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Alternative Financing Options for Vermont’s Working Landscape


Innovative Vermont agriculture, specialty food, renewable energy, and forestry product companies are a growing part of what gives Vermont its “green” lure. The Green Mountains traverse the length of the state dotted with inns, ski areas, farm to plate restaurants, craftspeople, artisans, hiking, swimming, fishing, camping, and a working landscape that includes everything from dairy farming and local food hubs to solar and biofuel farms.

 It is this working landscape that is getting much attention in recent years as Vermonters continue to come together to build the resiliency of their communities and strengthen the resources of their state. In an age of fluctuating financial markets and challenging lending terms, developing businesses focused on sustainability are not necessarily the most popular in traditional lending. 

 Luckily socially responsible investing is on the rise where a fair return on investment is as equally important as the social and environmental impacts borrowers have in building healthy food systems, relocalizing energy resources, and creating resilient communities. In Vermont’s growing pool of alternative financing options, one fund gaining visibility is the VSJF Flexible Capital Fund which provides flexible risk capital to Vermont food, forestry, renewable energy, waste management, and environmental technology companies. The Flex Fund does not rely on collateral, like banks do, or ask for company ownership, like equity investors do. Instead it can offer flexible loans creatively structured somewhere between equity investments and traditional loans. Growing agricultural, forestry, and clean energy companies cannot typically offer the quick return on investment required by traditional equity investors, or the collateral required of banks and other lending institutions. The Flex Fund was created to address these financing challenges and provides “equity-like” loans which can be repaid over a longer period of time than traditional loans through revenue share payments. Also referred to as royalty financing, these flexibly structured loans are focused on long-term impact rather than a short term return. 


Bass: "Good Every Way" and Especially This Way

bass oysters

Native to the East Coast of North America, bass spend every spring in the many eastern rivers that flow into the Atlantic, swimming upstream to spawn. Then they are drawn back to the ocean as summer approaches. As they search for meals in the shallow coastal waters, they themselves become the object of similar searches by another (two-legged) lover of warm-weather ocean waters and their contents. 

New England has long esteemed this marine resouce. William Wood, writing in 1634 at the very beginning of English settlement of the region, asserted that "though men are soon wearied with other fish, yet they are never with Basse." That sentiment persisted. Catharine Beecher, whose mid-nineteenth-century writings about domestic matters made her a household name in her day, told her audience that "Bass are good every way." And today, bass are still highly prized by East Coast anglers and cooks alike. Since the collapse of the bass population in the early 1980s, strict management of the species has been one of conservation’s great success stories. Bass are back, with happy bass fishers catching millions each year. So bass fishing—and eating—may now be enjoyed without guilt. That’s good, because as everyone agrees, bass is one succulent fish, its rich meaty flavor complemented by its flaky texture. 


Vermont Maple Sugar Makers

vermont maple syrupVermont maple sugar makers across the state open their sugarhouses this weekend, March 23-24, 2013 for Maple Open House Weekend—behind-the-scenes tours, tastings, and the famous sugar-on-snow parties. Following the billowing smoke on back roads trying to not get stuck in the mud is a refreshingly old school way to explore Vermont and stock up on maple products. Maple syrup, tapped from the magnificent maple trees covering Vermont’s countryside, is a natural, pure sweetener used in everything from pancakes to pot roasts. A staple ingredient in Vermont kitchens for baking and cooking, maple syrup is also the starring ingredient in a variety of maple products. Sugar, crème, sauces, candy, butter, popcorn, cookies, granola, and dressings are all popular maple products sold at many of the sugarhouses throughout Vermont.

While visiting Vermont any time of year is always a good idea—to follow the maple trail, ski, swim, leaf peep, enjoy off-season low prices—Maple Open House Weekend is not the only chance to pile the pantry with maple and visit sugarhouses. Many maple producers are open throughout the season which typically lasts through April and is marked by the Vermont Maple Festival held the last weekend in April (26-28, 2013) in St. Albans.

Thankfully for the internet, Vermont maple syrup and products can be enjoyed beyond geographic boundaries any time of the year. Spanning regions of the state, here are some local favorites for where to buy a most diverse selections of maple goodies—whether it is in person or with the online store shopping cart.


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