After a fire damaged a cheese plant in Hinesburg four years ago, the Quebec-based company decided not to rebuild. That left 80 people without jobs and a void in the center of town.
But an effort to bring value-added agriculture businesses to the building has paid off, as state and local officials will celebrate the opening of two businesses in the building this weekend.
These are the two bottle fillers, that’s the glass line, and that’s the plastic line, came from a creamery in Missouri," said Cheryl DeVos as she shows off the equipment that she and her husband JD purchased to get their new milk bottling plant, Green Mountain Organic Creamery, off the ground.
The DeVoses took over the family’s Kimball Brook Farm in North Ferrisbugh more than 20 years ago, and went organic in 2005 to avoid the roller coaster of milk prices that conventional dairies face.
But they long dreamed of bottling their own milk, and started planning in 2008. Falling organic milk prices only made them work harder.
"One of the things we really liked about organic milk was that it seemed to not have the roller coaster so you could actually plan. And that all seemed to change back when the economy crashed in 2009. And we definitely, at that point, it was that the national markets where organic farmers sell their milk to, dropped their price… we had already been thinking about doing our own creamery but at that point, we said, ok, we’re just going to plow through this and do it, DeVos explained.
But opening a bottling plant isn’t cheap.
"I think we have about a million dollars into the plant and we don’t own the building. It’s quite an endeavor," DeVos said.
DeVos says they wouldn’t have been able to do it without the support of the community, including local investors. Many of them either wanted to see the Hinesburg building re-used or wanted to support local food.
Kimball Brook Farm milk will soon be stocked in local stores in Chittenden and Addison counties, and the creamery will have between five and seven employees.
But the farm will only be bottling a fifth of its milk to begin with. The rest will continue to go to the national market.
DeVos says they hope to one day bottle all of the milk from the farm’s 200 cows, and take milk from other farmers. That would create jobs for 25 people in Hinesburg.
In another part of the old Saputo cheese plant, Vermont Smoke and Cure is also hoping to grow at its new headquarters.
Company CEO Chris Bailey says it was time for a move from its former quarters in South Barre.
"All of the parts of the business are growing each year. So we finally just overwhelmed our little facility in South Barre. Everything that could be pushed out of the building was, and we were still coming up against limits. So it was finally time to get a new bigger facility," Bailey said.
The company has invested $5 million in moving its operations and buying equipment for the new site. Most of the company’s 15 employees made the move.
And Bailey says there’s room for growth as the company expands to new markets and increases its locally grown products line.
Hinesburg officials say the two companies fit the plan launched after the 2008 fire to re-develop the site with value-added agriculture businesses. And with these two new companies, they’ve met that goal.