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Vermont farmers get loans to renovate worker housing – vtdigger.org

Chelsea Sprague, of Sprague Farm in Brookfield, at one of the homes the farm offers as housing for their workers on Wednesday, Sept. 7. Sixteen farmers are part of a pilot program to renovate worker housing, which is seen as key to k…….

Chelsea Sprague, of Sprague Farm in Brookfield, at one of the homes the farm offers as housing for their workers on Wednesday, Sept. 7. Sixteen farmers are part of a pilot program to renovate worker housing, which is seen as key to keeping staff. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Housing for workers is a challenge for many Vermont business owners, but for dairy farmers like Chelsea Sprague of Brookfield, the need for proximity makes options even more limited.

“It’s important to us to have our farm workers living on site,” Sprague said. “Because of that… we provide housing for them within walking distance or a short bike ride away.”

With 700 cows, 100 calves and 1,600 acres in grass and corn, the Sprague family relies on eight employees to keep their fifth-generation dairy farm running. Four live down the street in a renovated 6-bedroom house. But a “huge rambling old farmhouse” across the street where the other four workers live still needs significant work, she said.

The Spragues are one of 16 farms that were recently awarded a $30,000 interest-free mortgage to upgrade housing for employees from a new program through Champlain Housing Trust and the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. 

The loan, which will pay for roughly half the cost of the needed upgrades and will be forgiven after 10 years if the housing remains in good condition, will help “a lot,” according to Sprague. 

The owners of Sprague Farm in Brookfield have refurbished a home to provide housing for the farm’s workers. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

“It makes it so that you can do the entire project instead of just picking and choosing,” she said.

The VHCB set aside $1 million for the program after internal and independent research showed the extent of the housing challenge for farmers and farmworkers.

The University of Vermont’s Dan Baker led a bilingual team that completed two surveys of farm workers in 2016 and 2018 asking about the stressors in their lives. Results revealed that about a third of the workers reported moderate to extreme stress around housing. He shared that information with the legislature and hosted a series of meetings on the topic with stakeholders such as Migrant Justice, Milk with Dignity, state agencies and farmers. 

Another assessment, commissioned by the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, found hundreds of spaces that farm workers lived in fell short of generally accepted safety and sanitary standards. 

Baker, an associate professor emeritus of international development, noted that significant improvements can be made for $30,000, such as renovating a bathroom, upgrading electrical panels, insulation, new windows and doors, sheet rock, putting in septic systems and repairing roofs and floors. For some …….

Source: https://vtdigger.org/2022/09/08/vermont-farmers-get-loans-to-renovate-worker-housing/

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