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The Intervale Foundation

Agriculture.com Staff 07/07/2010 @ 9:09am

The Intervale, located in Burlington, Vermont, includes 700 acres of community farms, gardens, wildlife and nature trails, with a mission to incubate sustainable businesses in farming as well as value-added food, fiber and fuel production. Over the past 15 years the Intervale Foundation has recovered 325 of these 700 acres of agricultural floodplain from their former use as a city dump and junkyard, and has restored 260 acres for sustainable farming. The foundation's initial mission was to eliminate the garbage that had accumulated over the years, and plant cover crops to restore the land.

Full Moon Farm is part of the Intervale's Farm Venture Program, which has been in place since 1990. The farm incubator program leases land and equipment, and provides technical and mechanical support along with market development and business planning to farmers who agree to farm organically on Intervale land.

The Farm Venture Program accepts new applicants each year. A Land Committee reviews all applications. Applicants who are accepted into the program sign a lease agreement with the foundation.

In 2003 there were twelve organic farms operating in the Intervale, but the number changes each year as farms graduate and new farms enter the program. Together, the farms produce a half a million pounds of food for the local community valued at $500,000, and provide 6% of fresh produce for Burlington, a city of roughly 40,000. The long term mission is to provide 10% of Burlington's fresh produce.

The Farm Venture Program has three tiers: Incubator Farms; Enterprise Farms; and Mentor Farms. New farms in the program are considered Incubator Farms for their first three years. They receive a 20% discount on all of the fees and costs charged by the Intervale Foundation. Enterprise farms pay the full fees, which are as close to actual costs as possible, according to Sharon Fialco, the Farm Venture Program coordinator.

Land rents for $157 per acre, water fees are $48 per irrigated acre. Equipment is rented by the hour and fees vary. For example, an Incubator Farm may rent a Ford tractor for $18.70 per hour, a New Holland for $17.00 per hour and a rototiller for $10.20 per hour. They also charge an administrative fee to cover program overhead. There are no other additional specific startup costs for a new farmer, Fialco says.

"Some senior farms choose to become Mentor Farms," adds Fialco. "They pay the same fees as the Enterprise Farms, as well as volunteering time to mentor Incubator Farms. The mentoring can range from specific production or equipment training, to informal advice to administrative work to support the overall program."

Like Zuckerman and Nevitt, the Intervale farmers sell their produce through a variety of markets - wholesale, farmer's markets, retail stores and CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture.) A CSA is a farm supported by community members who pay the farmer before growing season for a "share" of the farm's harvest. This win-win business model benefits the farmer, who receives 100% of the profits from his or her operation and has working capital at the start of the planting season. It also benefits the consumer - who can save 25-35% off the retail prices they would pay in most stores for comparable produce.

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