Leahy: Center For An Agricultural Economy’s New Food Venture Center Is ‘Model Of Agricultural Innovation’

‘a meaningful and practical advance for value-added agriculture in Vermont’

HARDWICK, Vt. (FRIDAY, Jan. 6) – During an open house and ribbon cutting ceremony at the Vermont Food Venture Center (VFVC) in Hardwick Friday afternoon, Senator Patrick Leahy (D) called the nonprofit multipurpose kitchen incubator and food processing facility a critical piece of infrastructure that will help enable Vermont’s agricultural renaissance.  The center gives Vermont’s producers and entrepreneurs new tools to convert crops and dairy products into value-added foods, from inception to product launch -- and including advice and technical assistance for prospective start-up businesses.

The Vermont Food Venture Center -- operated by the Center for an Agricultural Economy (CAE) and built through a partnership between the Northeastern Vermont Development Association (NVDA) and the nonprofit Northern Enterprises -- has been quietly operating for several months and officially began soliciting new clients this summer.

The Center for an Agricultural Economy calls the VFVC a one-of-a-kind facility located in a thriving region that celebrates food, farm and local economy.  The 15,000 square-foot food processing facility and kitchen incubator has one long-term anchor tenant, the Cellars of Jasper Hill which will be mentoring new cheese makers and producing cheese.  The facility is available for hourly or contract lease to people interested in making commercial quality recipes or processing agricultural products.

“The Vermont Food Venture Center is a model for farmers and economic development professionals across the state and a generator of agricultural innovation,” said Leahy, who secured $450,000 in federal funding for the development of the facility.  “Northern Enterprises and the Northeastern Vermont Development Association have built an incubator kitchen and food processing facility that will give Vermonters the tools necessary to convert crops to value-added food, milk into value-added cheese, and perhaps mom’s old recipes into thriving businesses.  Just as importantly, staff from the Center for an Agricultural Economy can provide the secret ingredient -- advice and other types of technical assistance that can help a food entrepreneur make good use of the facility.  This is a meaningful and practical advance for value-added agriculture in Vermont.”

Monty Fischer, Executive Director of the CAE, said, ”We are proud and excited that the VFVC is opening in Hardwick. This facility will provide a critical piece of infrastructure for Vermont’s food system, small businesses and the agricultural economy.”

Steve Patterson, Executive Director of NVDA, said, “This grand opening represents the culmination of five years of concerted efforts from multiple stakeholders.  The success of this facility will set a shining example for value added food production throughout the state.”

Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross said, “The Vermont Food Venture Center is an incredible resource to help incubate and support the agricultural businesses in this region and may serve as a model for other areas within Vermont and beyond.  The opportunities created here will stimulate the kind of community-based agriculture that makes Vermont special.   The Governor and Agency of Agriculture believe this will help support the ongoing renaissance of agriculture in Vermont.  Leadership at the federal level led by Senator Leahy coupled with state and community commitments make partnerships like the Vermont Food Venture Center successful and enrich the agricultural and community based economy of Vermont.” 

Leahy helped establish the original Vermont Food Venture Center in Fairfax in 1996.  The needs of agricultural producers and food entrepreneurs from across the state soon dictated the need for a larger facility. 

Since 2007, Northern Enterprises, a nonprofit organization that ran the original Vermont Food Venture Center, pieced together more than $3 million in federal and state funding to build the new facility.  Funding included the $450,000 secured by Leahy, a $500,000 United States Department of Agriculture Rural Business Enterprise Grant, a $1.5 million federal Economic Development Administration American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant, a $800,000 Vermont Community Development Program grant to the Town of Hardwick, and various other grants including appropriations from the Vermont State Legislature secured in part by Vermont State Sen. Vince Illuzi (R-Essex and Orleans). 

USDA Rural Development Vermont/New Hampshire State Director Molly Lambert said, “USDA Rural Development invested in this project because we believe it will give farmers and rural Vermonters additional tools to start or expand their food-based businesses.  It has the potential to create jobs and increase economic opportunity in rural Vermont.”  Lambert noted that the $500,000 Rural Business Enterprise Grant her agency awarded to the project was given special consideration due to its location within the Rural Economic Area Partnership Zone secured by Leahy in 2001.

Vermont Secretary of Commerce Lawrence Miller said, “This is a tremendous example of the economic development opportunities to be found in our critical agricultural sector.  This is a major area of focus in our work and evidence of what we can accomplish when people like Senator Leahy and the local partners work to align federal, state and local partners.  The Hardwick agricultural renaissance is getting noticed around the country, and I particularly want to commend the town of Hardwick and NVDA on their active participation in the Community Development Block Grant for an outstanding project that will benefit the whole region.”

Vermonters interested in using the new facility should contact the Center for an Agricultural Economy at vfvc@hardwickagriculture.org or (802) 472-5840.

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