On October 24, Sterling College hosted the all-day conference “Financing the Working Landscape.” The conference was hosted by the Center for an Agricultural Economy (CAE) and the Northeastern Vermont Development Association. Here, the CAE summarizes the conference.
Financing the Working Landscape at Sterling College: How do loggers and farmers access the capital needed for their businesses?
“My vision was to build a log house for our family,” said Colleen Goodridge, on Oct 24th, standing behind a podium at Sterling College. “Now we have that log house, and we have a successful saw mill business specializing in white-cedar logs, homes, siding and lumber. I run the business with my three sons.”
Goodridge was one of a panel of entrepreneurs from the agricultural and forest products industries who spoke to an audience of growing businesses and service providers, at “Financing the Working Landscape,” a free one-day conference held at Sterling College in Craftsbury. She spoke about the value of business planning, as well as the importance of getting to know your local bankers. David Marvin, of Butternut Mountain Farm, a family-run maple sugaring business, started over 40 years ago, spoke about growth in his business.
“I write a business plan every year.” He said, “Our bankers want to know ahead of time when we are looking at a tough year – they don’t want to know after the fact.”
In addition to business owners, this conference included a panel of local and regional financiers; from banks and community lending organizations, to creative and innovative loan funds. As the financiers spoke about their programs, attendees learned about the wide spectrum of types of capital available in Vermont to assist for working lands enterprises. This panel included Community National Bank, Yankee Farm Credit, Vermont Community Loan Fund, Community Capital of Vermont, and Vermont Agricultural Credit Corporation – banking and lending organizations with long histories of working flexibly with farmers and loggers. In addition, a few different types of financing were discussed, including USDA Rural Developments’ three program areas for Vermont’s working lands enterprises, the Vermont Farm Fund’s low interest, revolving loan fund, and Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund’s Flex Capital Fund’s innovative royalty financing. Each of these speakers outlined the services available, and the interest rates on the money they lend.
The conference was organized by the Northeastern Vermont Development Association (NVDA), and the Center for an Agricultural Economy, in hopes that small and emerging working lands enterprises would leave with specific contacts and information about how to grow.
“So often, the lack of appropriate equipment, land or organizational capacity prevents a business from taking the next growth step,” said Sarah Waring, executive director of the Center for an Agricultural Economy and the Vermont Food Venture Center. “We see this often in our growing food businesses coming through the Hardwick incubator, and we know how access to capital can be a challenge. This conference was meant to provide those resources and information for those who need it.”
The conference was put on with significant support from sponsors and partners, and over 70 attendees were networking throughout the day. Jared Duval, Economic Development Director at Vermont’s Agency of Commerce and Community Development took time to share the state’s innovative Working Lands Enterprise Initiative, and the grant process for these businesses. Slow Money Vermont was also on hand to help sponsor a mixer for food businesses and the Vermont Food Investors Network. The last panel of the day was a group of technical service providers, such as NVDA, the Northern Community Investment Corporation, the Vermont Farm and Forest Viability Program, and Vermont Small Business Development Center.
“If you’re going to be a dairy farmer, make cheese, and market that cheese, that can be three different full time jobs,” said Rose Wilson, an independent farm and food business consultant. “Know your values, and know what you want out of your business,” she recommended.
This advice resonated throughout the day, and as one attendee who is starting a farming operation remarked afterwards: “Prior to the conference, I was flailing, trying to figure out where to start. At the conference, panels and many people I met gave me many great ideas on how to get the ball rolling.”
The Northeastern Vermont Development Association and the Center for an Agricultural Economy plan to run the Financing the Working Landscape again next year in the Northeast Kingdom.