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WhistlePig gives back to help Vermont agriculture

SHOREHAM — Gov. Peter Shumlin gave a shout-out to two local businesses during his recent State of the State address, crediting WhistlePig Whiskey and Long Trail-Otter Creek Brewing for making generous contributions to Vermont’s Working Lands Enterprise Fund (WLEF).
Administered by the Working Lands Enterprise Board, the WLEF each year makes grants available to new initiatives that promote the economic, cultural and community development of Vermont’s working landscape. The fund offers direct investments in the state’s forests, farms, food, recreation and wood products industries.
With money tight in state government, fewer public dollars have been available for the WLEF. So Shumlin was pleased to note contributions from the private sector, including from two high-profile beverage companies in Addison County. He confirmed that Long Trail-Otter Creek Brewing had contributed $25,000 for the fund, while WhistlePig Distillery and the Progressive Farm Alliance have promised $50,000. The Progressive Farm Alliance is supported by WhistlePig and its business partners.
Leigh and Charles Merinoff of Townsend have pledged another $100,000.
Those contributions will beef up grants available for the WLEF in fiscal year 2017, which runs from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017.
“I am amazed and thrilled to have these two businesses here that think enough of the importance of what (the Working Lands Enterprise Fund) is trying to do that they are contributing so much to it,” said Robin Scheu, executive director of the Addison County Economic Development Corp. and a charter member of the Working Lands Enterprise Board.
She noted WhistlePig’s and Long Trail’s contributions come in spite of the fact that as already established businesses, neither will be able to tap into the fund.
Demand for WLEF grants has always far exceeded the amount of money available, according to Scheu, which makes the private donations all the more valuable.
“The quality of the grant applications has gone up dramatically since we first started (in 2012),” Scheu added.
WhistlePig is based in Shoreham, while Long Trail’s Otter Creek Brewing operation is located in Middlebury.
“Like my friends Leigh and Charlie Merinoff and our colleagues at Long Trail Brewing, who have also made a generous contribution to the fund, we see this as a chance to help Vermont farm-based and agricultural-processing entrepreneurs who occupy the same spot we occupied in our infancy,” said Raj Bhakta, founder and CEO of WhistlePig. “For example, loans from the ACEDC and the Vermont Economic Development Authority helped fuel WhistlePig’s growth. We are hoping to return the favor to the next generation of agriculture-based businesses, and the fund represents a tremendous vehicle for public-private sector cooperation to promote this end. We feel obligated to give back. And if a revitalization of the Vermont agriculture sector benefits WhistlePig incidentally, so much the better.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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