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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Friday, September 12, 2008
Contact: Kevin Coburn, Director of Communications
802-287-8926, coburnk@greenmtn.edu

RAFFL & GMC Host State's New Mobile Quick Freeze Unit

POULTNEY, VT - The state of Vermont’s new mobile quick freeze unit will visit Rutland County next week. The Rutland Area Farm and Food Link (RAFFL), in partnership with Green Mountain College, invite area producers to come see how the unit works and to try it out using their own product.

A demonstration of the unit will be held Wednesday, September 17 from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. at Green Mountain College’s Cerridwen Farm. Farmers and interested community members are encouraged to attend. The unit will be available for use by area farmers from Tuesday, September 16 to Sunday, September 21.

“This is an amazing opportunity for farmers at any scale,” said India Burnett Farmer, RAFFL coordinator and GMC alum (class of 2003). “The unit provides farmers with the opportunity to understand the capabilities of the equipment, and plan next year’s crops and marketing strategy knowing the option to freeze their produce for sale throughout the winter is available.”

Farmers with bulk product or just a small sample bag can schedule a time to use the unit by contacting Cerridwen Farm Manager Kenneth Mulder at mulderk@greenmtn.edu or (802) 287-8277.

The quick freeze system can handle large volumes of any product in need of freezing, particularly berries, corn, tomatoes, rhubarb and other produce that doesn’t require blanching or other pre-cooking.

“We believe this equipment will make it more affordable for farmers to market their product, particularly for increasing how much local food is available in winter – and Rutland has been a leader in expanding those year-round markets. Ultimately, this equipment puts more Vermont food on the table,” said Anson Tebbetts, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture. Vermont is the first state to implement this innovative processing equipment.

For Rutland County, the arrival of the quick-freeze unit is a preview of RAFFL’s larger vision for a Regional Food Hub. The Food Hub, currently in the planning stages, may host processing facilities like flash-freezing and a commercial kitchen for use by farmers and value added specialty food producers. Additionally, the facility could host season-extending food storage options. Recently, RAFFL partnered with Rutland City and the Rutland Economic Development Corporation to apply for a Community Development Block Grant to further analyze the feasibility of the project and identify a suitable location convenient to farm fields and local markets.

Before reaching Rutland, the quick freeze unit will have visited several farms including Champlain Orchards in Shoreham and Blueberry Ridge in North Troy. Others are in line for next season. Although the unit is currently scheduled through the agency of agriculture, the plan is to turn it over to a private operator through a lease-to-own structure that will be in place by spring 2009.

“The mobile quick freeze unit is the first to be used in the Unites States to bring processing capabilities right to the farm. This is a significant step in helping to give farmers additional processing options as well as making more local foods available to buyers,” said Secretary of Agriculture Roger Allbee.

From a specialty foods perspective, the mobile unit will make locally grown foods more easily available. “Our principal interest in the quick freeze unit is that it will greatly expand the types of products from small farms in Vermont that we can use in our products,” said David Barash of Vermont Mystic Pie. “We are thrilled to have been involved from the start working with local farmers and the agency to get this up and running.”

Processing infrastructure is a hot topic in Vermont agriculture. As demand for quality Vermont products grows, producers are finding it increasingly important to find ways to access new market areas. This growth often requires offering some form of processed food, whether it’s sausage from local meat or local carrots already cut for salad bars. Mobile processing units are one possible solution to current bottlenecks to bring processing to the farmer.

“The mobile freeze unit serves several important functions,” said Tebbetts. “It meets an immediate need we’re hearing from food processors to source more local ingredients. Companies like Vermont Mystic Pie are building their brand based on local sourcing. At the same time, interested farmers can plan higher production levels in anticipation of reaching new markets with frozen product.”

The mobile unit was a collaborative effort with many partners working together to make it a reality. “The Rural Business Enterprise USDA Rural Development (RD) grant awarded to the Vermont Agency of Agriculture for the mobile quick freeze unit is helping farmers expand market opportunities and hopefully, create additional jobs – exactly the purpose of this federal grant program,” said Jolinda LaClair, RD state director. “With gas prices at an all time high, this is an energy smart approach to business development - one mobile freezer unit can reduce fuel and infrastructure costs resulting in greater revenues back to Vermont farmers’ pockets!”

The Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing also provided financing for the unit. “A vibrant farm community is an incredibly important part of Vermont’s brand,” said Tourism and Marketing Commissioner Bruce Hyde. “Vermont is at the forefront of the local food movement, and this program is an innovative way to promote the state.”

Brian Norder, of the Vermont Food Venture Center, designed the quick freeze unit for construction and Randy Cadieux of Georgia, Vermont built the unit. The current project manager for the quick freeze program at the agency of agriculture is Helen Labun Jordan, who may be reached at (802) 828-3828 or Helen.jordan@state.vt.us

Click here to read an information sheet on the quick freeze unit (PDF format).


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