Monday, June 18, 2012

Meet Sweet Rowen Farmstead

A recipient of a Vermont Farm Fund Emergency Loan in 2011, Paul Lisai of Sweet Rowen Farmstead recently celebrated a May 2012 grand Re -opening of his business and processing house. This is what he had to say about how the VFF Emergency Loan helped him get to this point.

After the fire at Ploughgate Creamery I needed to find a new place to process my milk and I settled on the idea of building a new creamery on our family's land in East Albany.  I started looking into funding options.

Getting the initial loan from the VFF gave me more confidence to find resources to make building the creamery happen and although things can always happen faster, I feel like the farm is on the right track...

I think these loans are only the start of something that can be much larger and i hope that there are bigger funding opertuniy's available to farmer in the future - I can't understand why someone would want to invest there money in any thing other then farming. - Paul Lisai, owner of Sweet Rowen Farmstead in Albany, Vermont

Friday, June 15, 2012

Join our Thursday, June 21st Regional Agricultural Tour!

Our next tour is Thursday, June 21st and following our local food system "hub", we will be visiting the places and people that make our agricultural economy work.

Starting at 10am in the Center for an Agricultural Economy's office at 21 Mill Street in downtown Hardwick, Annie Gaillard, one of our board members and co-owner of Surfing Veggie Farm in Walden, will lead our group, caravan-style, to Highfields Center for Composting, High Mowing Organic Seeds, Pete's Greens and others. We will end the day back in Hardwick to explore the Buffalo Mountain Cooperative and Claire's Restaurant, discussing how and why healthy and local food systems are an important part of our thriving region.

Visit our website or email Elena Gustavson to sign up for this tour or the others we have on the 3rd Thursday of each month, May through September.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Vermont is Taking Big Steps in Cultivating Happiness!!

This two part post is written by Heather Davis, our Food Systems Monitoring and Evaluation Research Associate. Heather collects data for the Center for an Agricultural Economy and helps us understand whether we are achieving our goals when it comes to our programming and monitoring our results. 

Vermont is Taking Big Steps in Cultivating Happiness!! (part 1)

by Heather Davis

happiness pic 1
Happiness.  What does it really look like?  How do we achieve it?  How do we measure it?  Where does responsibility lie in achieving this state?  With us as individuals?  With the state to support policies that will enhance happiness and well-being?  Or both?  These are the questions that Vermonters are now asking themselves due to a new law passed this year, S.237, which calls for the State of Vermont to measure the well-being of its citizens.  The indicators and the associated data that are being developed for this state initiative will be a real asset in decision-making; for the state budget, for local businesses and organizations, in creating laws and policy, and for individuals in making decisions about their own lives.  This is exciting and progressive stuff!

On May 30th, I spent the day at the University of Vermont attending the Measuring What Matters: Pathways to Sustainable Well-Being in Vermont conference, sponsored by the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics, Gross National Happiness USA, and Common Good Vermont.  I am a data geek and I love measures, so the idea of measuring our well-being in a way that is more representative and accurate than the traditional Gross Domestic Product (GDP) method really appeals to me.  Monitoring progress toward goals is the only way we can really know if we are really making our way toward those goals – and what a more worthwhile goal than happiness!  This conference was really up my alley!

After some wonderful speakers, there was some great discussion in the break-out group I attended addressing the question of measuring well-being.  Some of the words that emerged to describe happiness and well-being include “Thriving,” “Community,” “Time balance,” “Resiliency,” “Work-life balance,” “Relationships,” “Access to nature,” and “Basic needs,” and “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.” 

elena and heather at vfvc grand opening
After coming up with the definition of happiness and well-being, the next step will be to develop ways to measure these things.  This can be the more difficult part of the process: it’s very important to find the right measures (indicators) – if you measure the wrong thing, you’ll get misleading results and/or the information will not be useful at all.  This problem can be seen in the over-emphasis of measuring GDP.  The U.S. and other countries have generally focused on this measure – which describes the total sum of all economic activity – and have used it to tell us how “well” a nation is doing.  This approach is very problematic for many reasons – not the least of which is that our well-being goes far beyond economics.  Yes, economics is an important part of well-being – to a point – but there are many more factors that we need to pay attention to, such as those mentioned above.  If one of these factors is languishing we need to do something to address it – both as individuals and collectively as a community, state, or nation.  This is why measuring the elements that contribute to happiness is so important – “What you measure affects what you do. If you don’t measure the right thing, you don’t do the right thing” -Nobel Prize winner, Joseph Stiglitz.

happiness pic 3
The idea of measuring well-being, beyond the traditional and problematic measure of GDP, began in Bhutan in 1972 when the new young king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, declared that his country would be measuring the Gross National Happiness of his people, which was a more well-rounded way to measure well-being.  It has taken some time (Bhutan was way ahead of the curve here), but the idea has caught on in recent years and several other countries, states, the UN have now begun the process of measuring well-being in a more holistic way.

Now, Vermont is part of this progressive group and will be measuring the well-being of its citizens.  This conference was the first step in this process.  Stay tuned for next week when I discuss the connection between happiness and our local food system! 

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Vermont Farm Fund Launches Innovative Loan Program

The Vermont Farm Fund Launches New Innovative Loan Program

Getting back to their roots, VFF refocuses on moving local food system forward

Hardwick, VT, May 31, 2012— On June 1st, the Center for an Agricultural Economy and Pete’s Greens will launch the Vermont Farm Fund Innovative Loan. Offering a low interest rate and quick response, the Innovative Loan Program will benefit farmers and food producers who are “innovating” to increase the diversity of local foods produced in Vermont.

Examples of innovation include development of a new crop, product, process or market; business and/or financial planning for diversifying product lines; new kinds of infrastructure and equipment that would increase the amount of local food or local ingredients in a commonly used product. Like the Vermont Farm Fund (VFF) Emergency Loan Program, the VFF Innovative Loan Program will be a simple application process for $10,000 loans payable over the course of 24 months with a low interest rate.

Although in the planning stages since early 2011, the Vermont Farm Fund Advisory Board halted planning for the Innovative Loan in August 2011 and quickly established the emergency loan program to meet the immediate needs of farmers effected by the catastrophic flooding from Tropical Storm Irene.  This zero interest revolving loan program of $5,000 and $10,000 loans has been highly successful, resulting in over $100,000 in loans to a dozen farmers in Vermont. “We are very pleased with the progress we are making” says Mary Skovsted of Joe’s Brook Farm in St. Johnsbury. “It has been a very good spring for growing and the Emergency Loan has put us in a position to take advantage of the good weather.  Our hope is that by the end of 2012 the flood will be a distant memory.

The Vermont Farm Fund (VFF), created by Pete’s Greens in Craftsbury, VT in partnership with the Center for an Agricultural Economy (CAE), was inspired by the outpouring of support Pete's Greens received when the farm's barn and processing facility, burned to the ground in January 2011. The VFF is guided by a group of independent advisors of farmers and community leaders.

To make a tax deductible donation, please visit or write a check to the Vermont Farm Fund and mail to the Center for an Agricultural Economy, PO Box 451, 21 Mill Street, Hardwick, VT 05843. 

To apply for a loan from the VFF, please visit to view and download the application after June 1st or contact

under water at joe's brook farm
Joe's Brook Farm, St. Johnsbury, Vermont

pre-flood at Joe's Brook Farm, St. Johnsbury, VT
Better days are here