News Release — Vermont Land Trust
December 6, 2013
Elise Annes, Vermont Land Trust Vice President for Community Relations
262-1206 or by cell phone (802) 522-9855
Fund will make it possible for VLT to act on opportunities to protect productive farmland
The 48-acre Bragg Farm in Fayston, Vermont, known for its iconic barn, open hay meadows and outstanding scenic views of the Green Mountains, has been farmed continuously for more than 200 years. Much further south, the Bunker Farm—an agricultural and scenic treasure in Dummerston—has been a fixture in town for over 160 years. When these two farms went on the market, they were at risk of being sold to someone who was not interested in farming. These communities risked losing these productive farms.
In both instances, the Vermont Land Trust (VLT) acted quickly and placed offers on the properties using a revolving fund to buy time to find farmers, put the conservation deals together, and permanently protect the land for the next generation of farmers.
A new partnership between VLT, the Vermont Community Foundation (VCF) and the High Meadows Fund (HMF) will create more opportunities for VLT to provide farmers with access to affordable farms for commercial operations. VCF and HMF will loan VLT a combined $850,000 for their Farmland Access Program. This loan will allow VLT to take high-demand farmland off the market while finding farmers who are the best match for the land and infrastructure. It will also allow VLT the time to raise the funds to purchase conservation easements on land—an important step to ensuring future affordability.
“The Foundation has $7 million to deploy in Vermont, and we’re always looking for new ways to improve the state,” said Debbie Rooney, VP for Finance at VCF. “When the Vermont Land Trust came to us, we saw an exciting opportunity to invest in a great organization and in a project that dovetails with our Food and Farm Initiative by supporting local farms and local food. It makes a lot of sense. Yes, VLT could have gotten some commercial dollars to do this, but it would have been a much higher rate, and they wouldn’t have been able to do some of the other work they do. We see this as a resource for VLT to be able to readily maintain working farms in Vermont.”
The Farmland Access Program and this loan fund will prevent the sale of the farms that are often at the highest risk of development or an estate purchase, circumstances that lead to a major loss to communities that value their farms and local food.
“The Farmland Access Program has helped more than 30 farmers in Vermont buy their first farm, or to expand their operation,” said Jon Ramsay, the director of VLT’s Farmland Access Program. “When we see an opportunity, we buy a farm with bridge financing. Now we can use lower-cost capital to purchase, conserve, and sell the farm at an affordable price to a farmer who can create a viable business.”
“We’ve seen that putting land conservation deals together takes longer than it used to,” said Gaye Symington, Executive Director of the High Meadows Fund. “There are a lot of complex questions to resolve with conservation deals and this takes time. Questions about the ecological values on the farm, the proximity to river systems, and farm-labor housing are a few examples. We see this loan as important because it offers VLT longer-term dollars. Becoming investors in this loan fund is a demonstration of HMF’s confidence in VLT.”
In the case of Bragg Farm, more than 225 people in the Mad River Valley community contributed $500,000. With backing from the Town of Fayston, and a grant of $320,000 from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, the funding has been raised to permanently protect the Bragg Farm. The project was officially completed last week, when VLT sold the conserved farm to Marisa Mauro of Ploughgate Creamery for $175,000 (the appraised agricultural value of the land, barn and residence). In Dummerston, four farmers, working as partners, were selected as the new owners of the farm. The farmers are leasing the farm now and will buy it subject to a conservation easement once VLT raises $110,000, along with other grant funding, to pay back the loan and cover the costs of conserving this land.
“The related investments by the Vermont Community Foundation and the High Meadows Fund have helped the Vermont Land Trust take Farmland Access to the next level,” said Nick Richardson, Vice President for Finance and Enterprise at the Vermont Land Trust. “There are many highly qualified and passionate farmers looking to access land to start or build their enterprises on good farmland, and communities that are waiting to welcome them. The partnership allows us to leverage our own capital and help make the match, and we’ve been able to put it to work right away on projects all across the state.”