A new purchase agreement between Norwich Farm Foundation and Vermont Technical College would allow the Norwich Farm Creamery to stay in place.
The agreement comes after a long-running dispute between the farmers and Vermont Technical College, which is part of the Vermont State Colleges System. A five-year lease between the college and the farmers ended in June, and the college has been trying to evict the farmers from the property.
Farmers Chris Gray and Laura Brown began leasing the property in 2015, aiming to collaborate with the college in a joint venture to provide an educational dairy program for students. The collaboration crumbled the following year.
Last spring, the couple sued the Vermont State Colleges System, alleging that the college misrepresented its intentions with the property and undermined the project.
The Norwich Farm Foundation was formed to support the farm and ensure the property would not be developed further. It has made a total of six offers to the college, finally landing on a purchase price of $1,065,000 in the past two weeks, said Kate Barlow, the foundation president.
The agreement is contingent on the foundation’s ability to raise $250,000 in the next four months to support the sale and fund the Norwich Farm Foundation’s plan to build a self-sustaining operation. Community members have already pledged that amount, Barlow said.
“We’re very excited, but this is just the beginning of the journey for the foundation because we have lots of work to do, lots of dollars to raise,” Barlow said.
Despite the contention between the farmers and Vermont Technical College, Patricia Moulton, the college president, said she is “pleased to have a purchase and sales agreement with the Norwich Farm Foundation.” The college will work toward closing in the coming weeks.
“This is a moment to celebrate the community working together to support local dairy and agriculture within Vermont’s economy,” she said in a statement to VTDigger.
Norwich Farm Creamery produces ricotta cheese, yogurt, milk, ice cream and other dairy products and sells them at its farm store and other local retail locations. Under the new model, the creamery, a private entity, would dissolve and become part of the foundation, which is waiting for its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.
Although the foundation “came together as a group of community members who wanted to save our town’s last dairy farm,” Barlow said, its new goal is to build an operation that could serve as a model for other farms in the Northeast.
“This kind of property is exactly what they’re trying to showcase in Vermont,” she said.
Over the next five years, the foundation plans to help the farmers expand production from 150,000 pounds of local grass-fed dairy in 2020 to more than 350,000 pounds annually, according to an announcement about the agreement. It also plans to hold educational and other programming for Norwich and the Upper Valley.
For the past several years, the farmers have been trucking in milk from Billings Farm in Woodstock, Barlow said. Within two years, the foundation plans to bring cows back to the farm.
The goal is to build to a herd size of 25 milking animals, Gray said.
“At that scale, the entire system, cash flows, is sustainable enough for two families and everyone, staff wise, that’s needed to to operate at that scale,” he said.
The creamery, Gray said, has “been selling everything we produce every week.”
“Because of some of the uncertainty of the last few years, we haven’t been able to expand our production goals where we really need to be,” Gray said.
Now that “the train is on the track,” he said, the creamery can go ahead with their expansion.
Barlow said she expects the farm purchase to close late in the spring of 2022.
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