Grants to local businesses aim to protect Vermont’s rural character

ADDISON COUNTY — How will Vermont ensure that the landscape is not overrun with suburban-type sprawl? One state-funded board is betting that a new cider press, an egg washer and a portable sawmill will help.
The Working Lands Enterprise Board recently awarded $300,000 in grants to 19 businesses across the state, including three in Addison County. The local recipients of grants were Windfall Orchard in Cornwall, Doolittle Farm in Shoreham and Green Mountain Hardwood in Ripton.
The Legislature in 2012 passed the Working Lands Enterprise Initiative in an effort to preserve open land throughout the state. Twenty percent of the state’s land is used for agriculture, while 75 percent is used for forestry, according to the Working Lands Enterprise Board.
This is the second year the initiative has awarded grants to agriculture and forestry businesses, and a total of $1,000,000 will be awarded in 2014.
Windfall Orchard received $9,750 for cider presses and other equipment to expand the business. Owner Brad Koehler said he will use the funds to upgrade the pressing facility, which will enable Windfall Orchard to expand custom pressing.
“There’s a big need for small scale pressing,” Koehler said. “We identified that as a need and put a grant together to help us re-fit our operation to accommodate that.”
Windfall Orchard is a small operation, just three acres. Kohler said he presses fresh cider for farmers’ markets, and sells some to other manufacturers to make hard cider.
“We have been producing 500-600 gallons per year,” Koehler said. “Basically, we’re looking to expand that.”
Koehler added that the new press will allow Windfall Orchard to increase its production without increasing the size of each batch. While large orchards have presses that can accommodate anywhere from 30 to 100 bushels per batch, Koehler said, the new press at Windfall Orchard is suited for his production needs, around 5 bushels per batch.
“Our new press will increase efficiency,” Koehler said.
Koehler said grants from the Working Lands Enterprise Board are integral to helping his operation expand.
“It wouldn’t happen without it,” Koehler said of the grant. “It helps provide resources to producers like myself who have already invested in other things.”
Koehler said the ease of applying for the Working Lands grant made it particularly attractive.
“In the world of grant applications, it’s one of the easier ones,” Koehler said. “Federal USDA applications can be onerous, but this one was designed to be simplified for small scale producers.”
Doolittle Farm has been raising eggs since 1995. It’s a family operation run by Bay Hammond, her husband John, her sons Nick and Ben, and her daughter-in-law Martha.
Bay Hammond said the Working Lands grant, which totals $14,203, will be used to purchase an egg washing machine and a candler, a device used to examine eggs for cracks and other deficiencies.
Previously, the Hammonds washed and sorted each egg by hand, a process that took one and a half hours every day. The new egg washer and candler will enable the farm to process four times as many eggs in that same amount of time.
“The expectation is we’ll do two to three washes per week, and get everything packed and ready,” Hammond said.
Hammond added that the time saved by using automation will allow her family to focus on expanding the other parts of the farm. Currently, the Doolittle Farm also raises organic pigs, lamb and wool products, and beef, while also producing maple syrup and organic blueberries.
“We’re hoping to add some value-added food products with the syrup and blueberries,” Hammond said.
Bay Hammond said the Working Lands grant will help the farm expand its operations. Currently, the farm has 500 laying birds that produce about 125,000 eggs annually.
“Grants are really important, because the profit margin is really slim,” Hammond said. “A lot of times you just don’t have the capital, and taking out a loan digs into your pockets for a couple of years.”
Hammond said the farm sells its eggs at the Middlebury Farmers’ Market, Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op, Healthy Living in South Burlington, Trillium Hill Farm in Hinesburg and a market in Charlotte. Doolittle Farm also delivers to local customers every week.
“We’re tiny, compared to other egg places,” Hammond said. “We sell out on eggs and don’t produce nearly enough for the demand.”
Hammond said the grant application process was easy to navigate.
“You can spend so much time on grants and not get it,” Hammond said. “This was set up nicely, and as I was going through it I was surprised at how instructional it was.”
Green Mountain Hardwood was founded by Giles Hoyler and his wife, Emily, in 2011. It focuses on custom-made wood products for wholesalers and customers.
The company’s Working Lands grant totals $9,825 and will be used for a portable sawmill and a solar-assisted lumber kiln, Emily Hoyler said.
“This will be a new addition and expansion of the business,” she said. “We really wanted to get into sustainable forestry and developed a management plan.”
The business sources its wood from local proprietors, and also from the 30 acres the Hoylers own in Ripton.
With the new portable sawmill, Green Mountain Hardwood will be able to harvest and process wood on the same site. The solar-assisted kiln will harness the power of the sun to help dry out wood, a process it must undergo before being cut into shape.
Hoyler said the company plans to develop two of its recent innovations, which the couple calls From Forest to Finish and One Tree Design. From Forest to Finish describes the process by which wood is sourced locally and processed on site. In One Tree Design, the company uses lumber from a single tree to construct items like cabinets, a bedroom set or kitchen table.
“If families sell their house, they can use a tree from the property to maintain that connection to their home,” Hoyler said.
Hoyler added that she and her husband hope that these new parts of their business will further their goals of promoting responsible forestry and sustainable practices.
“Having that connection to the forest would promote our goals for stewardship of natural resources and foster a stronger connection with nature,” Hoyler said.
Hoyler said she and her husband hope to increase the visibility of the company in the future, and work with more individual customers, in addition to wholesalers.
This was not the first time the Hoylers applied for a Working Lands grant. Last year, the company filled out an application, but was not awarded a grant. However, Hoyler said the feedback they received from the Working Lands Enterprise Board helped them fine tune their application for this year.
“The application process was supportive of our business,” Hoyler said. “They told us what they thought could improve the application in the future, and we came up with the Forest to Finish and One Tree Design.”
Hoyler said that expanding Green Mountain Hardwood would be impossible without the grant funds.
“We’re so grateful for this opportunity,” Hoyler said. “The grants are hugely important to Vermont’s commitment to working lands and sustainability.”

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