by Timothy McQuiston, Vermont Business Magazine “I believe in hard work,” said Raj Peter Bhakta. He is not thinking small. All he wants to do is save America.
As of Monday Bhakta is officially the owner of Poultney's Green Mountain College. Bhakta presented the winning bid of $4.55 million for the sprawling former environmentally based institution on September 4. With a 10 percent buyer’s premium, the deal is valued at just over $5 million. He is the sole owner.
When asked after the auction what he planned to do with the property, he told a Poultney resident, “I promise a revival of the college of Poultney, of Vermont, and of the United States.”
The college closed in 2019.
Bhakta told Vermont Business Magazine that he will keep the name and will pursue a sustainable model in which students will not be burdened with debt and “useless degrees” when they graduate
Bhakta said he is “impossibly aggressive” and hopes to have the first students enrolled as early as spring.
There is logic there.
Bhakta envisions “regenerative agriculture” using the entire campus and the substantial surrounding farmland to teach students how to work with and develop organic agricultural and business practices related to his spirits businesses.
He was the founder of Shoreham-based WhistlePig Whiskey.
Now he is developing Bhakta Brandy and other brands, including a whiskey in the future. He has two parcels in Shoreham with a total of 15,000 acres where most of the farming will be done. He said they've already planted 10 acres of vineyards.
To make brandy, for instance, he said first you need to make wine. To make wine, you have to cultivate the best variety of grape for the local conditions.
Students will learn that process and study soils, develop viable vineyards, learn how to prune and harvest and distill and then learn finance and how to market the product.
He said the financial symbiosis will benefit his businesses which in turn will benefit the students and college which in turn will benefit the business.
Bhakta envisions bestowing an associate’s degree first and eventually developing a four-year program for high school graduates.
Beyond that, he said, he believes this model can be expanded to include nearly any age group from kindergarten to retirement.
“I think we’re starting something completely new,” he said. He will run the school as a nonprofit.
And the college will benefit Poultney.
On the day he bought it he doubled employment to about 16. He has moved his wife and four children there.
“We’re in whole hog,” Bhakta said.
WhistlePig photo of Raj Peter Bhakta.
Bhakta sold his stake in WhistlePig for an undisclosed sum in 2019.
Green Mountain College President Robert Allen announced in January 2019 that the college would be closing. It held its last commencement that year.
GMC was one of four colleges in Vermont that closed within a year, along with Southern Vermont College in Bennington, St Joseph’s College in Rutland, and Marlboro College.
Bhakta said he is investing in the local community by restoring the college and using every part of it, “stem to stern.” Along with the college he hopes to revive Poultney.
Agriculture is the root focus of the new Green Mountain College and farming is crucial to restoring the nation, he said.
For a bright future, the nation needs to get back to its core values, he said, which he describes as, “A moral, just society that rewards hard work and dedication.”
He’s trying a new model not only because the current model of higher education is not working, he said, but because the entire concept of for-profit education mirrors the immoral concept of for-profit healthcare that feeds a sick society led by the pharmaceutical industry.
They and the food producers have manipulated society. They benefit from the “poison food” they’re serving up and this “moral outrage” has resulted in a “sick society.”
Green Mountain College will be part of a system that grows better food for a healthier society, where family farms can thrive again, he said.
Bhakta, 44, said he has a five-year plan to make it all work.
“I have a vision,” Bhakta said, to restore the American Main Street as it might have been in 1955 as a place for families, optimism and growth.
In Poultney, Main Street literally ends at Green Mountain College.