Serving Farmers in a Time of Crisis
Donors respond to the pandemic
Jim Thomas grew up playing in his uncle’s hay barn in Orwell. Decades later, rural Vermont is still a central part of his identity. He and his wife, Bea, come to Vermont each summer to reconnect with its natural beauty and way of life.
The schoolteachers have been supporting VLT for decades to help protect the working lands they hold dear. They were aghast when, earlier this year, the news showed a Vermont farmer pouring out 8,000 pounds of milk because of COVID-19’s effect on dairy supply chains.
“It was just so horrifying to see farmers dealing with this situation,” said Jim. “We knew we had to do something as big as we could.”
Bea and Jim reached out to VLT. “Along with other donors, including the Lookout Foundation, Bea and Jim helped create our COVID-19 Farm Relief & Recovery Grants Program,” said VLT’s Maggie Donin.
The grants are for farmers in crisis who are adapting their operations, like the conserved Full Plate Farm in East Dummerston. Owners Laura Hecht and Matt Crowley say this year has been challenging.
“We had to adapt to this new way of living quickly,” said Laura. “With so much uncertainty in the world, we took control of what we could and made the choice to make our CSA program contact-free.”
They pivoted from a “free choice” system to pre-ordered shares, but felt strongly that customers continue to choose their veggies. The grant helped them buy CSA management software to track individual orders and needs. Aided by the software, Laura and Matt saw 60 percent growth in their CSA membership this year.
“Our efforts to support Vermont’s farmers and food systems depend on donors like Jim and Bea,” added Maggie.
Looking ahead, farmers and donors alike share a hope that the heightened interest in local food will continue after the pandemic is over, and that these grants will help farmers make changes that have a positive lasting effect on their businesses.
“I was looking for an opportunity to have an impact,” said Bea. “I’m grateful this program was able to give it to me.”
Story by Rachel Mullis. Photo of produce at Full Plate Farm by David Middleton. Photo of Bea and Jim Thomas courtesy of the Thomases. This story appeared in our 2019-20 Year in Review.