
The Working Lands Enterprise Board (WLEB) is delighted to announce the opening of this year’s grant cycle and the availability of approximately $650,000 in grants funds for the 2017 program year. Funds support projects across forestry and agriculture that enhance Vermont’s communities, economy and culture. Links to the requests for proposals and applications can be found online at http://workinglands.vermont.gov/apply/rfp.
In addition to the grant program, the WLEB has created two innovative new loan pilots in partnership with the Vermont Community Loan Fund (VCLF) and the Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA) to support working lands entrepreneurs and dairy farms that are transitioning to organic production. Funding for these loan pilots was provided by Charles and Leigh Merinoff, Progressive Farm Alliance, and Long Trail Brewing Company.
The partnership with VCLF has launched SPROUT Deferred Payment Loan Program (SPROUT), a low-interest revolving loan fund that will meet the capital needs of Vermont’s working lands entrepreneurs. SPROUT offers deferred-payment, low-interest loans of up to $60,000 at 0% with no payments for the first two years, with a 2% fixed rate thereafter. VCLF will also coordinate comprehensive business development and financial planning/management technical assistance for borrowers as needed.
“SPROUT financing will provide a powerful tool for emerging working lands businesses which are facing exciting growth opportunities,” says VCLF Executive Director Will Belongia. “There isn’t a loan product like SPROUT currently available to working lands entrepreneurs in Vermont. SPROUT’s rates and terms will allow VCLF to extend financing and free technical assistance to businesses that otherwise wouldn’t qualify for a VCLF loan. The Working Lands Enterprise Initiative has been an incredible partner in supporting working lands businesses in Vermont.”
For more information about the program contact Dan Winslow, VCLF Business Programs Loan Coordinator, at email@example.com, or visit http://www.investinvermont.org/borrowers/small-business/sprout.
The partnership with VEDA and the Vermont Agricultural Credit Corporation (VACC) will support conventional dairy farms looking to transition to organic production. VEDA CEO, Jo Bradley, says, “VEDA is especially excited that through its partnership with the Working Lands Enterprise Board and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (VAAFM), an attractive new loan option will be made available to Vermont dairy farmers transitioning from conventional to organic milk production.” VACC will be able to offer these borrowers interest-free loans with deferred principal payments for up to the first two years, thanks to subsidies being provided by WLEB. By providing these loans, VEDA hopes to help improve the long-term financial viability of dairy farms transitioning to organic production so that they may receive the higher price that organic milk demands in the marketplace.
“Since 2012, the Working Lands Enterprise Initiative has created a vehicle to target funds and technical assistance to capitalize on the quality and brand of Vermont’s Working Lands enterprises.” says Chuck Ross, Secretary of Agriculture. “New loan pilot programs are an important extension of that work, further leveraging the program’s funds, engaging key partners, and providing a funding option to businesses who may not have otherwise been able to access appropriate capital.”
Again in FY2017, $30,000 of Local Food Market Development (LFMD) grant funds will be made available through the Working Lands grant process. The focus of LFMD funding is to increase Vermont producers’ access to institutional and wholesale markets, promote consumption of local food, and encourage scaling up through new market development opportunities across the state.
The two investment areas are as follows:
1. Business Investments: $5,000-$50,000
RFP AVAILABLE: 10/3/16
LETTER OF INTENT DUE: 11/9/16 at noon
APPLICANT NOTIFICATION OF ACCEPTANCE/DENIAL OF LETTER OF INTENT: Late December 2016
INVITED FULL APPLICATION DUE: 2/9/17 at noon
APPLICANT NOTIFICATION: March 2017
ESTIMATED PROJECT START DATE: Late April 2017
Projects may include, but are not limited to: Infrastructure (project-specific planning, permitting, and/or engineering/architectural plans; and/or building and equipment costs); Marketing (accessing new markets and securing new customers); Research and Development (testing new systems or technologies or developing innovative solutions).
2. Service Provider Investment: $15,000-$75,000
RFP AVAILABLE: 10/17/16
LETTER OF INTENT DUE: 12/2/16 at noon
APPLICANT NOTIFICATION OF ACCEPTANCE/DENIAL OF LETTER OF INTENT: Late January 2017
INVITED FULL APPLICATION DUE: 3/7/17 at noon
APPLICANT NOTIFICATION: April 2017
ESTIMATED PROJECT START DATE: Late May 2017
Projects should demonstrate direct impact on Vermont Working Lands businesses. Types of technical assistance provided may include: Market development, marketing plans, and sales; Business and financial planning; Succession planning; Access to capital; Manufacturing efficiencies or process flow
The Working Lands Enterprise Initiative, (Act 142), is administered by the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets in partnership with the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation and the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development. The Working Lands funds are administered by the Vermont Working Lands Enterprise Board (WLEB), an impact investment organization whose mission is to grow the economies, cultures, and communities of Vermont’s working landscape by making essential, catalytic investments in critical leverage points of the Vermont farm and forest economy, from individual enterprises to industry sectors.
About the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets: VAAFM facilitates, supports and encourages the growth and viability of agriculture in Vermont while protecting the working landscape, human health, animal health, plant health, consumers and the environment. www.Agriculture.Vermont.Gov
By Kristina Sweet, VAAFM
On September 9, 2016, the United States Food & Drug Administration (FDA) awarded the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets $500,000 to develop a Vermont State Produce Safety Program. The award will support Vermont in its collaboration with FDA to cooperatively implement the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule. $500,000 is the first award of a planned five-year, $3.625 million investment in Vermont’s program by FDA, pending Congressional budget allocation.
This award will allow the Vermont Agency of Agriculture to prepare a multi-year plan for a comprehensive produce safety program; establish a Vermont produce farm inventory; develop a strategy for outreach, education, and technical assistance to all Vermont farms that grow covered produce; and develop an inspectional program for farms that must comply with the rule. The Agency will work closely with local organizations, such as the Vermont Farm Bureau, University of Vermont Extension, and other state agencies throughout the Northeast on program development and implementation of outreach, education and technical assistance.
“Vermont’s fruit and vegetable growers are an essential part of our local agricultural economy,” said Governor Peter Shumlin. “These funds will enable Vermont to build a produce safety program that protects consumer health, while also addressing the needs of our local, small-scale producers.”
In addition to this award, Vermont has been selected as a pilot state to assess producer readiness for compliance with the Produce Safety Rule through an on-farm readiness review program that will provide education and technical assistance to growers beginning during the 2017 growing season. “Vermont Farm Bureau looks forward to working with Vermont Agency of Agriculture on FSMA rule implementation,” said Vermont Farm Bureau President Joe Tisbert and owner/operator of Valley Dream Farm in Cambridge, Vermont. “We commend FDA for choosing Vermont as one of the pilot states for developing on-farm education and technical assistance to help producers comply with the Produce Safety Rule.”
The Vermont Agency of Agriculture and Secretary Chuck Ross have played key roles in the development of the final FSMA Produce Safety Rule and FDA’s approach to educating before and while regulating. This ongoing effort is designed to ensure an implementation strategy that is feasible for small-scale diversified agriculture in Vermont and New England reflects the Agency’s commitment to protecting the Vermont brand and its reputation for quality.
“FSMA represents an important nationwide investment in food safety,” said Secretary of Agriculture, Chuck Ross. “My agency colleagues and I have worked closely with the FDA since 2011 to ensure that these new food safety rules are not only effective in reducing foodborne illness, but can also be realistically and successfully implemented by diversified and small-scale producers, like many of the farms throughout Vermont and New England. This initial award will allow us to begin building a comprehensive produce safety program that meets the needs of Vermont producers and prioritizes education before and during regulation.”
The FSMA Produce Safety Rule was finalized in November 2015 and impacts farms and other businesses that grow, harvest, pack, or hold fresh produce. Larger growers will need to comply with the rule in 2018, while smaller growers have additional time to come into compliance.
FDA awarded a total of $21.8 million to 42 states in Federal fiscal year 2016 to begin implementing the Produce Safety Rule. Vermont will receive the maximum amount for which it could apply based on the number of farms growing fresh fruits and vegetables covered by the rule. To view FDA’s news release for the award, visit http://go.usa.gov/xKeuH.
By Ali Zipparo, VAAFM
In honor of Farm to School Awareness Month, which began October 1st, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets (VAAFM) gathered together with Vermont Farm to School leaders on Thursday, September 27th at Winooski School District to celebrate the impacts of Farm to School programming and to announce new grant funding for Universal Meals in Vermont schools. Among the celebrants were Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross, State Senators Sirotkin and Zuckerman, Winooski Schools Superintendent Sean McMannon, Farm to School partners, teachers, students, and administrators. Following the celebratory remarks, event attendees were treated to a “local food taste test” featuring Nepalese and Somali cuisine served by Winooski students.
Since 2007, the Vermont Farm to School Grant Program has awarded over a million dollars to more than 100 schools throughout the state to facilitate the integration of local foods in school cafeterias, classrooms and communities, impacting roughly 30 % of all schools in Vermont. Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross announced more than $130,000 in funding available to Vermont schools in 2017 to support…
- Planning and development of new Farm to School Programs
- Expanding existing Farm to School programs, or
- New for 2017 - Transitioning eligible schools to a universal meals program, which enables schools to offer all students fresh, healthy meals at no charge
“Vermont is a national leader in Farm to School programming,” said Vermont’s Agriculture Secretary, Chuck Ross. “Our schools spend nearly one million dollars a year on locally sourced foods, and we are taking the lead again today as we announce the integration of funding for Universal Meals in our Farm to School Grant Program. Farm to School Programs help build a culture of ‘Ag Literacy’ in our schools and communities. These programs are an essential part of building the connection between agriculture and the next generation of Vermonters, while also teaching our students to make healthy choices and ensuring food access for all. Additional support for Universal Meals will allow our schools to expand their depth and breadth of their programming, providing more Vermont students with fresh, local foods every day.”
“The benefits of universal school breakfast and lunch are well-documented,” according to Anore Horton, Nutrition Initiatives Director at Hunger Free Vermont. “Class participation increases, readiness to learn increases, school nurse visits decrease, behavioral referrals decrease, and school meal program finances improve. Vermont legislators recognized these many benefits, and have acted to help more schools transition to a universal model and gain these benefits for their students. We applaud them!”
The event also served as an opportunity to highlight new research from the Vermont Farm to School Network which explores the economic impact of local food purchases made by Vermont schools. Among other data points, the research indicates that every dollar spent on local food by Vermont schools contributes an additional sixty cents to the local economy. This research was conducted by the University of Vermont Center for Rural Studies and funded by the Vermont Community Foundation.
For more information about the Vermont Farm to School Grant Program or to download the Request for Proposals (RFP), visit: http://agriculture.vermont.gov/producer_partner_resources/funding_opportunities/vaafm_funding/farm_to_school
All Vermont schools, consortium of schools, and school districts are eligible to apply for Farm to School funding. Eligibility for Universal Meals funding may vary. Program applications must be submitted online through the WebGrants system no later than October 28, 2016.
Vermont Farm to School Grant Program is made possible by collaboration between the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Agency of Education, Department of Health, and the Vermont Farm to School Network.
If you have questions about Vermont’s Farm to School program or the 2017 funding, contact Ali Zipparo at 802-505-1822, or Alexandra.Zipparo@vermont.gov
Picture: Grass Waterway Cross-Section Diagram
By Jeffrey Sanders, UVM Agronomy Outreach Specialist.
While grassed waterways are nothing new in the world of soil erosion and water quality, their adaptation in the Northeastern United States lags far behind counterparts in other parts of the United States. In the Midwestern corn belt where memories of the dust bowl and the severe erosion problems of the past are still in memories and family histories, the idea of taking care of erosion issues decisively and effectively are evident everywhere on the landscape. We do not want the devastating loss of topsoil the Midwest experienced to be our fate in Vermont. A plane ride over any corn belt state will provide ample evidence of the efforts to mitigate soil leaving fields through the implementation of different practices. The one that is highly visible and effective is grassed waterways.
A grassed waterway is a simple structure designed to absorb energy from moving water while holding soil from eroding in areas where water is prone to moving in concentrated flow across crop fields. The idea is that you fill gullies and flatten out slopes in an effort to remove energy from i.e. slow down the water as it moves across the field. This area is then seeded down and left in a permanent state of vegetation. The vegetation acts to hold soil particles from being mechanically lifted and moved off fields while also helping to reduce the speed of the water so it has less ability to cause erosion. A well designed and implemented grassed waterway will keep water from moving down slope without concentrating the flow into a stream. It will move the water off the field without allowing it to pick up enough energy to move soil. Grassed waterways have been found to be very effective at reducing erosion in high risk locations on crop fields.
While the idea of “giving up” productive ground to install a conservation measure seems foreign to many landowners in the Northeast, it shouldn’t be. You can tell easily where grassed waterways would be an effective tool in a landowner’s toolbox for keeping soil on their fields. Wherever you have gully erosion, not much is growing and it is wet and rough (from eroding topsoil), a grassed waterway may be able to fix your issue. The productive ground in many cases is not all that productive because soils tend to be saturated with frequent water inundation which can prohibit quality crop growth.
In many cases grassed waterways do not need to be much wider than 20 feet depending on the situation. The benefit to your field, equipment, and the environment easily offset any yield loss from not cropping that area. Also, in some cases you could install grassed waterways wide enough to crop. For example, a perennial forage could be seeded using a design which would allow the farmer to turn equipment within the boundaries of a grassed waterway. The idea is not that you need tall vegetation but that you need a sod base or other vegetation with a good root system to help hold the soil. If you are looking for the motivation to install one, but to date have just kept filling in that gully every spring, keep a few considerations in mind.
Here in Vermont with new regulations passed under Act 64, it is a violation of the law to have soil leaving fields in concentrated areas and entering waters of the state. More importantly, it makes no business sense to allow this to happen. The top six inches of top soil on your farm is the most important asset you have, so why let it leave your farm? You have fertilized and cultivated the soil to grow your crop for your business. Letting it go down the ditch is just bad business.
Furthermore, soil erosion creates sedimentation problems in ditches and creates additional work in the field to fill in gullies with more topsoil in an effort to prepare the field for planting. If you think about the zone of influence, where the concentrated flow of water is causing problems on your field, it is probably larger than the entire grassed waterway would be. The amount of area you need to cover with soil “pulled” back into the gully to repair it just to have it wash out again is no doubt larger than the area of a grassed waterway, which would cure the problem.
Installation of grassed waterways is a very cost effective method of addressing soil erosion on crop fields. Many farmers already have the necessary equipment to move and shape the soil so that the grassed waterway will perform adequately. In many cases a box blade and a Brillion seeder will make short work of a grassed waterway project depending on scale. For larger gully erosion control, bulldozers are effective tools to move, shape, and level the contour. Typical construction of a grassed waterway takes between one to two days. NRCS has sample designs and job sheets that can guide a farmer through the installation for installing a grassed waterway without government assistance. Google “NRCS grassed waterway design” and click on Engineering Field Tools (EFT) for more information or go to this webpage: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/technical/engin...
Grassed waterways following NRCS design are built to have an average lifespan of 10 years and require little annual maintenance. NRCS and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture Food & Markets (through its Best Management Practice (BMP) grant program) can also provide financial assistance. Keep in mind, this may require a more detailed engineering effort depending on the project, but funds are available.
The Farmers Watershed Alliance was awarded a grant from the Lake Champlain Basin Program* to install three grassed waterway projects in the summer of 2016. These structures were constructed and farmers are very happy with the results. The farmers were actively involved with the projects and worked with their selected contractors to ensure the installations where done in a manner that they could work with. As the farmers are experiencing, it actually is a common sense solution to a common problem on many Vermont fields.
Picture: Before construction of grassed waterway showing accumulation of snow in sloped area of field.
Picture: After construction of grassed waterway showing an ideal stand of a conservation mix.
*This project was funded by an agreement awarded by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission to the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission in partnership with the Lake Champlain Basin Program. NEIWPCC manages LCBP’s personnel, contract, grant, and budget tasks and provides input on the program’s activities through a partnership with the LCBP Steering Committee. The viewpoints expressed here do not necessarily represent those of NEIWPCC, the LCBP Steering Committee, or GLFC, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or causes constitute endorsement or recommendation for use.