Vermont Technical College wants Norwich Farm to clear out

  • Farmers Chris Gray, left, and Laura Brown in one of the empty cow barns at the Norwich Farm Creamery in Norwich on Monday, March 15, 2021. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger GLENN RUSSELL

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/15/2021 9:42:41 PM
Modified: 7/15/2021 9:42:47 PM

NORWICH — The operators of Norwich Farm Creamery have stayed on past the June 30 end of their lease with Vermont Technical College, and the college’s president said Thursday that efforts are underway to push them out.

“We are pursuing the legal measures that we have available to us to ensure that our tenant moves on,” Moulton said. She declined to specify what those measures might include.

At the same time, Moulton said VTC is continuing to negotiate with the Norwich Farm Foundation, which supports and raises funds for the creamery, for the sale of the 6-acre farm parcel and its home, barn and other buildings. The main building went on the market last summer for $1.7 million, and a smaller home on a 2.2-acre lot with was later listed for $485,000.

And the college has responded to a lawsuit filed by the creamery and its operators, Chris Gray and Laura Brown, by saying that the college and the creamery never had an agreement to work together in Norwich other than the five-year lease that ended two weeks ago.

“We put Mr. Gray and his wife, Laura Brown, on notice three years ago that we would not be renewing the lease,” Moulton said, calling that “ample notification.”

In statements Thursday, representatives of both the creamery and the foundation said dairy processing and negotiations to buy the property are ongoing.

“We are busy in the creamery working to feed those who rely on us each week and have more orders than we can even deliver on,” Gray said. “There is an increasing need for local value-added dairy. We’re optimistic that NFF and VTC will reach an agreement. What we’ve heard from the Norwich community is overwhelming support for the NFF and a firm will that this continues as a working farm.”

“The Norwich Farm Foundation is focused on purchasing and rebuilding the Creamery. We are excited about continued dialogue with VTC,” Kate Barlow, president of the Norwich Farm Foundation said.

Gray and Brown executed the lease with VTC five years ago with the idea that the creamery would produce artisan cheese at the site and partner both with the Randolph Center technical college to provide training in cheese production to students and with a farmer who would graze cows on the surrounding 350 acres of farmland. The farm had been donated by the late Andrew Sigler, the former CEO of Champion International, in 2015 for VTC to use for a dairy-farm program.

But although the lease with Gray and Brown’s limited liability company was signed, the other arrangements with them were not consummated, VTC said in its legal filing Thursday. The Upper Valley Land Trust now owns the surrounding farmland and has leased parts of it to farmers in Cornish and Lyme for grazing and forage.

Gray and Brown filed suit in May against VTC and the Vermont State Colleges system, seeking $500,000 in damages.

“We are on the verge of eviction and have no choice but to protect our family’s investment and the future of this farm,” the couple said in a written statement when the suit was filed in Washington Superior Court in Montpelier.

The lawsuit, Moulton said, “doesn’t have any influence on the lease, as I understand it.”

In a response to the lawsuit, Robert Fletcher, a lawyer for VTC and the state colleges, disputed the creamery operators’ charges that VTC had backed out of a joint venture and acted in bad faith.

Rather, “there never was any ‘joint venture’ between either or both Defendants and Plaintiffs,” VTC’s response, dated Thursday, says.

Further, the lease is “the only agreement of any kind between the parties.”

Under the terms of the lease, Gray and Brown rent the four-bedroom house, barn space and a dairy lab for $500 a month, terms that Moulton called “extremely favorable.”

In its legal filing, VTC and the college system have charged the creamery owners with interfering with VTC’s efforts to sell the property, which has been on the market since March.

Since then, the creamery owners have made plain their intention to remain at the property beyond the end of their lease, VTC said in its legal filing. A buyer had made an offer of $551,000 for an adjacent property, which the college accepted in the spring. When the prospective buyer visited the property, Gray made clear that neither property was for sale and that he would be a “problem” in completing the sale, the filing asserts.

The prospective buyer withdrew.

The parcel eventually was sold for $465,000, the filing says, and VTC is seeking damages for the difference of $66,000, as well as lawyers’ fees.

Alex Hanson can be reached at or 603-727-3207.

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