Will Raap is an extraordinarily accomplished and effective individual, and I don’t think Vermont would be the advanced state it is without his presence and his influence. My research into his story begins in Burlington, Vermont, where he founded the Gardener’s Supply family of companies, and he is still chairman of the board. This year Gardener’s Supply will have sales of over $60 million. It employs more than 250 people and is one of the largest on-line and catalog gardening companies in this country.
In its spring 1989 catalog Gardener’s Supply became the first national company to speak out against genetic engineering. Will helped to initiate the Genetic Engineering Action Network in Vermont, a nonprofit dedicated to creating a dialog about genetic engineering, which recently presented a resolution calling for the regulation of genetically engineered food and genetically modified organisms in Vermont agriculture.
Will also founded the Intervale Foundation, later renamed the Intervale Center, which is largely funded by Gardener’s Supply. The Center’s mission is to develop enterprises that generate economic and social opportunity while protecting natural resources. The Intervale, which had long been a landfill for old cars, tires, used appliances, and other trash, is now a wonderful pastoral area of small farms close to downtown Burlington. Will saw the Intervale as a lost farming resource for the Burlington area and sought to return it to its agricultural heritage, which he has done. He began by restoring soil; to do so he established Intervale Compost Products and worked with the city to turn yard and food waste, spent grain from local breweries, and milk curds from Ben and Jerry’s into compost. The Intervale Center annually supplies more than $500,000 worth of food to Burlington and distributes 20,000 pounds to low-income families. It also helps teachers develop curricula around sustainability in local school programs.
Will is now in the process of creating what he calls Intervale South, working with a devastated area of Costa Rica that is being restored and will thrive again.