Zachariah Hodge, the Retreat Farm’s event manager, stands behind the North Barn bar.
Cole Nelson/The Commons
Zachariah Hodge, the Retreat Farm’s event manager, stands behind the North Barn bar.

Retreat Farm unveils new community spaces

The Farm Market and North Barn are designed to support connection and commerce for the region’s agricultural, tourist, and creative economies

BRATTLEBORO-At its annual Farm Festival on June 15, the Retreat Farm unveiled its new North Barn and Retreat Farm Market - two additions to the agricultural complex designed to foster economic and community growth by offering platforms for local businesses, entertainment, and community-centered programming throughout the year.

The Farm Market building, funded by a $3 million Senate appropriation secured by retired Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, involved acquiring and renovating the former Grafton Village Cheese Company facility.

The 2,300-square-foot market space features a variety of Vermont-themed foods and products, including maple syrup and coffees, spotlighting local agricultural and food businesses.

In addition to the main market area, several booths are available for local vendors, providing them with an opportunity to reach a broader audience.

The nonprofit envisions the Farm Market drawing in tourists and community members alike as both an addition to the Retreat Farm family experience and a retailer of locally produced organic products.

The market is also projected to provide a new source of revenue for the farm to continue producing quality experiences and growth.

When asked how the construction of the Farm Market aligns with the Retreat Farm's greater mission, Executive Director Kristin Sullivan emphasized its role in promoting local businesses.

"The Retreat Farm cannot give direct support to local businesses in the way of funds, but it can have an impact by giving local businesses a place to showcase their products and explain to consumers the value of locally produced items," she said.

Sullivan joined the Retreat Farm in 2022. She received her Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Maryland, College Park and says that her studies, with an emphasis on people and community, align with and help her grow and operate the Retreat Farm.

The first business to be showcased in this initiative is FinAllie Ferments, a Windham-based producer of fermented vegetable products.

A message on the back wall of the market building reinforces the Farm's mission to feature local producers: "You impact our community by supporting producers who are doing good in their communities!"

This initiative aims to highlight agricultural entrepreneurship in southern Vermont and adopts a community-first approach to stimulating the local economy.

Thomas Lamppa, the Farm's retail manager, said that eventually, a community kitchen will serve as a place for community members to have access to cooking equipment.

The kitchen is in its early planning stages. "We need to take the time and really make sure we do it right," Sullivan said.

An air-conditioned game-changer

South of the Farm Market, the newly introduced North Barn is set to become a cornerstone of the Retreat Farm's community and event offerings.

The North Barn, which opened doors for the first time for a class from Inner Heat Yoga during the festival, combines the charm of a classic Vermont barn with the comfort of a modern indoor venue.

The barn features an upstairs section, modern washrooms, and a bar, creating a space designed for a wide range of possibilities, including performances, galas, lectures, and private events.

Event Manager Zachariah Hodge highlighted the significance of the North Barn and how it will reshape the Retreat Farm's event offerings.

During last summer's Food Truck Roundup, which draws people to the farm weekly for food from mobile vendors, music, and games, "it was either 100 degrees or downpouring," he said.

Now, "the North Barn can be utilized as a community-oriented space for indoor events year-round, which we haven't been able to do before," Hodge said.

The barn will accommodate lectures, local music, and private events like weddings, and will be open to the public Thursday to Sunday, from noon to 8 p.m.

The $6 million North Barn project was funded by donations and loans from several organizations, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, the Northern Border Regional Commission, and Brattleboro Savings & Loan, as well as many supporting donors.

Aligning with a mission

The Retreat Farm's expansion with these two buildings aligns with its evolving mission as a nonprofit community anchor in southern Vermont, Sullivan said. Its post-pandemic growth has positioned it to expand its offerings and provide opportunities to local producers, entertainers, and educators in and around Brattleboro.

By providing local agricultural businesses with spaces to connect with consumers, amidst harsh competition by efficiently scaled corporations, the Retreat Farm can play a crucial role in preserving southern Vermont's agricultural roots, she said.

"We aren't growing vegetables," a poster on one of the North Barn's bare-wood walls said. "We're growing a community of people who care about one another and the places we call home."

This News item by Cole Nelson was written for The Commons.

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