By Dominique Giroux, Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets
Sweetland Farm is a diversified family farm nestled in Norwich, Vermont. In a pursuit to expand and improve their operation, Norah Lake, owner and farmer, applied for a Vermont Produce Safety Improvement Grant (VPSIG) and was awarded $10,000 in grant funds in January of 2018 to upgrade their wash/pack facility. The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets (VAAFM) launched the grant program in 2017 to support produce farms that need to make upgrades for improved food safety and increased competitiveness in the wholesale and retail marketplace.
VAAFM Produce Program’s Multimedia Specialist Trevor Audet and Education and Outreach Coordinator Dominique Giroux visited Sweetland Farm and met with Norah to get a tour of their finished project.
VAAFM: Tell us about your farm and what you grow here.
Norah: We purchased the farm from the Vermont Land Trust in the Spring of 2012. When we purchased it, we decided we wanted to primarily grow vegetables, primarily for a CSA. We also wanted to add in some other diversity. The first year we moved here we put in an orchard of a couple hundred fruit trees, we’ve been making about 5,000 square bales of hay every year, and we also raise some animals on pasture.
VAAFM: What are some of your produce safety efforts on the farm?
Norah: Our CSA has grown incrementally over the last six or seven years, as has our efficiency and produce safety. The very first year we had about fifty CSA members. We didn’t have any cold storage, and we didn’t really have any official wash and pack. At that point, and pretty much to this day, we try to give out all the produce that we harvest on the same day. So, it wasn’t really much of a problem in terms of long-term storage, but by the end of a harvest day we were up to our ankles in muck and it was just not very efficient. As we’ve grown a little bit every year, we’ve started to fine tune our systems. So now, after the recent construction with the help of the Produce Safety [Improvement] Grant, we have a concrete slab that we are washing on underneath a roof, we have permanent stainless-steel counter tops, and we have a walk-in cooler—which is a complete game changer in terms of being able to harvest a bit further ahead of time.
VAAFM: What produce safety risks did you address with this project?
Norah: I was primarily worried about contamination from above. By having a roof over our heads, I feel like the quality and cleanliness of the produce has improved in terms of not getting overheated and not having birds fly overhead. I really feel like that, in terms of contamination coming in, this grant enabled me to have a contained clean space that we could keep well-maintained.
VAAFM: Are there any other benefits that came out of the project besides produce safety?
Norah: Definitely efficiency. We are still figuring out our exact patterns within the new building, but I am already seeing that our hoses are more efficiently coiled because they have dedicated places to go, and our harvest knives are all lined up and clean. We have a dedicated crew, but we also often have people coming in just to help for a morning and it’s so much easier to say, “the knives are on this wall, the buckets are on that wall, this is the protocol for bleaching the tubs,” and it just feels a lot more efficient and official.
Q: What can the State of Vermont can do to support your business?
Norah: This grant was an incredible boon for us. We had been really hoping to do this project and looking for the money to make it happen, so more grants of this type would be great. I really think that we as farmers are so excited to improve our standards and we could just use a little help making the leap.
The feedback that we have gotten from our customers have been so positive. I wish I had written down the testimonials, but we have had people come in this season and say, “We notice that the produce is so much cleaner this year.”
Sweetland Farm plans to continue fine-tuning their layout in the wash/pack facility to find what works best for them in terms of workflow, efficiency, and food safety.
The Vermont Produce Program at VAAFM is working to secure funds for additional rounds of the Vermont Produce Safety Improvement Grant Program. To receive direct funding announcements, enroll your farm in the Vermont Produce Portal at agriculture.vermont.gov/produceprogram.
If you would like to share your story with the Vermont Produce Program, please email AGR.FSMA@vermont.gov or call (802) 828-2433.
$90,000 Now Available for Farming Sustainability and Food Safety Projects
$2-$5K Grant Awards Available
December 10, 2018 / Montpelier, VT – The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets released two Request for Proposals (RFPs) today. VAAFM is pleased to announce the availability of up to $90,000 of funding from these two programs to assist eligible Vermont farmers and food businesses to make upgrades to their operations and improve the sustainability of their businesses. The application period for both grant programs will be open from Monday, January 7th, 2019 until Thursday, January 31st, 2019 at 12:00pm (noon). Awards will range from $2,000 to $5,000.
“These important dollars are targeted at making food safer while making farming more affordable. There is a major federal change underway in the produce safety world and the Agency wants Vermont farmers to be equipped and prepared for that change. These grants will help our farmers,“ says Secretary Anson Tebbetts.
Vermont Produce Safety Improvement Grants
Approximately $60,000 in funding provided through the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program and the Castanea Foundation, LLC will be available in the third round of the Produce Safety Improvement Grant (PSIG). Because of the federal funding source, this round will focus on safety improvements that include materials, supplies, and labor but cannot fund construction or construction supplies. Applicants must grow, harvest, pack, or hold “covered produce” as defined by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule (PSR) and have average annual produce sales of greater than $26,999 over the past three years. Recipients of previous PSIG awards do not qualify for this round.
Eligible Use of Funds
- Harvest, Wash, Pack and Storage: materials and supplies, storage monitoring/control devices
- Health/Hygiene: handwashing stations, cleaning/sanitization tools, signage, compost/manure handling improvements
- Training and Record-keeping: materials and systems
Due to the high demand for PSIG grant opportunities in the previous two rounds, funds will now be awarded through a competitive application process. The details of the VAAFM Produce Program and the RFP for this grant round are now available at agriculture.vermont.gov/ProduceSafetyGrants.
Questions related to the Produce Safety Improvement Grants or the FSMA Produce Safety rule should be directed to Kathryn Donovan at (802) 585-4571 or AGR.SpecialtyCrops@vermont.gov.
Local Food Market Development Grants
Approximately $30,000 in funding will be available to assist Vermont farmers, businesses, and value-chain facilitators for projects that address challenges and risks associated with scaling up to meet new market demands. To qualify for funding consideration, applicants must either be a Vermont producer in pursuit of institutional or direct retail market development, or a value-chain facilitator that will directly support Vermont producers’ access to institutional and wholesale market expansion.
Eligible Use of Funds
- Infrastructure Development: on-farm capital improvements, equipment purchases
- Technology: accounting, tracking, and/or sales software, website, or app development
- Market Access and Development: innovative solutions to logistics and/or distribution
The details of the VAAFM Local Food Market Development grant and RFP are now available at https://agriculture.vermont.gov/LocalFoodMarketDevelopment.
Questions related to the Local Food Market Development grants should be directed to Alissa Matthews at (802) 505-1661 or Alissa.Matthews@vermont.gov.
November 30, 2018 / Randolph, VT - The Vermont Dairy Industry Association has begun its search for the 2018 recipient of the John C. Finley Award. This honor will be bestowed at the Dairy Farmers’ Banquet at the Vermont Farm Show on Thursday, January 31, 2019.
John Finley was a respected agricultural educator and a very enterprising and capable Deputy Commissioner of Agriculture before his untimely death. The award given in his honor seeks to recognize an up and coming individual who meets similarly high standards of character and service to agriculture.
The qualifications to be met by the recipient of this award are as follows:
1. Must exhibit the outstanding character and mental vigor exemplified by John Finley.
2. Must have recently performed a distinguished service to Vermont Agriculture.
3. Must have the potential of continuing to contribute to Vermont Agriculture.
Your cooperation in helping to identify this year’s recipient is greatly appreciated. A brief letter of nomination explaining how the nominee meets the qualifications for the award should be submitted to me in writing at Vermont Cheese Council, PO Box 165, Randolph, VT 05060 NO LATER THAN MONDAY DECEMBER 30, 2018. Submission by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org will also be accepted.
All suggested candidates’ names will be held over for future consideration for a period of two (2) years.
Previous Finley Award recipients are listed below.
If you have any questions, please contact me at 802-451-8564.
Finley Award Recipients
- 1977 Henry V. Atherton
- 1978 J. Douglas Webb
- 1979 Rupert Chamberlain
- 1980 Norman Harvey
- 1981 Catherine Beattie
- 1982 Robert Foster
- 1983 Gloria Conant
- 1984 Donald F. George
- 1985 George M. Dunsmore
- 1986 Timothy F. Buskey
- 1987 Austin C. Cleaves
- 1988 K. Stewart Gibson
- 1989 Lloyd H. Patterson
- 1990 William D. Davis
- 1991 Robert/Tay Simpson
- 1992 Kate Finley Woodruff
- 1993 Byron D. Moyer
- 1994 Armand Dragon
- 1995 Harold J. Howrigan
- 1996 Perry W. Hodgdon
- 1997 Andy Dykstra
- 1998 Andrew Meyers
- 1999 Leon J. Berthiaume
- 2000 Louise H. Calderwood
- 2001 A. John Bramley
- 2002 Jane Clifford
- 2003 Teresa Doyle
- 2004 Dr. Karen Plaut
- 2005 Leon Graves
- 2006 Diane Bothfeld
- 2007 Allison Hooper
- 2008 Jackie Folsom
- 2009 Wanda Emerich
- 2010 Enid Wonnacott
- 2011 Dan Scruton
- 2012 Robert Parsons
- 2013 Thomas Gates
- 2014 Greg Lockwood
- 2015 Dr. Julie Smith
- 2016 Roger Allbee
- 2017 Joe Tisbert
Power Outages, Barn and Water Concerns now part of daily routine
November 28, 2018 / Montpelier, VT - Despite the calendar, winter seems to have arrived. "A tough job gets even tougher this time of year,” Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets Secretary Anson Tebbetts commented after this week’s wintery weather. “If getting up at 4am every day wasn’t tough enough, Mother Nature has now added heavy, wet snow to the roof of the barn!”
Winter weather conditions including snow, cold and winds present additional challenges for Vermont’s hard working farmers. The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets wishes for all our farmers to remain safe while handling these added conditions to their daily routines. Below are a number of reminders and resources for folks involved in our farming and working lands enterprises.
- Be prepared for power outages. A back-up generator with sufficient fuel to run for extended periods is highly recommended.
- If it is safe to do so, shovel the snow off barn and house roofs. If you cannot safely shovel your roof, contact a professional. The weight of ice or rain added to the weight of the snow currently on roofs may exceed the capacity of the structure and lead to a roof collapse. For helpful advice, please visit https://agriculture.vermont.gov/pr/agency_of_ag_issues_winter_reminder_to_farmers.
- Apply sand or gravel to walkways used by workers or livestock.
- Charge cellphones and cameras. Keep flashlights, with batteries, handy.
- Pump and store adequate supplies of drinking water for humans and animals in case of power outages. For a list of Vermont water haulers, please visit https://agriculture.vermont.gov/2018WaterHaulers.
- Be prepared for delays on the road, including obstructed roadways, which may delay deliveries from suppliers .
- If milk trucks are unable to reach farms, dairy farmers may exceed their holding capacity for stored milk. If this is the case, be prepared to dispose of your excess milk in a suitable location. Make sure to record the volume of milk.
- The weight of ice on trees and branches may cause them to break off and fall onto buildings and equipment. Take steps in advance to mitigate the impact, if possible.
- Farmers are urged to take preparations necessary to be self-sufficient for up to a week, including having enough feed and water for livestock or moving them to a safer location, if necessary.
- The Vermont winter manure spreading ban will once again take effect on December 15th. The ban continues until April 1. Look for more information at http://agriculture.vermont.gov/sites/ag/files/RAPsummaryPDF.pdf .
A good time to refresh your fire prevention plan.
When checking your barns, farm shop and other outbuildings to make sure that they are properly prepared for colder weather, pay special attention to any source of supplemental heat as heating equipment is one of the biggest fire dangers on the farm. Heating equipment needs to be properly installed and maintained to provide the warmth you want without increasing the fire risks. Old stoves may have cracks that can throw sparks, so be sure to determine if is still safe to fire up. Maintain a safe space around heating units with no combustibles within at least three feet. More information is available here.
As always, Agency officials are available if you have any questions about any of these topics.
Secretary Tebbetts says the agency is listening and ready to respond. “We want our farming community to know we recognize the challenges you face year-round, but certainly this time of year. We’re here to help if needed.”
A great way to reach us if you have internet access is through our Facebook page. Visit https://www.facebook.com/vtagencyofag/ or comment on this post at https://www.facebook.com/122396850343/posts/10161178289570344/ . Other ways include:
- By phone at (802) 828-2430;
- Email at AGR.Helpdesk@vermont.gov;
- If you have any questions about the upcoming manure spreading ban, or if you would like assistance in the selection of appropriate manure stacking sites, please call the Agency at (802) 828-3475.
Monday, November 26, 2018 / Jeffersonville, VT - After careful deliberation Monday, Governor Phil Scott chose three Vermont Christmas trees from a Jeffersonville tree farm. The trees will stand in the spirit of the holiday season at the Governor’s home and Montpelier office.
In 1962 the Zajchowski family planted their first balsam fir seedlings, over time growing the land into the choose-and-cut Upper Pleasant Valley farm. In a timeless tradition, countless Vermonters continue to pick trees at the Lamoille County farm and many other Vermont tree farm destinations.
“In Vermont, we’re fortunate that ‘buy local’ extends to Christmas trees, so I encourage Vermonters to take advantage and decorate their homes and offices with Vermont-grown trees,” said Governor Phil Scott. “This season, we can not only support Vermont agriculture but celebrate Christmas and our state with a fresh tree.”
According to the latest figures there are more than 70 tree farms in Vermont, with 2000 acres in production. The United States Department of Agriculture says the value of the Christmas Tree industry in Vermont is nearly $3 million dollars. “Nurturing Christmas trees to maturity takes a tremendous amount of shearing, mowing and trimming,” said Agriculture Food and Markets Secretary Anson Tebbetts. “We thank our tree farmers for their care of the land.”
Vermont holiday trees also decorate homes in New York City, Boston and Philadelphia each year, with thousands of Green Mountain trees sold in urban pop-up markets. In addition, visitors to Vermont participate in our holiday tradition by hauling home freshly cut trees. Governor Scott noted, “Just as visitors fill their cars with delicious locally-grown food and Vermont-made products, during the holiday season they top their cars with Vermont-grown trees.”
For a full listing of Christmas Tree Growers open to the public visit the Vermont and New Hampshire Christmas Tree Association. www.nh-vtchristmastree.org.