07.07.10

Leahy And Food Venture Center Partners Break Ground On $3 M. Facility In Hardwick

...New Facility Will Expand Opportunities For Food Entrepreneurs And Create New Cheesemaking And Meatpacking Capabilities For Local Farmers

HARDWICK, Vt. – Senator Patrick Leahy joined representatives of the Northeastern Vermont Development Association (NVDA), the Center for an Agricultural Economy (CAE), and local business and community leaders Wednesday afternoon in Hardwick to break ground on the Vermont Food Venture Center 2 – a non-profit kitchen incubator Leahy said would be a cornerstone in the State of Vermont’s efforts to promote agricultural innovation and the food-based economy. 

The new $3.1 million facility is being developed by NVDA and Northern Enterprises.  The Vermont Food Venture Center 2 will replace the Fairfax-based  Vermont Food Venture Center, founded in 1996.  The Center will offer affordable rental food production and packaging space to entrepreneurs interested in starting their own food-based businesses.  The Center will also offer technical assistance to clients in the areas of food production, packaging and marketing. 

NVDA Executive Director Steve Patterson said the new 14,000 square foot facility will include equipment and space to enable farmers and entrepreneurs to make cheese and package meat.  Patterson said two local businesses – Vermont Soy and Jasper Hill Farms – have already reserved space in the new facility.

“Today we officially start construction on the Vermont Food Venture Center 2,” said Leahy, who secured $450,000 in federal funds for the project in coordination with the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board.  “This building in Hardwick will be a vital piece of a larger food system cluster that is rapidly developing across Vermont – putting people to work, creating new opportunities for farmers and breathing life into communities that have been struggling to define themselves.  This is an incubator that will help take the quality, creativity and distinctiveness of Vermont food products to the next level.”

“Many helped with this project, but without the sustained support of Senator Leahy this project would not have moved forward,” Patterson said.   “His vision in recognizing the positive  economic impact of value-added agricultural products has made this possible.”

The U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) awarded a $1.5 million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant for construction of the Center.  In a written statement, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce John R. Fernandez  said:  “EDA is proud to be a partner in this important project, which will enable local food-based entrepreneurs to thrive, strengthen the agriculture economy in Northeast Vermont and create jobs,” said U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce John R. Fernandez.  “The Vermont Food Venture Center 2 is a great example of how President Obama’s recovery package is helping families and small business owners in Vermont and in states across the country.” 

"The Center for an Agricultural Economy is thrilled to welcome the Vermont Food Venture Center to Hardwick,” said Tom Stearns, owner of High Mowing Seeds and the President of the Board of the Center for an Agricultural Economy. “This region has decades of history of innovation in food and agriculture at both commercial and home scales.  It is our belief that a facility such as this will help support this community's continual desire to become more self-reliant in its food supply as well as lead to green economic development and job growth to keep more of our land actively farmed and provide more jobs in Hardwick and the surrounding towns.  This will be an incredibly valuable piece of infrastructure as this community and region seeks to take charge of its future more directly.  Every corner of this country needs a Food Venture Center and we are honored to be so lucky to have this support."     

“This is an exciting day, as Food Venture 2 has a critical role, like its predecessor, in agriculture and in new food product development that has helped to establish Vermont as one of the leaders in this effort,” said Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Roger Allbee.  “Vermonters have always been innovators, and this facility will make it much easier for that to take place, which will result in more jobs related to food and agriculture in the State.”  The Vermont Department of Agriculture has provided technical assistance and programming to promote the agricultural economy and food-based economy across the State of Vermont.  Recently, using $1.5 million in federal funds secured by Leahy, Allbee and his staff launched the Agriculture Innovation Center – a new organization aimed at promoting the value-added food-based economy. 

During the groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday, speakers also included representatives of organizations that have awarded grants and funding to NVDA and venture partners.

"The Food Venture Center will strengthen the connection between consumers and the people who produce their food," said U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development State Director Molly Lambert. "USDA takes great pride in its partnership in this project.   The Food Venture Center is good for Hardwick, good for Vermonters and a great example of innovation  that will  undoubtedly spark the interest of  the entire  nation."  USDA RD provided a $500,000 Rural Business Enterprise Grant to equip the Center.  Lambert noted the funding was made possible thanks to a federal law Leahy wrote, the Rural Economic Area Partnership Zone program, which awards extra points in the nationwide competition to applicants for USDA RD funding from the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont and other Zone members.

“The dual purposes of creating jobs and assisting low to moderate income Vermonters made this project a perfect fit for our program,” said Vermont Department of Economic, Housing and Community Development Tayt Brooks.  The State of Vermont awarded a $650,000 Vermont Community Development Program grant to NVDA to build the Center. 

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