Farmer Training Certificate Program Inspires Student To Open Tortilleria

Brandon Chase’s personal and professional goals include living sustainably, spending time outdoors, and opening a tortilleria in Washington State.
After living in Vermont for the past six months, the California native is looking to make big changes in his life as he plans to move to the San Juan Islands with his wife, Lila. Chase, who left a corporate job in the cannabis software industry in Seattle last spring, wants a career where he can be self-employed, make food, and not be part of the 9-to-5 office grind.
Chase’s inspiration grew from his time in the UVM Farmer Training Certificate Program, where he learned how to drive a tractor, grow corn, and build a wooden storage shed. It’s also where he met other farmers and small business owners, who helped him realize he could pursue his dream of opening a tortilla business.
“Being at UVM confirmed that I want to live a life off the land and make a living growing and making food for people in the local community,” says Chase, who graduated from Penn State in 2010 with a degree in business management. “I never realized that was possible until I came here.”
In the UVM Farmer Training Program, students learn how to develop a business plan and how to grow, harvest, and market vegetables. Students grow everything from tomatoes and pumpkins to lettuce and potatoes at UVM’s 10-acre Catamount Farm. Produce grown by the students is sold to members of their CSA at the Old North End Farmers Market in Burlington, and to the University dining halls.
One of the most rewarding parts of the program for Chase was connecting with other farmers, such as Bread and Butter Farm, who shared the nuts and bolts of their operation.
“One of the biggest takeaways for me is the community of local farmers who were so open to sharing stories and answering questions,” he says. “Bread and Butter Farm was transparent about their finances. They opened their books and showed us which enterprises were profitable and which ones were not. They shared examples of the investments they made and how those investments impacted their profitability and long-term viability as a business.”

UVM’s Farmer Training Certificate Program

The UVM program, which runs from May to October, is designed for people interested in immersing themselves in sustainable, local food systems in a hands-on educational setting. Candidates include new and beginning farmers, urban and community gardeners, farm educators, and students interested in deepening their understanding of sustainable farming systems.
Graduates of the Farmer Training Program gain:
  • A certificate in sustainable farming from UVM
  • Experience in organic crop production, from seed to market
  • A deeper understanding of small-scale farm management
  • Entrepreneurial skills to start a farm business
  • A network of incredible people to provide support and guidance

Future Plans for Opening a Tortilleria

For as long as he can remember, Chase’s favorite food has been tacos. When a friend suggested he try tortillas from All Souls Tortilleria in Burlington’s Old North End, Chase was instantly impressed by the business’ tortilla-making operation.
“I was fascinated by the process, so I sent them an email,” he says. “They invited me to work with them one day a week. So, I ended up going there every Tuesday to help them make about 15,000 tortillas a day. It’s pretty intense work, and also a very aromatic and tactile experience.”
Working with All Souls Tortilleria persuaded Chase and his wife to explore the idea of opening a tortilleria in the San Juan Islands.
The couple hopes to find a land sharing or leasing option to set up their tortilleria and sell at farmers’ markets and smaller grocery stores. The plan to source corn from Washington and sell their product locally.
“I feel so much more confident after being in the UVM Farmer Training Program. It was inspiring to find people here who are so helpful and welcoming,” Chase says. “My experience at UVM reaffirmed my dreams and reinforced the feeling that a community of people—producers, growers, buyers—can work together, support each other, and succeed.”