Vermont COVID-19 Agriculture Assistance Program (VCAAP)

Agriculture & Working Lands Assistance Application Now Open

$8.5 Million in CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Funding is now available to a wide variety of agricultural, food, and forestry businesses and organizations through the Vermont COVID-19 Agriculture Assistance Program (VCAAP) Agriculture and Working Lands Assistance Application 

General Eligibility Criteria 

  • Farmers, commercial processors, commercial slaughterhouses, farmers’ markets, value-added food product businesses, forest products businesses, dairy producers or processors, and agriculture producer associations are eligible.  
  • Applicants must have gross annual income of at least $10,000 to apply. 
  • Applicants must be without an active enforcement violation that reached a final order with VAAFM and/or ANR. 
  • Applicants must have verifiable losses and/or expenses since March 1, 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 public health emergency. 

How to Apply 

  1. Determine if your business or organization is eligible for assistance by utilizing the Agriculture and Working Lands Eligibility Flowchart
  2. Gather the following documentation: 2019 Tax Return, 2019 and 2020 Income Statements broken out by month, as well as documentation of losses incurred since March 1, 2020 that are related to the COVID-19 public health emergency. Applicants should also have available the information that is captured in a W-9 form, but applicants are not required to submit a signed W-9 with their applications.  
  3. Attend or view an Agriculture and Working Lands Webinar for ApplicantsYou may wish to initiate an application in the system prior to attending a webinar to become familiar with the application questions and layout. However, we strongly encourage applicants to wait to submit an application until after you have attended or viewed one of the webinars.  
  4. Review the Agriculture and Working Lands Application Guide and reference the VCAAP Frequently Asked Questions
  5.  Complete and submit your application by October 1, 2020. If you need assistance throughout this process, refer to our list of Agriculture Business Support partners. Please keep in mind that grants will be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, so the application may close prior to October 1 if all funds are expended. 

For more information:

(802) 828-2430 select #9 
AGR.CovidResponse@vermont.gov 

Posted in COVID-19, Upcoming Events

Spotlight on Megan Bookless, ShakeyGround Farm

This season has brought new risks and huge challenges for Vermont farmers selling their produce.  With many farmers markets and restaurants remaining closed due to COVID-19, farmers have had to adapt to a new retail environment. Megan Bookless, Farm Manager at ShakeyGround Farm, has risen to the challenge by setting up different sales systems with safety protocols while meeting customers’ needs and expectations for local fresh food.

shakeyground mailbox

ShakeyGround Farm is a small diversified farm offering grass-fed meats, pastured poultry, and certified organic produce in Charlotte, Vermont.    Megan took on farm management at ShakeyGround Farm in April 2018 with Becca Burke joining her in 2019 as Assistant Farm Manager.  Since last year, Megan has been learning about the whole process of managing a small farm as a business with long term sustainability and profitability in mind as part of NOFA’s Farm Beginnings  program.

While Megan and Becca hadn’t managed a farm together before this past year, the duo rose quickly to multiple challenges of running a new business amid a pandemic. As Megan describes in responding to COVID-19, “it’s a crazy time of year anyway. Things are ramping up. In early spring, we could manage smaller orders via an online store on our website.  Then demand picked up for local food, so we brought in other farms’ produce to supplement our own. It was important to us to be able to meet a need we were seeing in our community.   At the same time, we were sending out new instructions about pick-up dates, times, and safety protocols based on recommendations from the state.”

Shakeyground Becca

Becca Burke, ShakeyGround Farm, Charlotte, Vermont

Megan found that getting people accustomed to on-line ordering when they were used to ShakeyGround’s self-serve farm stand was more time-consuming than she expected.  Describing the situation, she said, “I was spending most of my days answering phones and responding to texts and e-mails, because we wanted to be as accessible as possible but during that time we’re also starting to get busier in preparing for the main growing and grazing sesason. ”  At first, Megan would accommodate every request and explain and almost apologize to customers.  Now instead, instructions are clear—please place order online.

During the growing season in normal times, ShakeyGround’s farm stand had been open as self-service seven days a week, sun up to sun down. “The hardest thing to change was not allowing people the freedom to pick what they want, when they want at their convenience.  It doesn’t feel good to restrict access to local food,” Megan says.  On the other hand, Megan says, “When people order online, then you can harvest exactly what you need to fill demand.  There’s less waste and we can be more efficient, we’re meeting the actual need, not our perception of what our customers want.”

Shakey Ground Greens

ShakeyGround greens

Over the past couple of months, ShakeyGround has developed a system where people feel comfortable shopping—with no crowds so there is ample social distancing, no cash handling, and minimal contact surfaces.  The farmstand door is open on pick-up dates and every item is bagged and every order is pre-packaged.  The only touch surface is the handle on one cooler door.

Megan is moving animals every day so having people order online has been helpful in allowing her more time for her farming tasks while also helping with tracking her inventory.   Megan explains the importance of the new social distancing for her as much as her customers, “I can’t do my job if I’m sick and with a two-person crew for most of the week, it’s as important for the viability of our business as it is for the health of our customers that we’re following all recommendations for staying safe and healthy.”

The farm’s production plan for this year was based on three people, but with the COVID crisis, the latest hire was postponed until the end of May.  Thankfully, Meg Mass, a Huntington resident with a small farm is helping a couple days a week. Like many small farms, ShakeyGround relies on support from off-farm income during the winter months. With business closures and restrictions, that supplementary income was not reliable enough to commit to hiring earlier in the season.  ShakeyGround Farm is owned by David Beckwith, but Megan explains that the aim is to have the farm support the salaries and overhead associated with the farm business while David retains ownership. Megan and Becca are working towards financial viability with a five-year plan.shakeyground did you order

Last year, Megan and Becca put in place risk management plans which have helped them with the new reality of farming during a pandemic. In the fall, they both took  the Produce Safety Alliance Grower Safety Training facilitated by UVM Extension and UNH Extension to learn how to minimize risks.  With the organic certification process for produce but not animals, Becca and Megan were already conscious of maintaining separate areas for gardens and grazing, no shared equipment between livestock and produce operations to prevent cross-contamination, and good hygiene including surface cleaning, keeping containers separate, and maintaining safe storage temperatures and storage methods for produce

What was new for Megan and Becca was wearing masks.  They have been following recommendations from the CDC, and additionally, they were wearing gloves in the early days of the pandemic. While wearing gloves is not necessary outside of cleaning and healthcare requirements, Megan found that people feel most comfortable seeing her and Becca use gloves and masks for harvesting as well as washing and packing fresh produce.

Other unanticipated additional expenses have been the packaging. Pre-packaging has meant using more packaging than would typically be used and putting more produce in plastic bags. ShakeyGround, like almost all other produce retailers, have not been accepting containers or boxes for reuses.  In addition, items which would have been sold in bulk are instead bagged in smaller units after washing

While extremely busy, Megan is relieved that the online orders are starting to fill the gap from the hiatus in farmer’s markets. But she does miss face-to-face interactions with customers and says, “If the market is able to open we’d be excited to continue to be a part of it, albeit facetime at a distance. We know that people like to ask us questions on how to prepare different produce and it’s exciting to share information about new varieties we’re growing.”

 

Shakeyground blackboard

ShakeyGround is adapting to the new normal of a pandemic because its business model doesn’t rely heavily on wholesale and restaurant accounts.  Its retail model of about 40 percent farmstand, and 50 percent farmers market has no more than 10 percent small wholesale. With the recent decision to cancel the Shelburne Farmer’s Market for the 2020 Season, ShakeyGround is working closely with near-by retailers such as Shelburne Market, the Old Brick Store, Rise N’Shine and Philo Ridge Farm to get their produce to more customers. They’re also offering a “ShakeyShare” which is a weekly CSA of sorts – no upfront payment or commitment but a similar, pre-packed farmer-selected assortment of fresh produce each week.

Silver lining to Cloud of COVID-19   

“We are seeing people order online who have never done it before and never purchased from us before.  Small local farms are being valued as essential in a way I hadn’t seen before with people seemingly placing more value on local food.  We’ve definitely seen an increase in early season sales. People were excited about getting fresh greens early in the season, and we’ve seen a huge increase in meat sales. We’re sold out of chicken and beef until early August”

Systems to keep in place as Vermont recovers

ShakeyGround will continue its on-line ordering with many people now enjoying the convenience of easily picking-up a pre-packed bag which they’ll continue through the Fall and hope to eventually open the stand up again for walk-in shopping as safety recommendations from the state are adjusted . “It’s an interesting dance trying to make things more convenient for customers without increasing our hours in front of computer when we need to get to the physical farm work outside.”

shakeyground cows

ShakeyGround pastures, Charlotte, Vermont

As for safety, Megan says, “we ‘ll  continue wearing masks to harvest, wash, and pack fresh produce until it’s no longer a recommendation and the glove wearing will depend on the comfort of our community.  If us packing produce with gloves makes our customers more comfortable we’re happy to do that but the recommendation from the CDC and the state continues to be focused on frequent and thorough hand washing as more effective than gloves. However, anxiety is already so high, people shouldn’t have to be anxious about local food. We’re happy to answer any questions our customers or potential customers have about how their food is being handled.

 

 

Megan and Becca’s message:        Buy Local.   Live Well.   Be Kind

 

Full disclosure: Suzy Hodgson has been ordering and enjoying ShakeyGround’s weekly vegetable box for the past month.

 

Posted in COVID-19, Facts & Figures, Farm labor and human resources, Farmer Profiles, Financial Mgmt, Food Safety, Goals, Marketing, Quality of Life, Risk management, sustainability | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

COVID-19 Adaptations for Farms with Direct Sales, eCommerce, and Agritourism

When: Wednesday, April 8, 12:00 – 1:00 PM
Where: You can call in by phone or connect through your computer on Zoom.

As essential businesses, how are farms adapting to the evolving COVID-19 situation with no-contact direct sales, restaurant closures, and farmers markets in flux? Vermont is fortunate to have creative farmers leading the way. Farmers interested in direct sales, as well as ag service providers and others supporting farms are invited to share strategies, challenges, and resources.

Panelists include:

  • Shannon Varley from Strafford Village Farm will talk about transitioning their farmstand to online ordering with drive-thru and delivery.
  • Alissa Matthews from the Vermont Agency of Ag will let us know where to find the latest guidelines for CSAs and farmers markets.
  • Sara DeFilippi from the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing will give an update on resources from ACCD.
  • Hans Estrin from UVM Extension will discuss new models of direct sales and produce safety.

Register in advance for this meeting:

https://uvmextension.zoom.us/meeting/register/vJ0vdO2opj0veiAGTvqznrHDpUZiRi20Mw

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting. Feel free to send Lisa.Chase@uvm.edu questions in advance, and please let us know if you would like some time to share your experiences, ideas, and resources.

This webinar is part of the Sourcing & Selling Vermont Food in the Time of COVID-19 Webinar Series being developed by a team from UVM Extension, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Vermont Farm to Plate, Vermont Fresh Network, and other partners to help Vermont’s farm and food system build resiliency and support safety in these challenging times. 

We are developing a list for future webinars that will go into depth on different topics with different presenters. What do you want to hear about and who do you want to hear from? Please send ideas to Lisa.Chase@uvm.edu

To request a disability-related accommodation to participate in this program, please contact Becky Bartlett at 802-257-7967 by April 3, 2020 so we may assist you.

Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture. University of Vermont Extension, Burlington, Vermont.  University of Vermont Extension, and U.S. Department of Agriculture, cooperating, offer education and employment to everyone without regard to race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, and marital or familial status.  

Posted in COVID-19, News, Upcoming Events