Rep. Bray moves from bill drafting to coffee making

MIDDLEBURY — During his four years on the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Chris Bray, D-New Haven, has frequently advocated for farming practices and food policies that are socially responsible and add value to Vermont’s food commodities.He is now participating in just such a venture.Vermont Coffee Company confirmed on Thursday the hiring of Bray as its executive vice president, one of four new positions recently added at the fast growing, Middlebury-based firm.It’s a position that will see Bray market and further boost the sales of the firm’s line of certified organic, fair trade coffees. “Fair trade” means Vermont Coffee purchases its beans through a business plan that stresses, among other things, fair wages, consumer education, environmental sustainability and public accountability.“Vermont Coffee is in the midst of a period of robust growth,” said company President Paul Ralston, who founded Vermont Coffee in 2001. “We are looking to increase both our sales and the depth and breadth of our relationships. Chris Bray, because of his business and legislative experience, is uniquely qualified to help us do both.”Bray is finishing his second term in the House, representing Addison-5. He took a pass on a re-election bid this year in order to run for lieutenant governor. He lost in the Democratic primary, and had been on Gov.-elect Peter Shumlin’s “short list” of candidates for secretary of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets. That job ultimately went to Chuck Ross, a senior staffer with U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.Ralston — a Middlebury Democrat who will begin his first term in the Vermont House in January — approached Bray this November with the Vermont Coffee job offer. Ralston and Bray had previously discussed agricultural policy, particularly as it relates to fair trade.Bray enthusiastically accepted the job, which he started last week.“I think this is a very natural fit,” he said of his new vocation.In addition to his legislative duties, Bray has for the past 20 years operated Common Ground Communications, through which he writes, edits and designs documents — sometimes taking them right through printing and distribution — for clients that have included IBM and Intel Corp.He and his wife, Kate Selby, also run the Equestry, a horse farm in New Haven.Bray said the Vermont Coffee job will give him an opportunity to use his professional and legislative experience in furthering a business that is trying to live by some of the same standards and philosophies he promoted in the Statehouse.“Throughout my legislative career, I have worked to create local, sustainable economic development, with a focus on agriculture and value-added foods,” Bray said. “Vermont Coffee Company exemplifies this healthy approach to business through its commitment to growers, its own staff, the community, and the environment. I am delighted to draw on my experience and put it to use directly, growing good jobs close to home here in Addison County.”Job growth is in full swing at Vermont Coffee. Along with Bray, the company recently hired Claire Seminario as executive assistant, Courtney Lang as sales and marketing assistant and Gary Lyons as apprentice roaster. That brings Vermont Coffee’s employment roster up to 16.On Dec. 18, the company was slated to open “Vermont Coffee at Mount Snow,” a spot for consumers to buy a cup of the company’s product.“It is our first major presence in the tourism industry,” said Bray, who has no immediate plans to re-enter elective politics.Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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