Featured, Local News

VFFC to reopen by fall

Staff report

After abruptly closing in January due to contamination, the Vermont Farmers’ Food Center (VFFC) is planning to reopen by next fall.

A work plan was recently submitted to the Dept. of Environmental Conservation (DEC) detailing next steps for mitigation after high levels of tetrachloroethylene (TCE), a carcinogen, was found in the soil beneath the Farmers’ Hall building and both TCE and chloroform was found in indoor air samples.

“Although unexpected, the discovery of TCE in Farmers’ Hall has empowered VFFC to initiate necessary clean-up of this former industrial site in the heart of our community,” said Heidi Lynch, the interim executive director of VFFC, in a press release. “Our whole campus underwent the environmental assessment and now we have knowledge of what industrial contaminants exist on this site. We can now seek resources to clean it up.”

Kimberly Caldwell, an environmental analyst at the DEC, confirmed the work plan was submitted to her office on Feb. 18 and it was approved Feb. 28.

The new phase of testing involves soil gas testing to locate the source of contamination.

The testing is underway after the Farmers’ Hall building was ordered to be shut down in January after the owners of the building missed a Jan. 17 deadline to submit documentation detailing the next steps of the remediation process. Caldwell sent the owners a letter on Jan. 20, requiring them to vacate the Farmers’ Hall building on the property within 24 hours and inform all tenants of the property that they could not enter the building.

Caldwell said the owners of VFFC will need to prove that the contamination has been mitigated before it can reopen.

The Vermont Farmers’ Market, VFFC’s largest tenant, which has temporarily relocated to Cortina Inn on Holiday Drive in Rutland due to the contamination, is expected to move back to the building in November.

“We’re very eager to get back into our food center building in the fall, but for now we’re doing OK,” said Paul Horton, the head of the Vermont Farmers’ Market. “Our customers have found us, as they always do.”

The market will continue to be open at the Cortina Inn until April 30 and then it will move to its usual outdoor location at Depot Park on May 7. Horton is hoping to return to the Farmers’ Hall building at VFFC by Nov. 5.

The contamination was discovered as part of an environmental assessment as the organization sought to expand the current campus to include a commercial kitchen — a $3 million project. The organization has secured about $1.6 million so far and is waiting to hear about additional funding sources for expansion.

VFFC is working with the Rutland Regional Planning Commission’s Brownfields program to coordinate and fund the testing and engineering work necessary to remediate the environmental concerns.

“This project is more important now than ever for our community,” Lynch said in the press release. “We have learned through Covid that we as a region are food insecure.”

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