More than 500 people have signed a petition indicating their support for dairy farming at the Norwich Farms site on Turnpike Road. This is good news!
Andrew Sigler rebuilt and expanded the barns as a non-profit demonstration farm in the 1990â€™s before ultimately donating the buildings and 358 acres of land to Vermont Technical College (VTC) in 2015. To fund its start-up costs, VTC sold UVLT 352 acres, including all the agricultural fields, and an option to purchase the remaining 6 acres should VTCâ€™s agricultural education programs be discontinued there.
During the schoolâ€™s ownership two different dairy farmers were unable to make things work. Chris Gray, a cheesemaker, came to the property under an arrangement with VTC to develop his business, Norwich Farm Creamery, and teach VTC students to use the processing equipment purchased by the school. According to information provided by the school, VTCâ€™s operating costs for the farm and creamery property exceeded the minimal rental income by more than $100,000 annually.
With VTCâ€™s decision that educational programming would be discontinued, school funds will no longer be available to support operations at the farm. UVLTâ€™s option contract enables us to purchase the buildings to keep them connected to our 352-acre Brookmead Conservation Area adjacent to the farm.
In September 2017, VTC administrators met with UVLT and the Grays to discuss their withdrawal from the property. The Grays indicated at that time that their business could not sustain a rent increase. Thus UVLT began outreach and research to explore additional tenants and various tenancy models for the property. We stayed in touch with the Grays and provided the same information to them as to other prospective tenants. Â The Grays indicated that they were choosing to wait to submit a proposal until after UVLT exercised the option. We received that proposal on March 12th and are currently reviewing it.
Meanwhile, petition signers neednâ€™t worry that the meadows and pastures of UVLTâ€™s Brookmead Conservation Area are at risk of conversion from agriculture. The option contract does not involve that land, and UVLT intends to continue its use as agricultural land.
We hope that the increased visibility for the Norwich Farm Creamery and the growing public awareness of operating complexities at the site will help the Grays strengthen the Creamery finances and, if viable, bring back the cows!