Pete's Greens, which is in the process of rebuilding after a devastating fire in January, walked away from Montpelier today with another large chunk of change to help the farm rebuild.
The $300,000 award from the Vermont Community Development Board is officially given to Craftsbury. The town, in turn, will loan the money to Pete’s Greens. The loan and interest will be repaid over 10 years. Once the loan is repaid, the town will be able to use the money for other community development projects.
“This award is an important step in supporting not only a significant organic farm, but a local community that also suffered as a result of that fire,” Gov. Peter Shumlin said at a Statehouse announcement. “Pete’s Greens is a key player in Vermont’s value-added agricultural market.”
A certified organic vegetable farm, Pete’s Green sells wholesale to restaurants and markets in Vermont, Massachusetts and New York. It also runs a year-round CSA. Pete Johnson, the sole owner, started the business in 1995.
"We are very grateful for this loan," said Johnson. "We are in a very exciting state and at a very exciting time agriculturally. We see lots of new developments happening right now that will carry us forward another 10 years."
The January fire at Pete’s Greens destroyed the barn, which was central to the farm's operation, and all its contents, including vegetable washing and processing equipment, walk-in coolers, freezers, tractors and supplies. Also lost were 200,000 pounds of stored vegetables and 40,000 pounds of frozen produce and meats.
Johnson said the farm's losses totaled more than $750,000. He was insured for only about $300,000 of that loss. The stored crops, along with a new addition to the barn, were not insured at the time of the fire.
The grant is one of several recommended by the VCDB and approved earlier this month by Commerce and Community Development Secretary Lawrence Miller.
The VCDB loan will help Pete's Greens replace farm equipment as well as install new, and more energy efficient, cooling and storage equipment.In addition to the VCDB loan, a Vermont Economic Development Authority loan and donations will help complete the farm's reconstruction.
In all, Pete's Greens has about eight full-time, year-round employees. During the growing season, his staff more than doubles to about 18 employees. The farm also works with a lot of other local farms, bakers and cheese makers.
CSA shares will be available by mid-June, Johnson said. A few weeks ago, he began selling some produce to restaurants and other commercial clients.
In addition to the loans, several fundraisers have been held throughout the state to help Pete's rebuild — raising more than $150,000* $250,000. Johnson has said he would use some of that donated money, once it can be repaid, as a sort of revolving fund for other ag-entrepreneurs.
Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross said the state loan will help more than just Pete's Greens. "The community response proved that this was more than just a critical business, but a critical part of the community, especially when you look at the reach of Pete's business."
Shumlin said that during one of the fundraisers he attended, he was impressed by the number of younger attendees who were under the age of 30 and farming in Vermont in some fashion.
"This award today is an example of how the state can help this part of our economy survive," said Shumlin. As consumers want to know more about where their food comes from, Shumlin said Vermont can be a major player in the region to provide value-added ag products.
As climate change continues to affect Vermont's own seasons, there can be an opportunity for Vermont farmers to benefit from additional precipitation — as water may be scarce in other regions of the country — and the growing season could become extended.
"Climate change brings both a challenge and an opportunity," noted Shumlin.
* This fundraising figure has been corrected.