Tropical Storm Irene, 2011-2021: Vermont Farm Fund still helping area farms

Editor’s note: This article is by Lou Varricchio, editor of the Sun. It is republished here with permission.

The memory of Tropical Storm Irene’s devastation in Vermont still casts its long shadow upon area farmers and their agribusiness suppliers.

Among the many heartfelt responses to the storm, which occurred a decade ago this August, was a strong need to help farmers find the funds needed to continue their work.

The Vermont Farm Fund, a non-profit revolving loan fund, is perhaps the most visible action taking place in the storm’s wake. Now, a decade later, the organization remains alive and well and still coming to the assistance of farmers with financial needs.

Two local farms just received much-needed financial help courtesy of the fund. So far this year, the fund has made loans to a diverse group of farms and food producers including Understory Farm (Bridport) and Sweet Roots Farm (Charlotte).

Since Tropical Storm Irene devastated many central state farming operations, the Vermont-based fund has made over $2 million in loans to area farmers and food producers to help fortify the local agribusiness economy.

Two of the loans are helping small dairy farms recover from COVID-19 related market disruptions.

Founded by Pete’s Greens and the Center for an Agricultural Economy in 2011 in response to the storm, the organization has grown to provide not only emergency loans to farmers who have experienced a fire, flood, or storm but also to help food-related businesses grow and expand.

Since 2011’s violent weather event, the fund has lent out $2,012,445 via individual loans.

“The funding for these low-interest loans comes from individual donors and family foundations, and each tax-deductible gift supports a virtuous cycle, where payments from one generation of loans finance the next,” according to the Vermont Farm Fund website. “Funds are lent to a farm or food business, repaid, and loaned out again and again.”

Funded projects are numerous and include key farming items such as tractors, milk house construction, maple sugaring equipment, tractors, and farm stand improvements.

Regarding the 2021 recipients, Jon Ramsay who the Vermont Farm Fund said, “The Vermont Farm Fund has supported numerous farms that support communities with access to great local food at a point in time when growth was critical to the sustainability of their business.”

The fund value has grown since its inception to over $725,000, allowing the VFF to distribute over $300,000 annually in low-interest loans to small farmers.

Image courtesy of Lou Varricchio/TNR