BRATTLEBORO - A Brattleboro farmer will serve on a newly appointed board that is charged with supporting and growing agricultural and forestry businesses around the state.
Amanda Ellis-Thurber of Lilac Ridge Farm was named as one of the 15 members on the Working Lands Enterprise Board which the Legislature set up this year to support land-based business in Vermont.
"It’s an honor and a privilege to be on this board," Ellis-Thurber said. "Everyone on the board considers this to be a landmark collaborative threshold for the state in agriculture and working lands, and in how valuable it is to include forestry in a collaborative like this."
The board met for the first time in August and is working on the request for proposal forms.
The board hopes to have those RFPs available in November.
Along with giving out grants, the board is also going to establish wrap-around services, such as business planning, permit assistance and technical support.
The board is also going to work with other agencies to strengthen the state’s infrastructure for agricultural and forestry.
The board will distribute $1 million this year in direct investments along with strategic and planning support to farm and forestry businesses that are looking to expand.
"The board will focus on preserving what we love about our working landscapes and Vermont’s farm and forest heritage," Gov. Peter Shumlin said. "We also
The Working Lands Enterprise Board grew out of the work done during this year’s legislative session by the House Agriculture Committee.
Committee Chairwoman Rep. Carolyn Partridge, D-Windham, said lawmakers arrived in Montpelier in January determined to establish the fund the help Vermont’s food entrepreneurs who have been gaining attention across the country.
"The local food movement is gaining traction across the country and everywhere you go, the Vermont brand is strong," Partridge said. "This is a place where we really shine. It is one of our strengths and people got that."
The new board has brought together the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, the Vermont Department of Forest, Parks and Recreation and the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, and the secretaries and commissioners from those three state agencies will also sit on the board.
The money will not be used to purchase and conserve land, but will be given to business owners who are looking to expand their business or become more efficient.
According to Partridge the original bill was written to highlight the importance of Vermont agriculture and forestry businesses, and to support the business owners who are committed to growing those businesses while preserving the state’s working landscape.
Partridge said the Agriculture Committee spent about half its time this year on the Working Lands Enterprise Investment Bill and gathered testimony from more than 65 witnesses.
The committee found that the Vermont forest products sector contains about 7,000 jobs, while the state’s food system supports about 57,000.
During the session there was concern that there would not be enough money available this year to support the program, but lawmakers, and the Shumlin Administration was able to carve out about $1.1 million to support the fund.
She said there was a lot of competition for the money that was available, and in the end, the program received support.
"We wanted $2.2 million, but the fact that we ended up with anything was a miracle," Partridge said. "Everyone has to be very careful about how they spend money these days. We understand that, but we were able to make a strong case that farms had a very good track record for creating jobs. This is money that will be used to grow jobs and preserve the landscape."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at email@example.com or at 802-254-2311 ext. 279.