The HVADC Cultivator
HVADC Partner Spotlight:
Vermont Farm and Forest Viability Program
HVADC partners and collaborates with other like-minded organizations throughout the North East which do similar work in order to share resources, and extend the enhancement of the vital link between land and food throughout the region. One such entity is the Vermont Farm & Forest Viability Program, which operates under the auspices of the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board.
Much like HVADC’s mission to develop and provide innovative solutions that create dynamic agricultural entrepreneurship and enhance economic growth in the Hudson Valley, the mission of the Vermont Farm & Forest Viability Program is to enhance the economic viability of Vermont farms and forestry enterprises. This is accomplished by offering business advising to eligible farmers, agriculturally-related businesses, forest products enterprises, and forest landowners. These services are carried out by their robust network of advisers. To further support this mission, the Viability Program also makes grants available on a competitive basis when funding allows.
HVADC became acquainted with the Vermont Farm & Forest Viability Program through the National Farm Viability Conference. Since that time, HVADC partnered with the Viability Program to plan the National Farm Viability Conference, and host the national event in Albany in 2017. Both organizations are working as partners in planning the upcoming 2019 National Farm Viability Conference in Minnesota, Renewing the Countryside which will be held October 22-24.
“We share resources and technical resource providers with the Viability Program – to provide assistance similar to HVADC’s Incubator Without Walls program—to help farms and food businesses address challenges and develop and implement business plans and strategies; access new capital for growth and expansion, and facilitate generational transference,” said Todd Erling, Executive Director of HVADC. “Some of our farms and food businesses share the same markets such as Boston and New York City. We also have in common the size of farms that we assist, and products, such as dairy, fruit and vegetables and maple. There are a lot of parallels in the businesses we both assist.” HVADC has partnered with the Viability Program on such initiatives as the Carrot Project and The BluePrint— The Blueprint—a comprehensive regional plan for a network of business assistance programs across the northeast.
The Viability Program offers long-term and in-depth business planning and technical assistance to enterprises that keep Vermont's working landscape in production, such as farm businesses of all sizes and sectors; food businesses that process, store, market, or distribute local agricultural products; and forest products businesses such as maple producers, consulting forestry firms, loggers, sawmills and wood manufacturers.
As farmers continue to age out of farming and look to the next generation all across the country, the Viability Program also offers retirement and ownership succession planning. Additionally, the program provides forestland ownership succession planning assistance to families who own forestland in Vermont. The Viability Program’s short-term specialized assistance includes enterprise analysis, financial record-keeping and management, marketing and sales, human resources management, and management coaching.
The Viability Program matches participants with advisers who have the specific skills to meet their needs. The Viability Program contracts these advisers to provide on-site, one-on-one, custom-tailored assistance for participants. Services are provided free of charge, following an enrollment fee for first-time clients and return clients. In some cases, if the scope of work is larger than what the program can cover, participants contribute to the consultancy fees.
“It’s been a pleasure to develop relationships with colleagues outside our state that we can bounce ideas off of,” said the Viability Program’s Director, Ela Chapin. “It has been valuable to hear how HVADC - with similar objectives - approaches the same issues.” Chapin cited shared issues such as how to identify consultants, funding resources, recruiting clients and industry trends. Chapin said the Viability Program works with eight to ten organizations, six to eight key consultants and a full roster of vendors for the 150+ different projects they do yearly. Chapin added that they provide training and professional development “to ensure business advisors and consultants are up on the current industry trends and always improving their skills and tools.”
Participants in the Viability Program report exiting the program with a clear vision for where their business is going, and significantly increased skills in a wide variety of topics from strategic planning and marketing to financial planning and analysis. Participants routinely report they are able to place more energy on the quality of their work, and personally, half report that they find themselves satisfied with their ability to balance workload and family life.
The Viability Program's one-on-one business advising is open to farms, food businesses and forest products businesses of all types and sizes in instances where the owner(s) is year-round Vermont resident, currently operating the business in Vermont, the owner(s) is actively involved in the day-to-day management of the business, the owner(s) has at least two years' experience managing the current business, and the business has grossed at least $15,000 in the most recent tax year. For food businesses there is an added requirement that these businesses must be primarily involved in adding value to Vermont agricultural products, and for forest products businesses there is the added requirement that these businesses must be primarily involved in the harvesting, production, processing, storage, marketing, and/or distribution of local forest products The sole eligibility for forestland succession planning is that the participating family own forestland in Vermont.
Photos: Vermont Farm & Forest Viability Program