The Word in the House 2/15/2016 - Entrepreneurial Success from Working Lands

Results Based Accountability (RBA) is an assessment method the Legislature is using to evaluate the effectiveness of state government programs. Each House committee has been asked to review programs under its jurisdiction based on three questions: How much did we do? How well did we do it? Is anyone better off? The House Natural Resources & Energy Committee had the opportunity to hear a report of the Working Lands Enterprise Board on its activities supporting the economy of rural Vermont.

The Board and the Working Lands Enterprise Fund (WLEF) were established by Act 142 in 2012 for the purpose of growing “the economies, cultures, and communities of Vermont’s working landscape by making essential, catalytic investments in … Vermont’s farm and forest economy.” This is done by providing access to capital, technical assistance, and workforce development together with policies that optimize the agricultural and forest use of Vermont lands while protecting human, environmental and animal health. Business grants are available for startup and emerging working lands businesses for infrastructure, marketing, and research and development. Service provider grants are available for non-profit, educational, private sector groups or partnerships that provide technical assistance to Vermont working lands businesses.

Since Act 142 went into effect in 2012 $3.2M in Working Lands funds were distributed to 112 agricultural and forestry projects throughout all 14 counties in Vermont. These investments leveraged another $4.9M in matching funds resulting in 106 new jobs to date with a corresponding $12M in aggregated gross income. As projects currently committed are completed and others continue to grow, an additional 124 jobs are expected to be created.

The presentation of the report to our committee included two entrepreneurs from the food industry and two from the forest products industry who recounted how their businesses were helped not only by grants, but by the connections made through the Working Lands Coalition. For example, Screamin’ Ridge Farm in Montpelier is a vertically integrated seed to plate business that grows vegetables using sustainable practices to produce the Joe’s Kitchen line of soup products. Two grants of $15,000 and $50,000 over 2 years helped the farm purchase equipment to boost production by 500%, hire 3 full time employees, and provide a market for locally grown vegetables from other farms. Similarly, a timber harvester and a timber frame manufacturer had both received equipment grants from the WLEF. With sawmills closing throughout the northeast, the harvester was in jeopardy of losing his business. At the same time Winterwood Timberframes was having a hard time sourcing quality logs for its operation. Through the Working Lands Coalition, they connected with each other for their mutual benefit.

Two of the businesses that were helped through the WLEF in Chittenden County include the Bread & Butter Farm on Cheese Factory Road in Shelburne and Maple Wind Farm in Richmond. The Bread & Butter Farm received $7250 to build a wash, pack and processing kitchen for vegetables, and to develop on-farm events and educational programs. Maple Wind Farm received $67,400 for upgrades including a blast chiller for poultry, increased freezer capacity, processing equipment, and a small retail building for their agricultural tourism business. With the help of seed money from the WLEF to leverage loans and by finding ways to add value to their basic agricultural operations, these entrepreneurs were able to expand their businesses, grow jobs, and pump more money into the local economy. Through programs like these Vermont has developed a strong reputation for food products, craft beer and cheese, artisanal wood products and other products that depend on our working lands and has made good use of taxpayer money.

I welcome your thoughts and can be reached by phone (802-233-5238) or by email (