Nat Bacon makes about 500 pounds of cheddar a day for Shelburne Farms. But this head cheesemaker got his start at UVM's Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese, the nation's first and only center devoted to the craft.
"Vermont now is known for having this great abundance of cheesemakers, the most cheesemakers per capita of any state. And VIAC's education and expertise in cheese has helped a lot with that," Bacon said.
The program started in 2004 and helped a fledgling industry thrive in Vermont, teaching nearly 900 students about the art and science of cheesemaking. These workshops were funded, in part, through a federal earmark grant and tuition covered the rest. It was a model that worked well until fiscal year 2012 when those federal dollars ran out.
"We've been working with the staff to turn red ink into black. We've been unsuccessful," said Thomas Vogelmann, the dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at UVM.
To cover its deficit, the Institute offered more courses, but then couldn't fill the classrooms. The dean says the number of novices needing introductory help has dropped, forcing the institute to scale back operations.
"If you're not changing, you're not adapting," Vogelmann said.
These financial challenges come at the same time a former employee is being investigated by UVM police. The department would not comment on camera, but told WCAX News it's looking into allegations an employee misused institute funds. The chief said at this point it's unclear if any crimes have been committed.
"We have a process in place that guarantees that everything will be done fairly and equitably," Vogelmann said.
The dean learned of these allegations last summer. An audit is currently being conducted. But he claims the alleged financial mismanagement did not cause program cutbacks. In May, the Institute will morph its mission, reducing course offerings to focus on research and consultation work.
"Science doesn't just stop because we change our focus. We'll be tackling issues as they arise," Vogelmann said.
"I feel like there's always a process of learning and improving," Bacon said.
After six years of cheesemaking, Bacon still says he's got a lot to learn and hopes the Institute will be there to keep his cheddar skills sharp.
One staff member will be laid off when the program shifts directions in May.
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