Creamery business at risk
In its brief history, the Norwich Farm Creamery has developed an outstanding reputation as a community member and for its milk, cheese and yogurt. That business may now be in jeopardy, because Vermont Technical College (VTC) is selling the Norwich Farm, where the Creamery is a tenant, to the Upper Valley Land Trust (UVLT). "Saving Norwich Farm Creamery" is a petition on change.org, and Bring the Cows Back, Norwich, a Facebook page. The Norwich Farm Creamery is also agenda item 5 for the next Selectboard meeting. Neighbors are concerned that UVLT is giving short shrift to the Creamery's plan to restart dairy operations at the farm, without which the Norwich Farm Creamery may need to close.
The Norwich Farm is a 6-acre complex of agricultural buildings on Turnpike Road, developed as a state-of-the-art dairy farm and classroom in the late 1990's. The Sigler Foundation donated the farm to Vermont Technical College in 2015, but VTC is discontinuing its dairy education program there this spring. UVLT will purchase the Norwich Farm in May 2018, which adjoins its 352-acre Brookmead Conservation Area. See: Upper Valley Land Trust To Purchase Norwich Farm.
Norwich Farm Creamery currently leases three of the buildings for it's business and family home, but their business and home are now at risk. They invested their life’s savings to partner with VTC and start this creamery only to have VTC back out of the deal and would face an unsustainable rent increase under UVLT ownership.
For its part, UVLT might be caught in the middle. The Norwich Farm has
annual carrying costs of approximately $100,000. UVLT is looking for "economically feasible ways of potentially bringing together non-profits and entrepreneurs there to serve community needs while meeting UVLT’s mission." To that end, UVLT sent request for proposalsto more than 25 entities and individuals. See: Upper Valley Land Trust Considers Programs for Norwich Farm and Envisioning The Future Of Norwich Farm.
Norwich Farm Creamery would like bring back cows to and restart dairy operations on the Norwich Farm. To do
that, Norwich Farm Creamery is looking to have a “partnership and lease between UVLT and NFC.” The emails from neighbors in the Selectboard packet [numbers 3d and 3c] suggest UVLT has rebuffed the proposal, even though VTC supported the concept. Neighbors are worried about the future of
Norwich Farm Creamery, as well as rumors that the Norwich Farm will be used as a warehouse.
However, what the Norwich Farm Creamery specifically wants from UVLT Is not clear from the Comprehensive Plan [Selectboard packet number 5]. Also not clear, at least to me, is where the working capital to cover operating cost will come from or what risk UVLT is being asked to bear. The prior dairy operation at Norwich Farm went out of business in Spring 2017 after milk prices plunged. See: Jim Kenyon: Norwich Dairy Deal Sours, Valley News, May 20, 2017.
In an email on Monday, UVLT President Jeanie McIntyre said that "we have communicated several times [with the Creamery people] and encouraged them to submit a proposal and business plan. [UVLT] is evaluating alternatives for an economically sustainable and environmentally responsible program on the site congruent with our goals as a charitable land conservancy."
Bringing cows back to Norwich Farm is a wonderful idea. What the Selectboard or UVLT can do to help that happen is less clear.