By Katy Savage
The Vermont Farmers Market won’t be returning to the Vermont Farm Food Center (VFFC) building in Rutland this November, as hoped.
VFFC Executive Director Heidi Lynch said environmental clean-up of the site hit a snag and more testing is required.
“With more recent reporting from engineers, there are more tests that need to be taken,” Lynch said. “We won’t be through all that to guarantee a winter opening.”
The food center was forced to close and the farmer’s market was forced to relocate last year after elevated levels of carcinogenic toxins were found in the soil.
The Vermont Farmers Market, which is the food center’s largest tenant, moved to the Cortina Inn last winter.
Vermont Farmers Market President Paul Horton said he hoped to have a new location at the Cortina or elsewhere for the farmers market secured within a week, with plans of staying in Rutland.
“We’re in talks with some different folks and we will be somewhere,” Horton said. “We’d love to have 8,000 square feet but I don’t think we’re going to accomplish that.”
Kimberly Caldwell, an environmental analyst at the Agency of Natural Sources, said she met with leaders of the food center in mid-July after three underground storage tanks were discovered on site by using a radar machine. Caldwell said the state has no record of there being underground storage tanks at the food center location and explained more investigative work is required.
“We have to open up the slab and confirm that they are tanks,” Caldwell said. “That will be one of the next steps.”
The Board of Aldermen earlier turned down the Vermont Food Center’s request for an $180,000 loan to help with the environmental clean-up. Lynch said the money from the board would have helped the food center reopen quicker. There is access to state and federal funds, but the process and paperwork can take a long time, Lynch said.
Lynch said it’s unclear how much the total cost of the clean-up will be. The problems were found in 2021 after the Vermont Food Center sought to expand and upgrade its facility.
“We’re working in the thick of it,” Lynch said. “It’s a complex situation. This was an unexpected timing and aspect of it, but it’s all for the longer term benefit of the community. We’re in it for the long game.”
Rutland Mayor David Allaire said he and the Board of Aldermen are offering moral support. “We’re hopeful that they’re going to be able to find a location in the city,” Allaire said.