Pete's Greens first Vt. farm to win small business award - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Pete's Greens first Vt. farm to win small business award

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CRAFTSBURY, Vt. -

Rolling land rich in history and potential is what you'll find at Pete's Greens in Craftsbury. Pete Johnson is the head honcho. He grows 200 veggie varieties at his farm. While the view seems like something from a postcard, the back story is more like something out of a country song.

In January 2011, the barn burned to the ground, including the workspace and entire winter vegetable stock. Within a matter of hours Johnson found himself at square one-- underinsured and without a lot of options.

"We put the word out that we didn't have enough money to rebuild, not even close," Johnson said.

Since then a lot has changed. Pete's Greens bounced back thanks to a massive rebuilding effort. And now the vegetable grower is Vermont's Small Business of the Year.

"He was the clear winner on every one of those criteria, including staying power, increase in sales, increase in employees, innovativeness of your product, contributions to the community," said Darcy Carter, the district director of the U.S. Small Business Association's Vermont office.

"That was a complete surprise. They had never picked a farm before," Johnson said. "I was really excited that the SBA sees what we are doing here. It's not just us; it's a whole movement in Vermont."

The criteria for this award include overcoming adversity. Johnson lost everything in that barn fire. And then-- an amazing response. His community stepped in, giving what they could.

"So, I guess we did seek them out. They came fast and immediately and they just kept coming for literally months," Johnson said.

There were donations and lots of them-- $120,000 to be exact.

"It was humbling and not comfortable at all being on the receiving end of that," Johnson said, "but still an amazing experience."

And for the most part it was piecemeal efforts, like local church fundraisers just up the road.

"They raised $5,000 and it was $5 and $10 in a bucket. I was just completely blown away by that one," Johnson said.

The fire forced Johnson and his team to think big picture. The new building is three times the size of the original barn.

"It's not just larger, it's a better design for what we do," Johnson said. "It is much more functional and it has capacity for the future for us."

They have a massive refrigerator and freezer space to store root vegetables that will last year-round. There is also workspace right in the heart of the operation for cleaning veggies and carrying out daily chores, combining traditional techniques in a high-tech space. The $800,000 building was made possible by a lot of generosity, grants and loans.

Johnson says he's grateful all they lost in the fire was stuff, but he doesn't see it as a blessing.

Pete Johnson: I really miss having it here on the farm. I toy with rebuilding something like it someday.

Reporter Molly Smith: The farm stand looks like a barn.

Pete Johnson: Yeah, kind of, but this was a good looking classical 1950s dairy barn.

Molly Smith: The one thing that's missing-- the traditional, quintessential Vermont barn.

Pete Johnson: Yes, I definitely miss seeing it.

He's thankful for all the help, but knows there is a lot of work ahead of them to keep pace with the cost of this new space.

Molly Smith: You know, there are fires every day. People do not normally see the outpouring of support you saw. Do you at all feel guilty about that?

Pete Johnson: Yes, and I think that's really want motivated the farm fund.

Johnson turned his good fortune into a way to help fellow farmers facing tough times. The Vermont Farm Fund is a revolving loan program. Paying it forward in hopes other farms will grow from his experience.

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