Written by Kate Stephenson
After spending the past seven years providing low interest loans to farmers across the state to grow their businesses, the Vermont Farm Fund is expanding to partner with the Vermont Land Trust to offer loans to farmers who have gone through VLT’s Farmland Access Program. The Farmland Access Program connects farmers with land where they can start or expand a business, and the Vermont Farm Fund can provide low interest loans to help farmers make infrastructure improvements or purchase equipment needed to get up and running on their new farm.
One recent example was Pigasus Meats, which in 2017 moved onto a 170 acre farm in South Hero where they produce pastured pork and free-range eggs that are sold as breakfast sandwiches, retail pork cuts, and retail eggs for customers at the Burlington Farmer’s Market, on farm, and through wholesale accounts.
Pigasus Meats applied for a $20,000 loan from the VFF to get their egg operation up and running. The capital allowed them to invest in efficient equipment including roll out nesting boxes, a frost free water line, and a guardian dog which reduce the amount of labor required to care for the hens.
Pigasus Meats is run by Kelsey and Phelan O’Connor in South Hero, VT, along with their dogs Jenny Lou and Hank. Phelan and Kelsey met as students at Warren Wilson College, and started farming together in 2013 while leasing land from Stony Pond Farm (another VFF Borrower) to raise pastured pork. In 2017 they were able to purchase 170 acres through the Vermont Land Trust’s Farmland Access Program and expand to add eggs to their husbandry. This land is now home to their pastured pork and new free-range egg operation.
After arriving at their new farm in May, they applied for a VFF loan in June, as they were under pressure to have everything in place for their first group of laying hens, slated to arrive in September. Through the VFF they were able to get their loan in less than a month and get equipment ordered and installed. In October their first batch of 800 chickens arrived, and they plan to add another 1000 hens in the spring of 2018.
The new hens reside in a hoop barn in the colder months, and then in the summer spend their time outside, moving about in a portable green house. Besides what they forage on pasture, they receive a GMO-free feed ration. When the hens forage on pasture they have a positive impact on the grass productivity of the farm by spreading their manure. They also compost the hens winter bedded back to spread on the fields for added fertility. The pigs are also rotated through pastures from April to November to mitigate animal impact and create “positive disturbance cycles” throughout the landscape.
"We believe that by allowing pigs to be pigs and chickens to be chickens, we can create mythical quality pork and eggs for our friends, neighbors, and family to enjoy."
After a few months on the new land, Kelsey and Phelan were hearing coyotes frequently at night and started to wonder about predators. They decided to hold off on purchasing an egg washer right away and instead invest in a guardian dog, Hank. Hank is a full blooded Italian Maremma who is specially trained to protect the flock in all weather, and they have not had any losses to predators since his arrival, despite seeing signs of fox and coyote all around the farm.
It’s a match made in heaven when the delicious pork sausage and bright free-range eggs meet up in the form of a breakfast sandwich at the Farmer’s Market. With low-cost financing from the Vermont Farm Fund, Pigasus was able to get its new egg operation up and running quickly and efficiently on their new property, diversify their income stream, and grow their business.