BRATTLEBORO – The Retreat Farm announced Thursday that it will be scaling back its operations in an effort to remain a viable business.
During the pandemic, the farm expanded its operations rapidly to meet emerging community needs, including investing in its trail network, building artistic and interpretive resources, establishing the Community Food Project, making the grounds free for all to access, and leveraging its resources to support the growth of the SUSU commUNITY Farm and Atowi Project.
“We’ve built a strong community of members and supporters, and learned a tremendous amount about how Retreat Farm can contribute to both long-term and immediate needs of the Brattleboro area,” said founder and Board President Buzz Schmidt in a statement. “Part of that learning is that, unfortunately, the full scope of activities we’ve operated the past couple of years isn’t financially sustainable to continue.”
In response, the farm will trim its budget and embark on a strategic planning process to identify core activities that can meet critical community needs, while leveraging its unique strengths and resources, and attracting sustainable community and philanthropic operational support.
“To date, Retreat Farm has been primarily reliant on the support of a handful of major donors,” Schmidt said. “But we know that to remain an enduring community resource, we need to make community engagement – both through volunteer and financial support – more prevalent in our work. We will need the help of the community to ensure Retreat Farm thrives over the coming years and decades. “
Retreat Farm recently received $ 3 million in congressionally directed funding, formerly known as earmarks, to renovate a dairy barn and turn the former Grafton Cheese factory into a “food enterprise center.”
Spring Brook Farm in Reading is hoping to use the facility to make cheese, bringing in milk from at least a dozen local dairy farms.
“Retreat Farm is fully intending to move forward with the North Barn conversion into a community meeting space,” said Lindsay Fahey, managing director of impact and community. “As we seek to reduce our operating costs and complexity, we may partner with other leading community organizations to share the operating costs once the renovation is complete.”
Fahey also said she will be transitioning out of the organization in June, as the Retreat Farm’s new operating budget will be reduced to focus on core activities.
“Other staffing changes will be implemented over the next six months as we transition to more fiscally sustainable operations, but every effort is being made to treat any staff who will be leaving with generous severance packages and career counseling,” Fahey said. It’s unclear how many jobs will be affected by fiscal and operational retrenching.
Despite the shift in its mission, the Retreat Farm will continue to be open every day to the public with its farm animals, including Carlos the ox, greeting those who visit.
The farm’s statement said efforts are being made to preserve the Community Food Project while it continues to grow and distribute healthy food to those in need.
Everyone Eats meals remain available at the farmstand Tuesday through Thursday each week, while that program’s funding lasts.
The team is also gearing up for the summer event season.
“We are all looking forward to the Thursday Food Truck Roundups this summer, although we hope for better weather than last year,” Schmidt said.
Retreat Farm is seeking financial and volunteer support from the community, including new positions on the board of directors, to help guide Retreat Farm’s transition. Visit retreatfarm.org for volunteer information, visit www.retreatfarm.org/donate to make a contribution, or email [email protected] to share how you want to help.