Community members packed into the office of the Kingsbury Farm on Monday night to air their concerns about the management and operation of the Kingsbury Farm. The forum was moderated by Vermont Foodbank CEO John Sayles and board member George Schenk.
Many in attendance expressed concerns over how the model for the
Kingsbury Farm had come to incorporate a commercial component. Although
the Vermont Land Trust and the Vermont Foodbank worked with a steering
committee of community members in the Mad River Valley, the decision was
never opened up to the public.
"We didn't do what I'm doing now," said Sayles. "We didn't reach out to the whole community and make a significant effort to educate the community on the change of plan, and I think that was a mistake."
Sayles also took questions regarding the management of money for the Kingsbury Farm, clearing up misconceptions that funds from the Foodbank went towards the commercial component.
"The business that Aaron and Suzanne are running is theirs," explained Sayles. "No funding that the Foodbank has procured has gone into any parts of the business. The funding has gone into the infrastructure which is owned by the Foodbank."
Some community members expressed concern about the implications of the Kingsbury Farm for the local economy. The commercial component of the farm has put it in competition with other farms already operating in the area.
In the proposal they submitted for the Kingsbury Farm, current lessees Aaron Locker and Suzanne Slomin recognized that locally produced, fresh food tends to be very expensive. Through the commercial component of their proposal, they aimed to keep their produce affordable.
"Our business model proposed that while the Foodbank would take care of the more needy, we would try to reach out to the people who just simply couldn't take that next step to buy local, to buy nutritious, to buy fresh," said Slomin.
The high cost of locally produced food is an obstacle to many community members. "We're in a ski town. Real estate prices are really high here. The person from New York City doesn't mind paying five dollars for a head of lettuce," said Laura Arnesen. "But I can't afford to feed my family with a five-dollar head of lettuce every time I want to make a salad."
Slomin and Locker explained that by building the farm stand at the Kingsbury Farm, they hoped to improve the market for local farmers. The facility includes refrigeration and a kitchen. They hoped the stand would serve the farming community of The Valley.
"We wanted to be able to buy somebody else's sweet corn and resell it. We wanted to create a market," said Slomin. "We didn't want to grow everything for ourselves."
"I would absolutely love to grow like 12 things," said Locker. "We would love to have other farmers pick a couple of crops and sell them in our store."
The Kingsbury Farm is of great value to the Mad River Valley, not just to the community but also to the tourism industry. Win Smith spoke of the farm as a gateway to Sugarbush Resort.
"The people that we're attracting really feel something is different here. It's the community, it's the farms, it's the scenery, it's the aesthetics, it's the towns, it's really the completeness of this Valley," said Smith. "We have a real interest in preserving the farms."
Despite the challenges that have arisen around the Kingsbury Farm, most community members remain supportive of the objective to serve the Vermont Food Bank. Said Bobbi Rood, "For a long time, people living this way haven't had fresh vegetables to eat."