Malt maker, Ferrisburgh strike deal for prime land

FERRISBURGH — The Ferrisburgh selectboard on Tuesday agreed on a $337,500 deal to sell the town-owned 34.91-acre parcel at the junction of Routes 7 and 22A to Andrew Peterson of Monkton, owner of Peterson Quality Malt.
Peterson plans to build a 10,000-square-foot, barn-like malt-processing house and to grow barley on the land. He said he is optimistic the deal can eventually close despite the hurdles that remain, such as permitting and financing contingencies that are due to be met in January and November, respectively.
“I’m very hopeful,” Peterson said. “At this point I’m committing money to attorneys and engineering firms. I certainly wouldn’t do that if I didn’t think that ultimately we couldn’t get it done.”
Ferrisburgh Selectboard Chairwoman Loretta Lawrence said she and other board members are also hopeful this time around they have a buyer who can meet contract contingencies after two earlier deals fell apart. She noted Peterson has had encouraging early contacts with state officials about his plans.
“We’re very confident, as much as we can be at this point,” Lawrence said on Wednesday. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Andrew gets lots of help. He’s talking about getting grants or help from the state with this agricultural thing. I guess there are a lot of resources available.”
Ferrisburgh has marketed the land for $375,000 since September 2010 and has twice had it under contract, most recently for $350,000 to auto dealer Tom Denecker in 2014. An earlier sale collapsed because the prospective buyer could not meet financing contingencies, and Denecker backed out because he said he could not meet a permitting contingency after opposition from Act 250 and Agency of Natural Resource officials and conservation groups.
But Peterson and selling broker Carl Cole took a meeting with District 9 Act 250 Coordinator Geoffrey Green that Cole said went well. And Paul Bruhn, executive director of the Preservation Trust of Vermont, a former co-owner of the land, called Peterson’s proposal in an email to the Independent, “a great use of the property.”
Lawrence said with permitting and financing looking solid the board was happy to sign a contract once Peterson agreed to the selectboard’s counter to his original offer, even though Lawrence acknowledged the price is lower than prior deals.
“We thought it a very fair counteroffer,” she said.
Peterson, 48, said his company has grown since its 2013 founding in a barn on his Monkton property and needs the space that the land will provide for a new building.
Peterson Quality Malt processes Vermont-grown barley into malt, a key ingredient of beer, for the Vermont micro-brewing sector and also some distilleries. Malt is naturally fermented barley sugar, and lends beer its sweet taste, in contrast to the bitter sharpness of hops, another vital brewing ingredient. Peterson’s malt house remains the only one in the state, although Vermont-grown hops are more widely available.
Peterson said area clients include Hired Hand Brewing in Vergennes, Hogback Mountain Brewing and Bobcat Café in Bristol, Frost Beer Works in Hinesburg, Foam Brewers in Burlington, Appalachian Gap Distillery in Middlebury and several other Chittenden County firms.
Despite the limitations of his converted building, by Peterson’s calculations his business is processing about 1.6 percent of the malt used annually by Vermont brewers.
He calls that percentage “a tiny drop in a big vat of beer,” but said a more efficiently designed 10,000-square-foot building on the Ferrisburgh land would eventually allow him to process much more barley into malt for Vermont’s brewers.
“Being able to build a malt house from scratch, where I can design how I want the malt house to work and look in an open space, will give me a lot more freedom,” Peterson said. “Ultimately, I would potentially go to 20 times the size I am now (within the same building). That would be several years down the line.”
Peterson also sees a larger malt house as creating a new market for the Addison County farmers he expects to provide more than 90 percent of the grain he will process into malt — he foresees a couple thousand acres of barley planted.
“We can bring grain-growing back to New England and Vermont. It went west 150 years ago, and I think it’s really important. It’s good for the sustainability of agriculture in Vermont to be able to have it become local again,” he said.
As well as a boost to local agriculture, the fact that Vermont beers can use and advertise locally grown ingredients is also a positive marketing tool in the age of the localvore movement, Peterson said.
“When someone is looking at where their beer comes from, up until a couple of years ago, that wasn’t a topic of conversation at all. For the first 25 years of the craft beer industry growing and using local ingredients just wasn’t a possibility,” he said.
The Ferrisburgh parcel would help with that educational mission, Peterson said. He hopes to plant about 20 acres of barley on the tillable portions of the land as well as add the malt house in what is about a 4.5-acre building envelope.
“I really want people to see the grain growing on the side of the road and understand where the stuff that’s going into their glass ultimately came from,” he said. “It’s actually supporting local growers in their local area. The beer they buy, the liquor they buy, is coming from fields right around here in Addison County.”
If all goes well, Peterson will expand his employee count from one to five.
“It still wouldn’t be a huge staff. The malting process is a lot of watching and waiting,” he said.
Included in his Act 250 application is request for permission to have an onsite brewery and bakery, although he acknowledges there are no immediate plans for either, calling them more of “a wish list.” He envisions the site possibly someday hosting local third-party providers.
“I’d love to have a complex with lots of different local uses going on,” Peterson said. “I didn’t want to come back to Act 250 in a couple years and say, can I do these things, too, if they pan out.”
The property was deeded to Ferrisburgh in 2010 after complex negotiations in which the Agency of Transportation ended up with land for the former Vergennes rail station and its park-and-ride lot and much of the remaining land was conserved through the Preservation Trust of Vermont and local partners.
Now, the land might be finally ready to return to the private sector, and boost the town in more ways than one: Ferrisburgh will net more than $300,000 from the sale and gain a taxable property that will boost agriculture.
Lawrence said board members are excited about Peterson’s plans for the parcel.
“It should be good for the economy and bringing something local to Vermont. It’s a Vermont product. It all fits in with the agricultural piece that Act 250 wanted,” she said. “It seems like a perfect match for that property.”

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