Farm relief available

Published: Sep. 21, 2020 at 5:30 PM EDT
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STOCKBRIDGE, Vt. (WCAX) - The deadline for Vermont farmers to apply for COVID-19 relief funds is quickly approaching. And that includes farmers who grow hemp.

“Luce Farm Wellness is the actual name of the brand,” said famer Joe Pimentel.

The Luce Farm in Stockbridge sits on 200 acres nestled away on a hillside in the Green Mountains. You will find lots of animals there, but the cash crop is drying in the barn. The farm has been growing hemp for the last four years. The CBD extracted from the flowers is infused into a range of products, which are in stores across the region and beyond.

“Our flagship is hemp-infused honey,” Pimentel said.

In 2019, the farm did roughly $2 million in sales. A strong year for a young business. But then the pandemic hit.

“It was like a switch overnight,” Pimentel said.

As stores across the country abruptly closed, the wholesale market for this business took a huge hit.

“We saw about a 50% decrease in revenue month over month,” he said.

To make up for it, the farm has applied for and received a $50,000 grant through the Vermont Agency of Agriculture. Those who administer the program say more money is still available on a first-come, first-served basis.

“Sugar-makers, it could be a hemp grower, it could be a Christmas tree producer. Commercial meat processors and slaughterhouses are eligible, as well as farmers markets,” said Abbey Willard of the Vt. Agriculture Agency.

The $8.5 million in working lands grants are in addition to $25 million in relief funds for Vermont dairy farmers. And the money doesn’t just have to be used to pay the bills.

“If they have already had to make a pivot to their business and do more direct to consumer marketing or an online platform or change their direct-to-consumer pickup location at the farm,” Willard said.

That’s exactly what’s happening at the Luce Farm. The silver lining to the pandemic is that their direct-to-consumer market has increased significantly. They are using the money to focus on that side of the business.

“We didn’t really have the lift to do a new website or to invest in the email marketing but with these types of grants, that gives us a little extra bonus chip. You know it’s not for keeping the lights on but it’s to keep growing the business,” Pimentel said.

Farmers have until October 1 to apply. Agriculture officials say there are resources and people available to help navigate them through that process.

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