Business profile: Vermont Refrigerated Storage

SHOREHAM — It takes a whole lot of chemistry to be able to eat an apple in July. Vermont Refrigerated Storage, or VRS, on Route 22A in Shoreham has keeping apples fresh for extended periods down to a science. 
With a series of temperature-controlled rooms, each with specific levels of oxygen and nitrogen, co-owner Barney Hodges is able to ensure that clients like Champlain Orchards can keep their fruit fresh throughout the winter and spring, and into the summer months.
“Apples perspire and breathe,” Hodges explained. “To store apples long-term, we have to alter the atmosphere of the rooms. We do two daily readings on the rooms to monitor their oxygen levels,” Hodges said.
VRS, co-owned by Hodges, his wife Christiana, and Gregory O’Brien, specializes in apple storage for eight, sometimes more, growers in the Champlain Valley. For most growers, VRS serves as a supplementary storage facility they might have on their own properties. 
Starting around Sept. 15 and up until Nov. 1, growers bring in their apples straight from the fields. VRS takes in around 230,000 bushels during the annual harvest. One bushel of apples is equivalent to 48 pounds, or around 126 medium-size apples. 
“80 hours is a slow week,” VRS employee Michael Brinkman said of the apple harvest season. “Since the first day I started working here, every day has been different, even during apple season. It’s really exciting.” 
VRS occupies the space of the original Shoreham Apple Co-op, which opened in 1946, and was owned by many regional growers. It operated until 2002.
“There was a downturn in apples in the 1990s, and a lot of growers went out of business. There was not enough value there to save the co-op,” Hodges said. 
In 2002, when the co-op went defunct, Hodges, who co-owns Sunrise Orchards in Cornwall with Christiana, leased the storage side of the building with a few other growers for one year.
In 2004, the Hodges and O’Brien bought the 10-acre property with the 120,000-square-foot warehouse, along with Seedway LLC. Seedway retains the southern third of the building. 
“Our farm was the largest grower member of the co-op when it went out of business, so we were really in need of apple storage. The place was so run down — it was really valueless to most people. It’s in great shape now,” Hodges said. 
Since purchasing the building, VRS has added additional components to its business to supplement apple storage, such as pallet storage, dry storage options, freezer spaces, and a 500,000 kw solar array co-owned with Misty Knoll Chicken, which generates 90 percent of VRS power needs.
When the hard cider boom hit New England about five years ago, VRS became an obvious storage facility for apples waiting to be processed into cider. Now, around 30 percent of the apples that VRS stores are for cider processing. 
Shacksbury Cider of Vergennes operated in its own room in VRS for four to five years when it was just beginning operations. Shacksbury, which started just a few miles down Route 74 in Shoreham, had large containers of already pressed juice delivered to VRS, and did fermentation, bottling and labeling out of the facility as well. Shacksbury is now in the process of moving its equipment and products to its new Vergennes location.
Hodges and Brinkman are inspired by Shacksbury’s success, and want to make their spaces available and amenable to more entrepreneurs. 
“We’re interested in facilitating start-ups,” Hodges said. 
Since Shacksbury put down its roots in VRS, other small companies have used VRS’s variety of storage offerings, including Sap! Beverages; Tata Harper, a skincare company in Shoreham; a Canadian biotech company; and Creed Ice Co Inc. of Rutland. 
Middlebury Foods, a student-run non-profit out of Middlebury College, uses VRS’s refrigerated storage space to store and pack its local food offerings.
“We really make almost no money on that deal, but it’s a good thing to do, so we’re psyched to support them,” Hodges said of VRS’s partnership with Middlebury Foods. 
In addition to supporting the start-ups that already work with VRS, Hodges would like to see new businesses develop out of VRS’s spaces.
“Because of the infrastructure that’s here — forklifts, tall ceilings, town water, power — I feel like we could be a really great space that incubates businesses, warehouses people’s products, as well as continuing with the ag component,” he said. 

Share this story:

More News
US Probation Office Uncategorized

US Probation Office Request for Proposals

US Probation Office 2×1.5 062024 RFP

Middlebury American Legion Uncategorized

Middlebury American Legion Annual Meeting

Middlebury American Legion 062024 1×1.5 Annual Meeting

Sports Uncategorized

MAV girls’ lax nets two triumphs

The Mount Abraham-Vergennes cooperative girls’ lacrosse team moved over .500 with a pair o … (read more)

Share this story: