November 13, 2015
This post is the third in a series highlighting Value Added Producer Grants awarded in 2015. Visit our first post for an overview of this year’s awards, and our second post for another producer profile. This post features Peter Stone of Stonewood Farm in Orwell, Vermont.
On November 10, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced awards totaling $34 million through the Value Added Producer Grants (VAPG) program.
Administered by USDA’s Rural Business-Cooperative Service, VAPG provides grants to individual or groups of independent agricultural producers, producer-controlled entities, organizations representing agricultural producers, and farmer or rancher cooperatives to create or develop value-added producer-owned businesses.
In the first post of the series, we announced the 2015 Value Added Producer Grant recipients and explored the breakdown of awards across states, regions, and products. In our second post, we highlighted VAPG award recipient Ethan Gevry. In this post, we recognize Peter Stone for receiving a VAPG award to expand Stonewood Farm’s value-added turkey products. Both of our profiles for this series come from Vermont because USDA released those awards earlier than the rest of the country, giving us a head start in tracking awardees down.
Peter Stone and his wife, Siegrid Mertens, raise 30,000 turkeys on Stonewood Farm in Orwell, Vermont. His parents, Paul & Francis Stone, bought the farm in 1976 and milked cows until 1989. They began growing turkeys in 1987, starting with 300 birds.
Although Peter worked off the farm doing carpentry work for 12 years after high school, he helped with slaughtering turkeys each fall. He and Siegrid bought the farm from his parents in 2009. Their farm spans 800 acres, including 380 acres of hay and 40 acres of pasture.
With the help of four full-time employees that work year-round, Peter and Siegrid raise “all-natural turkeys” — they use feed with no hormones, antibiotics, or animal by-products.
Every April, Peter starts receiving turkeys as day old poults. The turkeys grow up in open-sided barns until turkey season, when they harvest turkeys for Thanksgiving from mid-October until the Friday before Thanksgiving.
Their turkey raising timeline makes the birds naturally self-basting. “We grow them longer than a traditional turkey would be grown. The weather starts getting cool at night so they eat more and they get fat to stay warm,” Peter said.
Stonewood Farm has a federally-inspected plant on site, allowing them to process, package and label their own products. During turkey season, Peter hires 26 employees to process 15,000 whole turkeys and 4,000 turkeys for turkey products, with the rest of the turkeys being used for boneless breasts and other meats.
Since it is too cold in Vermont to raise turkeys in the winter, they make ground turkey and sausage–all frozen products—during the winter months with the hope of “making it through the summer so you get to October again.” Peter estimates that 90 percent of their products are sold in Vermont.
The VAPG award will allow Stonewood Farm to expand its value-added product line by purchasing materials that are necessary to package products. Stonewood Farm’s value-added products include four different kinds of sausages: Cajun, Sweet Italian, Hot Italian, and Mild Breakfast. The sausages only have four to six ingredients and do not contain preservatives.
In addition to the VAPG award, Stonewood Farm has also received a Rural Business Development Grant to purchase an energy efficient freezer and participated in both the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). Through EQIP, they have built diversion ditches to prevent erosion and a compost pad to protect water quality. Peter manages a small herd of beef cows, so through CSP he has adopted several wildlife-friendly grazing enhancements as well as a composting system that allows the composting of all farm waste.
We applaud Peter and Siegrid for their efforts to improve both the economic and environmental viability of their operation through these programs, and we wish them a successful turkey season.