Vermont farmers keep pace with the micro-finance trend

by Robert Maynard

On April 16th this site posted an article raising the question  of whether Vermont is lagging behind the “aide to enterprise” trend that seems to be gaining ground in the developing world.  The answer to the question appears to depend on whether we are referring to Vermont’s political sector, or to its private sector.  While our government seems to be wedded to a political model that discourages entrepreneurship, at least some parts of our private sector are keeping pace with this trend.  A big part of the trend is an effort called micro-finance, where miniature loans are made available to entrepreneurs for the purpose of starting small businesses.  This Burlington Free Press article tells the story of a micro-finance program that Vermont farmers are using to support entrepreneurial endeavors:

Dairy farmer Paul Lisai says older Vermonters tell him his milk “tastes like milk used to taste.” They are right.

From a creamery smaller than your living room flows milk that is to supermarket milk as craft beer is to Bud Light.

Thanks to a $10,000 micro loan from the 18-month-old Vermont Farm Fund, Lisai last year converted his garage on dirt road off a dirt road off a dirt road into a state-inspected creamery.

He milks a dozen cows in a barn down the road, transports their milk to the creamery in metal cans straight out of the 19th century, pasteurizes it in small batches and bottles it four plastic jugs at a time.

The Vermont Farm Fund was launched in 2011.ere is how it is described:

Since its inception in 2011, the Vermont Farm Fund (VFF), a collaborative effort between the Center for an Agricultural Economy and Pete’s Greens in Craftsbury, has loaned over $160,000 through its revolving community loan fund.

Originating from donations given to Pete’s Greens after the farm lost its barn, processing facility and winter storage crops from a devastating fire in January 2011, the fund grew substantially after Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011. Since its inception, the VFF has given seventeen zero or low interest loans to farms and food businesses, ranging from $5,000 to $10,000 each.

“The commitment of the borrowers to pay back into the VFF has been inspiring,” says Robin McDermott, a member of the Vermont Farm Fund Advisory Committee, “It is immensely satisfying to know that this money is having a direct and positive affect on our agricultural community.”

As the Vermont Farm Fund continues forward with its Innovation and Emergency Loan Programs, Pete Johnson of Pete’s Greens is glad to see the VFF evolve toward having a long term impact on the landscape of Vermont. “Innovation is key,” says Pete, “It’s what farmers are known for and we appreciate the opportunity to serve that community.”

Yes, “innovation is key.”  Let’s keep this trend going.