Earthkeep Farmcommon searches for visionary buyer

A visionary Charlotte farming venture that has drawn attention as a way Vermont might rehab agriculture off the bench and back into the economy’s starting lineup has come to a critical juncture.

Earthkeep Farmcommon has been put up for sale.

Will Raap bought the approximately 583-acre farm on Route 7 almost 2 miles north of Ferry Road in 2021. He turned the former Nordic Farm into a farming collective, which he saw as a way forward for agriculture in the state.

Courtesy photo. Earth Keep Farm Common
Courtesy photo. Earthkeep Farmcommon.

Raap died unexpectedly on Dec. 12 at 73. Family members are all involved with other businesses and have determined they don’t have the “bandwidth” to continue his vision, his daughter Kelsy Raap said.

The family hopes to find a buyer who sees the value and shares her father’s dream for Earthkeep Farmcommon, she said.

He hoped to set an example, not just for Charlotte, but also for the state to “find common ground between agricultural entrepreneurs and Vermont’s desire to preserve natural lands,” Kelsy Raap said. The opportunities for the farm are really big, but “some of the restrictions are really tricky.”

“It was a goal of his to help shape the next phase of Vermont’s agricultural economic policy,” she said. “My dad was always way ahead of his time in seeing what is possible. He worked really hard to help all the institutions and governing bodies, so that policies and procedures could support what is possible.”

Kelsy Raap hopes they can find someone with her father’s energy and knack for building bridges to buy the farm.

Will Raap purchased the former Nordic Farm for $4.3 million and turned it into a farm collective, said Averill Cook of LandVest, the real estate company handling the sale. Besides produce grown by Earthkeep Farmcommon, the other and varied agricultural businesses on the farm include Sweet Sound Aquaculture (shrimp farming), Shrubbly (sparkling water made with organic berries, fruit and herbs), House of Fermentology (brewery), Slowfire Bakery, Clayton Floral, Champlain Valley Apiaries (honey) and Vermont Malthouse (grains for pilsners and malts for breweries and distillers).

Upstate Elevator Supply, a producer of CBD products Will Raap helped his children form in 2017, had been located at the farm. With the legalization of recreational cannabis in Vermont this past October, Upstate Elevator Operators launched as the business’ marketing arm for THC products. Upstate Elevator had to relocate, because the farm had received federal funding via the Vermont Land Trust, so it couldn’t grow federally regulated crops, Kelsy Raap said.

Cook said the farm is offered for sale through a solicitation for offers, so no asking price has been set. Offers for Earthkeep Farmcommon are due May 23.

About 80 percent of the land is open pastureland and the rest is forested land. Although it is a unique property, Cook said, it was not unusual for LandVest to handle this type of sale because much of its business involve farm and forestry real estate.

There are multiple buildings on the property including two large barns, two farmhouses with four rental units, sheds and six grain silos.

Rob Hunter, the general manager of Vermont Malthouse, has been overseeing the farm after the Raap family downsized operations, putting things on hold while they figured out their next step. He shares the family’s hope that a buyer who embraces Will Raap’s vision for Earthkeep Farmcommon will be found.

Robin Jeffers, who was Earthkeep Farmcommon’s chief operating officer before Will Raap’s passing and the subsequent downsizing, said Raap was an amazing visionary who “really wanted to change the face of farming and agriculture.”

Raap founded Gardener’s Supply in 1983 and four years later began moving the company toward employee ownership. In 2009, Gardener’s Supply became wholly employee owned. The company has more than $100 million in annual sales and 300 year-round employees.

Although this is a very anxious time as the future of Earthkeep Farmcommon is unsettled, Jeffers said, “I’m personally very hopeful that a buyer will want to carry on Will’s vision.”