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Photo: Veinhuis Euroject 3000 manure injector in Pawlet, Vermont

Mettowee Valley Equipment Cooperative, Pilot Project in Pawlet 

The Mettowee Valley, like much of southwest Vermont, is still comprised mostly of small family farms.  This year, several farms including Southwind Farm, Walnut Hill Farm, and Haystack Farmstead, worked with the Poultney Mettowee Natural Resources Conservation District (District/PMNRCD) and the Vermont Land Trust (VLT) to create a local equipment cooperative pilot project aimed at helping small farms gain access to several alternative pieces of equipment, which will allow them to explore organic cropping options and potentially diversify operations. 

The group, called the Mettowee Valley Equipment Cooperative, fundraised to purchase equipment that might otherwise be too expensive for a small family farm.  They will work together with the District to maintain the equipment, manage the equipment rental program, and track the use and benefits provided by the equipment.  As the program develops and becomes established, it will be expanded to include more area farms.  The participants of the cooperative hope that their success will inspire similar efforts around the state.

The main goal of the cooperative is to facilitate conversion from conventional to organic, grass-based farming techniques, support diversification of organic cropping to include annual grains, and protect water quality.  The equipment will support organic dairying, organic produce production, exploration of small grain crops, and where appropriate, the group is considering options for value-added products.  These products may be sold locally at small, diversified farm shops, which aggregate and market neighboring farms’ products at one location, making shopping for the products easier for community members.  The idea is to promote practices with healthier outcomes for farmers, livestock, and the environment and help facilitate marketing of a diversity of locally produced, organic products. 

Over the past year, the group raised $245,000 through the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets (VAAFM) Capital Equipment Assistance Program (CEAP), the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB) Water Quality Grants, and the Vermont Land Trust.  The Poultney Mettowee Conservation District submitted each of the three grant applications with support and technical assistance on the specifics of the equipment provided by the local farmer group, which will also house and maintain the equipment.

The Mettowee Valley Equipment Cooperative purchased a Veinhuis grassland manure injector, which will enable manure injection on pastures and hayfields.  In addition to supporting grass-based organic operations, this type of manure application is thought to provide many benefits including air quality, water quality, and soil health improvements.  Additional equipment on order (there are significant delays in equipment manufacture due to Covid) includes a vertical tillage implement and several cultivators.  Vertical tillage allows for limited tillage and breakup of sod without the associated compaction, breakdown of soil structure, and water runoff concerns that accompany full tillage.  The cultivators provide weed control without the use of herbicides.  Together this equipment will assist with farm diversification, facilitate row cropping on organic farms, will help improve water quality through manure injection and reduced tillage practices, and most importantly, will provide equipment for a group of farms in the Mettowee Valley, who can work together to maximize its utility, and ideally provide a model for other farm partnerships in Vermont.

“The manure injector will allow me to deliver manure into the soil instead of spread it on top of my pastures, creating much more flexibility to manage manure during dry periods, while rotating my herd throughout the summer months.” – Jeremy Russo, Southwind Farm

The Vermont Land Trust is very active in the Mettowee Valley and is also very supportive of organic farming practices and farming that facilitates clean water and healthy families and animal herds.  The Poultney Mettowee Natural Resources Conservation District has worked with farms in the Pawlet area since its inception in 1940 and currently has two full-time staff that assist farms with water quality related projects.  Southwind Farm is a grass-based, organic dairy farm.  Walnut Hill Farm markets pasture raised pork and pork products, such as salami.  Haystack farm sells grass-fed beef and is pioneering the use of on-farm modular meat processing units for shared use by local farms.  All three farms are interested in growing organic grain crops and are working with a local, organic grain mill.

By Hilary Solomon, PMNRCD