Making jam at Sidehill Farm (Reformer file photo)
Making jam at Sidehill Farm (Reformer file photo)
Friday May 3, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- A Brattleboro company that uses local produce for its jams, toppings and fruit butters was one of the 20 recipients included in the first round of grants given out by the Working Lands Enterprise Board Thursday.

Sidehill Farm, a family-owned company that has been operating out of The Cotton Mill and is in the process of moving into a larger space at the Book Press, was awarded a $15,000 grant to help pay for some of the equipment it needs for the expansion.

Kristina Naylor, who owns Sidehill Farm with her husband Kelt, said the grant comes at a crucial time as the company is working to get its expanded facility outfitted in time for the 2013 fall harvest. Sidehill Farm outgrew its space at The Cotton Mill and the new production facility will help it meet a growing demand for its locally sourced products.

"We are taking out loans and spending some of our money to do this and this grant will help us leverage that money even more," Naylor said after returning from Montpelier Thursday afternoon. "It comes at a great time to help us get this going."

The Naylors purchased the business from Kelt's parents in 2000.

Sidehill Farm, at the time, was only using about 20 percent local produce to make its jams and toppings and the Naylors have committed themselves to using as much local food as possible.

The change has coincided with the growing locavore movement and Sidehill's business has been expanding annually.

The company has been able to use thousands of pounds of locally produced fruit, and in a press release distributed after the money was given out Gov. Peter Shumlin said the benefits of each of the grants will extend beyond each of the companies' walls.

"In Vermont, we are committed to supporting and expanding our value added farm and forest industries," Shumlin said. "And while these individual grants are relatively small, they can make the difference in helping farmers and those who work our woodlands thrive and expand."

Grants ranging from $3,000 to $15,000 were given out.

During the first grant period, 191 applications for a total of $2.1 million were sent from companies representing forestry, forest products, dairy, meat, berries, tree fruit, tree farms, maple, produce, honey, fish, horses, renewable energy, compost specialty foods, fiber, hops, land and soil testing and drainage.

There will be other grants given out for service providers, capital and infrastructure, and then strategic planning and fund development.

"The Working Lands Enterprise Fund provides for a deeper investment in agriculture and food systems in Vermont, and represents a historic initiative by the state to advance Vermont's forestry and forest products sector in a way that has never been done before," Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross said.

Rep. Caroline Partridge, D-Windham, is chairwoman of the House Agriculture and Forest Committee. Partridge worked during the 2012 session to have the money included during a tight economic year when every dollar was watched closely.

She said legislators are still working on this year's appropriations but she said she expected some level of funding to be supported.

She said House and Senate versions of the budget include between $1 million and $1.5 million for the fund.

"This is a really important fund because it can help small businesses leverage their own money and help them expand," Partridge said. "When we can support these businesses it means more money will stay in the state and more healthy and nutritious food will be on the tables of Vermonters."

Almost $220,000 was given out in Montpelier Thursday to farmers, food processors, foresters and wood-based businesses to help support agriculture and forestry in the state.

The Working Lands Enterprise Board was established during the 2012 Legislative session to protect the state's working landscape by providing the financial support to agricultural and forest enterprises.

Just more than $1 million was included in the state budget last year to support the initiative.

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or hwtisman@reformer.com. Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.