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Townshend farm receives federal money to expand

Goat milk caramel business moves to the next level with USDA value-added grant

TOWNSHEND—A Townshend farm is one of nine Vermont agricultural producers that will share in $854,542 in federal grant money.

Big Picture Farm LC3, which makes handmade, all-natural caramels with farmstead goat milk from its own herd, was awarded $49,057 through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development’s Value-Added Producer Grant program.

The grants were announced Feb. 3 in a joint press release by the Vermont congressional delegation.

It was the second big award in less than a year for Big Picture, said Lucas Farrell, who started the farm in the fall of 2010 with Louisa Conrad.

Last June, Big Picture was awarded $5,000 for taking second place in the Brattleboro Development Credit Corp./Strolling of the Heifers Business Plan Contest.

While Farrell said the $5,000 was helpful — it enabled Big Picture to buy an electric caramel cooker to expand their production — the USDA grant “is a huge break for us at a crucial stage in our business.”

“We’ve formed a terrific herd, perfected our product, and created some traction in the marketplace,” said Farrell. “Thanks to the grant, we’ll be in a position to expand our labor force, more effectively market our product, expand our online presence, and propel us that much closer to our goal of becoming a vibrant, exciting, socially responsible, and financially profitable Vermont farm.”

Farrell said Big Picture now sells its product directly to approximately 30 stores, from the Vermont Country Deli in Brattleboro, to Fromagination in Madison, Wis., to Murray’s Cheese in New York City, to Adriana Sweets in San Anselmo, Calif.

At the same time, he said, the farm has just initiated a local pricing structure for Vermont stores “to make our products more affordable for our neighbors, which is an integral part of our mission,” and the farm is continuing to reach out to other local and regional vendors.

Besides running their farm, Farrell and Conrad are also artists.

Farrell is a writer, poet, and editor, while Conrad draws, and does still and video photography. Both contribute words and visuals to the farm’s blog, which can be found at www.bigpicturefarm.com.

Boosting Vermont farms

Sen. Patrick Leahy, the most senior member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, is a longtime champion of the Value-Added Producer Grant program and has fostered value-added efforts in Vermont, including the newly opened Vermont Food Venture Center in Hardwick.

In addition to the Vermont Farm to Plate Initiative and USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food program, Value-Added Producer Grants offer support to the nation’s innovative agricultural producers, many of them in Vermont.

The recipients of the grants went through a competitive process that awards funds for projects that will lead to the production or distribution of value-added agricultural products. Farm-based renewable energy projects are also eligible for funding.

Eligible applicants to the program include independent producers, farmer cooperatives, agricultural producer groups, and majority-controlled producer-based business ventures.

Big Picture Farm was the only southern Vermont farm to receive a grant. Two producers — Kingdom Creamery in East Hardwick and Green Mountain Organic Creamery in North Ferrisburgh — each received $300,000.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #139 (Wednesday, February 15, 2012).

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