The Sky’s the Limit
New fund helps enterprising vintner buy first farm
Growing up, Krista Scruggs was a reluctant assistant on her grandfather’s homestead in California. But a passion for wine eventually led her to embrace those early farm experiences.
Inspired by a harvest she worked in France, Krista moved to Vermont and started making natural wines and cider blends using local fruit, under the ZAFA Wines label.
When she was named one of Wine Enthusiast’s 40 Under 40 Tastemakers, demand for ZAFA’s products spiked. To keep up, Krista spent untold hours driving between dispersed vineyard plots and foraging wild apples. This year, she embarked on the path to ownership of a 56-acre farm on Isle la Motte where ZAFA can grow.
“I moved to Vermont to own land and be a winemaker,” said Krista. “This is exactly what I wanted.”
VLT bought the farm and is leasing it to Krista. The purchase was made possible by the Michael Colbert Farmland Fund, created by Michael’s family to honor his legacy of farm conservation and to help farmers to access farmland.
This work is part of VLT’s strategy to buy and hold farms in transition for 3–5 years, giving farmers more runway to build their businesses so they’re financially stronger when they buy the land. VLT has raised $15 million to put 200 new farmers on the land over the next decade.
“We’re unique in providing a secure and low-cost pathway to ownership for farmers, many of whom are unable to secure traditional financing due to limited access to capital,” explained VLT’s Maggie Donin.
ZAFA is now among the handful of Vermont farms operated by African-Americans, and Krista can look forward to ownership in the near future. “We believe everyone should have secure access to land,” Maggie said.
Working with her seven-person team, Krista’s already planted 2,000 vines in Isle La Motte. She plans to grow food, tap maples, raise livestock, and convert the farmhouse into a winery and tasting room. Like her unfiltered, unfettered wines, everything will come from the land or the neighboring community.
“People on the island understand the need for change… for farming to continue to work,” she said. “They’re inviting the next generation in, which is so cool. With the community here, the sky’s the limit.”
Story by Rachel Mullis. Photos by Caleb Kenna. This story appeared in our 2019-20 Year in Review.