Brattleboro Farmers’ Market applies for USDA grant to buy land

BRATTLEBORO — The Brattleboro Farmers' Market took another step toward making its long-time home a permanent one by applying for a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to purchase the land its vendors and visitors occupy on Saturdays.

The Farmers' Market has applied for a grant of just over $6,000 from USDA Rural Development to purchase land now owned by Green Mountain Power.

The grant would cover 35 percent of the sale price, said head of the site futures committee Susan Dunning.

GMP owns the land on which the market has its booths and eating area.

The board held a public meeting, as USDA grant applicants are required to do, in the Brattleboro Food Co-op's community room on Monday night.

Located on Route 9 and across the Whetstone Brook from Living Memorial Park, the Farmers' Market hosts a popular Saturday ritual of milling around and loading up on locally sourced produce and hand-crafted goodies. However, the Farmers' Market owns only one of the four parcels of land it uses.

The market owns a parcel of land, called the Mallory Lot, that it uses for parking near the Creamery Bridge. It leases the other three parcels.

Purchasing this land secures the Farmers' Market's future, said board member Jason MacArthur.

Not owning the land, he said, has sometimes made the market's future feel uncertain.

The Farmers' Market has worked on ensuring its site security for about 15 years, said Dunning.

Negotiations for the parcel owned by GMP can go on now because of the merger of GMP and Central Vermont Public Service (CVPS), Dunning and board member Ra van Dyk said.

GMP took ownership of the parcel when the companies merged, they said. In negotiations prior to the merger, CVPS said it would sell only if the Farmers' Market found a replacement parcel of land for a substation CVPS intended to build.

The organization searched for a replacement parcel for about a year, said van Dyk.

Most of the land used by the Farmers' Market sits in the Whetstone's flood plain.

The organization also is attempting to purchase the Planet Gas parcel, which includes a gas station next to the Farmers' Market and a parking area behind the station.

“We never thought we could buy [the] Planet Gas [property],” said Dunning.

The property's price tag is within the market's reach, said treasurer and board member Karyn Tyler.

Dunning said that, although it's still early, the organization likely would apply for a grant and a loan to purchase the property. The Farmers' Market membership voted last Thursday that if the organization purchases the gas station property, the station would be decommissioned.

The Farmers' Market also has leased from Jonathan Chase the land along Route 9 it uses as its upper parking lot.

The parcel also contains a house which is not part of the market's lease. Although the organization has attempted to purchase the parking lot area, the organization and Chase have yet to settle on a price, said board members.

Land acquisitions are part of the market's long-term planning as detailed in a concept plan compiled by Stevens & Associates in 2005.

The organization is in the process of updating the concept plan, said Dunning.

In the meantime, the Farmers' Market is waiting to hear whether it's received the USDA grant.

If the grant is approved as part of the federal government's previous fiscal year, which ended on July 31, then the organization should have an answer by Sept. 30, said Dunning. If the grant is approved for the current fiscal year, then the organization will receive an answer between November and April, 2014, she said.

The Farmers' Market hopes the community will show its support as the GMP acquisition moves forward, said van Dyk, adding that attending Development Review Board hearings and speaking in support of the market would be a big help.

When Tropical Storm Irene's flood waters damaged the market in 2011, said van Dyk, community members rolled up their sleeves and helped restore the market.

“[Their support] showed us how much the community already owned the market,” he said.

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