Grants for local apple, meat-cutting projects aims to fuel local foods movement

ADDISON COUNTY — Nearly $100,000 in grants to two local apple operations announced last week, plus additional grants supporting meat-cutting and composting efforts, aim to help businesses cultivating the local foods market.
Ultimately, the awards through the highly competitive Working Lands Enterprise Fund should make locally grown and processed foods more readily available to Vermont consumers.
State officials last week announced 16 Enterprise Fund-related grants totaling more than $750,000 for development of various agricultural and forest-related products and initiatives. The fund is part of the Working Lands Enterprise Initiative (Act 142) created by the Legislature last year.
“Vermonters are committed to supporting and expanding our value-added farm and forest industries,” Gov. Peter Shumlin said of the fund and the latest round of grant awards. “By investing in technical assistance and infrastructure projects, these grants will help farmers and those who work our woodlands prosper and grow sustainably for future generations.”
Addison County-based recipients included:
•  $75,000 for Champlain Orchards of Shoreham to expand the state’s cider apple supply chain.
•  $43,369 for Shoreham-based Vermont Refrigerated Storage to increase fruit storage capacity for farms, distributors and processors with construction of a 300-pallet freezer.
•  $55,000 for the Patricia A. Hannaford Regional Technical School District to expand its Vermont Skilled Butchers and Meat Cutters Training Program.
•  $55,000 to help the state’s solid waste management districts plan for new infrastructure that will be needed to comply with a state-mandated food scrap composting program. Addison County Solid Waste Management District Manager Teresa Kuczynski applied for the grant in her capacity as leader of the Vermont Solid Waste District Managers Association.
Katie Johnson, business manger for the county solid waste management district, said the grant will help waste districts throughout the state get a handle on what it will take to comply with the composting requirements of Act 148. The law, among other things, bans the disposal into landfills of organic waste by the year 2020. The law will be phased in over the next several years, so solid waste management districts have to come up with programs and facilities to properly compost food scraps, according to Johnson.
In Shoreham, Barney Hodges Jr. of Vermont Refrigerated Storage netted $43,369 to construct a freezer that would have the capacity to store 300 pallets of fruits and vegetables. Hodges also co-owns Sunrise Orchards with his, wife Chris.
“We’d determined through some studies that there is a definite market for frozen pallet storage,” Hodges said. Having a local storage space reduces transportation costs, keeps business in Vermont, and ultimately strengthens the supply chain, thus making the price point of the locally produced produce more attractive to institutional buyers.
The grant funds the construction of a freezer with substantial storage capacity, which Hodges said will provide a way for farms and distributers to tap into the institutional market, selling produce to schools, hospitals or universities throughout the winter months.
A second apple-related Working Lands grant was awarded to Bill Suhr of Champlain Orchards in Shoreham to the tune of $70,000, to fund the completion of a cider-pressing facility that will strengthen the cider supply chain — a critical area given the increased demand for hard cider in local and national markets.
Suhr is constructing a 6,000-square-foot cider pressing facility and processing space that will host two large cider presses. Champlain Orchards has been tapping in to the hard cider market by pressing sweet cider for Vermont Hard Cider’s “Woodchuck Farmhouse” blend and making its own hard cider line, Pruner’s Hard Cider.
Suhr hopes that the presence of the processing space will encourage emerging cider orchards in the area. Local orchards will be able to send their crop to Champlain Orchards to be pressed into cider, which would then be returned to the grower for sale or distribution.
He also notes that hard cider makes use of a previously untapped resource — apples that have dropped from the tree but are intact and clean. Once those apples go through the fermentation process in hard cider making, they are perfectly good to consume. The growth of the commodity also means that growers can now capitalize on fruit that was once wasted.
“Nationally there is a lot of interest and growth in hard cider,” Suhr said. “The grant allows us to finish off the space and really ramp up our capacity.”
Meanwhile, Hannaford Career Center Director Lynn Coale was ecstatic about the $55,000 grant that will allow the center to export its “Skilled Butchers and Meat Cutters” curriculum. The two-year program, being offered in association with Vermont Technical College, includes several courses designed to teach students (18 and older) all they need to become certified in the state as butchers or meat cutters. Courses at the career center’s North Campus in Middlebury include “Food Safety and Sanitation,” “Meat Processing and Fabrication,” “Meat Technology,” “Meat Processing and Merchandising,” “Advanced Livestock Processing/Safety Analysis” and “Poultry Processing.”
It’s a program that also provides internships for its students who are choosing an industry in dire need of skilled workers. The Vermont Department of Labor last week approved the new offering as a state-sanctioned apprentice program, a rare distinction, according to Coale.
“I consider it an honor that our school was considered and funded,” Coale said of the grant.
The grant, Coale said, will allow the career center’s program to be replicated at the career centers in Springfield and Lamoille. Coale noted Black River Produce is also based in Springfield, where it is expanding its meat-processing facilities. This sets up the potential for collaborations between the Springfield students and Black River Produce, a major distributor of food products to restaurants, institutions and stores in Vermont and New Hampshire.
The money will also allow the Hannaford Career Center to advertise the program to prospective students in neighboring states, as well as add more courses — such as in the production of smoked and cured meats.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Coale said.
The Working Lands Enterprise Initiative is administered by the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, in partnership with the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation and the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development. A Working Lands Enterprise Board is responsible for allocating almost $1 million in grant funds each year. The board is made up of public and private sector members involved in agriculture, food systems, forestry and/or forest products.

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