Leahy-Backed Agriculture And Capital Initiatives Aim To Grow Vermont’s New Economy And Enhance Vermont’s Marketing Identity

CHARLOTTE, Vt. (Monday, May 23) – During a visit to an organic grain farm in Charlotte Monday, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy unveiled two dozen value-added agricultural projects and the creation of a new risk capital fund for value-added agricultural and green economy businesses in Vermont.

The two initiatives, the Vermont Agricultural Innovation Center and a risk capital fund created by the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund (VSJF), the VSJF Flexible Capital Fund, L3C, are beneficiaries of Leahy-secured earmarks that he has targeted to grow Vermont’s economy while preserving Vermont’s working landscape.

The Vermont Agricultural Innovation Center, created by Leahy using $2 million in congressionally-directed appropriations and administered by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, funds state-based programs that provide technical, marketing and organizational development services to value-added agricultural businesses. “Value-added” businesses include farms that do some level of processing for raw products, alternative production such as organic, diversified farming, or local foods marketing.  A full list of the Agricultural Innovation Center recipients recognized Monday is attached.

“While conventional dairy farming remains a mainstay of Vermont agriculture, we know how difficult it can be to thrive selling a product that is subject to commodity pricing and competition from ever larger and more industrialized farms in other regions,” said Leahy, a senior member of both the Senate Agriculture Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee. “While keeping Vermont a much-admired dairy state, we must also pursue every practical opportunity to diversify our crops and transform them into finished products right here at home.”

Tom Kenyon’s Aurora Farms and Kenyon’s Nitty Gritty Grain Company were among the beneficiaries of more than $700,000 in Vermont Agricultural Innovation Center projects announced Monday.  Two of the project recipients – the Northern Grain Growers Association and the University of Vermont Extension Center – will use funding to develop markets for locally grown and milled grains and  to provide technical assistance to grain and hops growers in Vermont.

“Selling grain as a commodity doesn’t do much for Vermont’s economy or for my farm,” said Kenyon.  “But when you mill the grain yourself and turn it into a product, suddenly a profitable business model emerges – making farming grain viable and enabling us to keep this land in agricultural production.”

“The Senator’s strong vision and support for value-added agriculture has greatly increased the speed with which the industry is moving forward in Vermont,” said Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross.

At a news conference Monday in Charlotte, Leahy also announced the creation of a new capital fund created by the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund.  Leahy secured a $500,000 appropriation for the fund.  Leahy said the fund will help Vermont businesses develop food systems, renewable energy and climate change solutions while preserving Vermont’s working landscapes and ensuring the health of Vermont’s communities.

“Value-added agricultural businesses such as Tom and David’s Nitty Gritty Grain are essential to Vermont’s new agricultural economy,” said Leahy.  “Many of these promising ventures are ignored by traditional equity investors.  The Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund recognized this, and they have created a new mezzanine debt fund that provides flexible risk capital such as royalty financing – all at a Vermont scale.”

“This is a first-of-its-kind fund in Vermont – and the nation, for that matter,” said VSJF Flexible Capital Fund President Janice St. Onge. “The Flex Fund completely breaks the mold of traditional capital, by providing Vermont growth-stage companies with near-equity capital without taking a portion of a firm’s ownership. This kind of capital is typically out of reach to the small, visionary businesses that are developing Vermont’s local food systems, renewable energy and clean technologies. Unlike traditional angel investment or venture capital, the Flex Fund fills a critical gap in a small business’ financing package, because we allow for a slower, sustainable level of growth than equity investors might look for. We also marry investment with infrastructure support – providing businesses with instant access to VJSF’s networks, expertise, mentoring, and technical assistance programs to ensure their ultimate success.”

The Leahy-secured $500,000 has already helped the Flex Fund leverage $1.2 million of additional capital for the fund from accredited investors like the Castanea Foundation, the Vermont Community Foundation, the High Meadows Fund, Shelburne Farms, the Vermont Land Trust, Clean Yield Asset Management clients, and other private investors.  St. Onge said she hopes to raise another $2.3 million from accredited investors in the near future to fully capitalize the $4 million fund.  

For more information about the VSJF Flexible Capital Fund, or if you are a business looking for flexible risk capital, visit www.vsjf.org or contact Janice St. Onge at flexcap@vsjf.org

About The VSJF Flexible Capital Fund

The VSJF Flexible Capital Fund, L3C was created by the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, which develops markets for sustainably produced goods and services to create jobs for the next generation of Vermonters.  The VSJF provides grants, technical assistance, and loans to entrepreneurs, businesses, and farmers, to accelerate the development of Vermont’s green economy. The VSJF Flexible Capital Fund provides near-equity or mezzanine financing to targeted Vermont growth companies in sustainable agriculture and food systems, forest products, renewable energy and other natural resource sectors.

Agricultural Innovation Center Projects Announced Monday

UVM Extension and Northern Grain Growers Association

Technical Assistance to Grain and Hops Producers:                                      $68,095
Vermont Housing and Conservation Board
Vermont Farm Viability Program:                                                                  $150,000
Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund
Vermont Agricultural Development Program:                                                $75,000

Vermont Agency of Agriculture - Train the Trainers:                                  $5,000
Vermont Livestock and Slaughter
Facilities Expansion, Preparation and Planning:                                             $14,104
Green Mountain Farm to School - Green Mountain Farm Direct:              $13,333

The Addison County Re-localization Network (ACORN Network)
ACORN Wholesale Collaborative Online Platform:                                      $20,000

The Intervale Center - The Intervale Center Dairy Barn: 
Rebuilding Vermont’s Agricultural Infrastructure:                                        $11,837

Rutland Area Farm and Food Link (RAFFL) 

Green Mountain Food Hub:                                                                           $26,667
Vermont Agency of Agriculture
Regional Beef Market Development and Networking:                                  $23,080

Northern Grain Growers Association
Market Development for Locally Sourced and Milled Grain:                        $23,950

Vermont Cheese Council - Producer / Selling Relationship Building:         $9,570

Vermont Fresh Network - Agriculture Culinary Tourism Website:             $45,000

Vermont Cheese Council -Vermont Cheese Festival:                                  $15,000

Vermont Ice Cider Association – Ice Cider Festival:                                  $6,000

Vermont Specialty Food Association – Specialty Food Trade Shows:       $30,000
Vermont Agency of Agriculture – Vermont Branding Program:                $52,000

Vermont Agency of Agriculture – Taste of Place:                                      $25,000

Vermont Fresh Network – Product/Producer Mentoring and Assistance:  $9,000

NOFA-Vermont – Farmer’s Market Association Development:                  $13,222

UVM Peer to Peer Hops – Networking for Hops Growers and Producers:  $12,403
Distilled Spirits Council of Vermont – Organization Development:           $10,375
Farm to Plate – Leadership Development:                                                    $25,000

Vermont Agency of Agriculture – Humane Handling Training:                 $10,000

Franklin Grand Isle Workforce Investment Board – Internships:            $16,500

Highfields Center for Composting – Internship:                                         $7,620
NOFA – Vermont – Journey Farmer Program Pilot:                                     $17,301

AIC Funds:                                                                                                   $735,057

Matching Funds:                                                                                        $1,238,923

Total Impact for Vermont Agriculture:                                      $1,973,980

Press Contact

David Carle: 202-224-3693