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December 7, 2017

WATCH: https://youtu.be/oX0v7544g6M

When Walter Hamilton’s not enforcing the law back home in Jamaica, he’s playing an important role at role at Sunrise Orchards in Cornwall.

“I’m a policeman when I’m there,” said Hamilton.

For 31 years, Hamilton has spent his summers harvesting the Vermont apple crop. Hamilton has been able to pass on his acquired knowledge of the apple crop to next generation of workers.

“I teach them how to pick apples and communicate with them as family, you know, because all of us are coming from one place… in Jamaica.”

In 2017, more than 450 seasonal workers called Vermont “home away from home.”

The H-2A program allows agricultural employers to fill temporary jobs.

Many Vermont producers rely on experience and skilled workers, like Hamilton. Without them, there might not be a harvest or even farms.

“We really couldn’t do with the H-2A program. There are very few options to get that number of people willing to work, 6-7 days a week, necessary time, to get the crop in,” said Barney Hodges, Sunrise Orchards.

Without the H-2A program, local year-round and seasonal workers could lose their jobs.

“They create the other 40 jobs for the Americans, because you need people to truck drive the produce, you need people working in the stands and you need people processing. So, without the Jamaicans, you wouldn’t need all these people,” said Paul Mazza, Paul Mazza’s Fruit and Vegetables.

For Lascielle Palmer, working on Paul Mazza’s farm is key to supporting his family.

“Because it puts food on my table, pay my bills, send my child to school, it does a lot,” said Palmer.

Guest workers at Southern Vermont Orchards feel the same way.

“I really appreciate and respect this place, because it helps me to send my daughter to high school, I have a daughter in New York that goes to college and she’s a nurse right now. So, I very much respect this and I respect my job and I do it the best I can,” said Mr. Grant, Southern Vermont Orchards.

Many workers also spend dollars right here in Vermont.

“The money they make here, I’d say one-third to half is spent here, and they bring a lot of stuff home. I’m glad to be able to do it, because they’re giving me a service… they’re helping me and I’m helping them, It’s a win-win,” said Paul Mazza.

Lia Diamond runs the show at Southern Vermont Orchards and the Apple Barn Country Bake Shop.

“She would sometimes go over to our house, we cooking and she would eat some,” Said Mr. Grant.

Knowns as “Ma” by her Jamaican workforce, she’s developed quite the family atmosphere.

“Sometimes she even brings our lunch. She’s a very nice lady, we’re just like a family here," said Mr. Grant.

So how do farmers bring back help they can count on, year after year?

“In order to make sure my workers want to come back here, we invest in infrastructure on the farm that makes their life better,” said Hodges.

“They’re like brothers to me, a lot of them are. We’re friends, we keep in touch and they’re just good people,” said Paul Mazza.

New bunk houses, washing machines and kitchens are just some of the improvements.

“Our primary value with our Jamaican workforce is respect,” said Hodges.

A level of respect working to build bonds that last a lifetime.

“My relationship is very close, you know, we are like a family, you know,” said Hamilton “It’s good, that’s why I’ve been here for so many years.”

Non-agricultural workers can also obtain visas to work at farms during peak season.

“Oh, my name is Herman Gilroy, everyone calls me Gilroy and I’m the baker at the Apple Barn.”

The H-2B visa allows Gilroy to bake his famous apple pies in Vermont.

When asked about his secret ingredient?

“Anything I do, I do it with straight from the heart, with pure love,” said Gilroy.

It’s Vermonters and Jamaicans working together…

“They say, ‘oh where are you from Gilroy?’ I said, ‘Jamaican, Vermont.’ They say, ‘no you don’t have a Jamaica, Vermont.’ I said, ‘yes we do.’

To help feed the world.

“To me it’s not a job, I love it, it’s a passion for me, it’s a beautiful passion.”

December 6, 2017
                                                                  
                                Highlighting an Important Vermont Industry and Tradition

Barton, Vt. - Governor Phil Scott and Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts visited the Vermont Christmas Tree Farm in Barton Wednesday to highlight the importance of these businesses to the rural Vermont landscape and economy. After touring the farm with owners Bill and Sue Tester, Governor Scott cut three trees, two for his offices in Montpelier and one to bring home. The Tester’s also provided tips on the best method for cutting and transporting the trees back to his Pavilion office.

The Governor and Secretary also discussed the challenge and benefits of having the tree farm on their Barton land.  In 2014, there were 71 tree growing operations in Vermont, 2,000 total acres in production, 119 thousand trees harvested, with an estimated value of approximately 2.9 million dollars. (*National Agriculture Statistics Service)  Like many Vermont tree growers, the Tester’s offer Balsam and Fraser Fir breeds on their farm. Vermont cut-your-own tree farms also grow hybrids, like the Tester’s signature “Fraslams” trees, and other breeds as well as provide trees to wholesale urban markets.  While Vermont trees are mainly consumed locally and in eastern urban markets, Vermont growers also ship trees to states as far away as Florida and California, and to a variety of foreign markets, including Bermuda.  

“Cutting your own Christmas Tree is a wonderful Vermont tradition, and it supports our hard-working Vermont farmers who are helping to keep our hillsides green,” said Governor Phil Scott. “I’m happy to be able to decorate our office in Montpelier with an important symbol of Vermont agriculture.”

Any property owner who grows Christmas trees can qualify for the Current Use program for productive lands, as long as the farm generates a minimum of $2000.00 annually in sales.  Christmas trees are specifically included as an Agricultural use type in the program, like maple production. 

“Vermont provides the perfect environment for growing high value Christmas trees.  Our sunny, cool and moist weather offers ideal growing conditions, assuring the quality of Vermont’s Christmas tree crop,” Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts said.  “Supporting agriculture activities that preserve our heritage and protect the landscape is a high priority for the Agency of Agriculture.” 

To find out more about the Tester’s Vermont Christmas Tree Farm, visit http://www.vermontchristmastrees.com/about_us.php

To find a cut-your-own farm in Vermont near you, visit the Vermont Christmas Tree Association site athttp://vtchristmastrees.org/ or the New Hampshire-Vermont Christmas Tree Association at http://www.nh-vtchristmastree.org/

For more information on the Current Use program, visit http://tax.vermont.gov/sites/tax/files/documents/CU-301-rev0714-fillin.pdf . 

For more information about the Christmas Tree crop in Vermont, contact Tim Schmalz at the Vermont Agency of Agriculture atTim.Schmalz@vermont.gov .

December 5, 2017
                                                   By Faith Raymond, VT Agency of Ag

'Tis the season to start thinking about purchasing your Vermont Christmas tree!

It’s an old tradition for many Vermonters to take a seasonal family drive after dinner to see the beautiful Christmas lights in your neck of the woods. This year our family will be one less in the car for this traditional drive, Gram passed away a few months ago. We will continue the tradition with her in our hearts and sharing the wonderful memories of years past. Her favorite was to see all the beautifully decorated Christmas trees glowing through windows of homes, she said seeing these homes would give her peace and love in her heart.

We will take this drive remembering what it meant to her and in return, it will mean more to us than ever before. One of the memories we have from the last few years is simply driving through downtown Burlington on our way to a favorite scenic haven.

Gram was in awe over all the beautiful red lights that flickered down each street We didn’t have the heart to tell her they were brake lights from all the vehicles on the roads.

Gram would admire those who tackled the large Christmas tree on the front lawn and we would need to slow way down, so she could truly appreciate the time it took to create such a master piece.

Back in the day she and my husband (when he was a wee one) attempted to decorate the blue spruce in her front yard. They had enough lights to string one straight line from the bottom of the tree to the tip top. They decided to decorate the small lilac tree instead, using the old large bulbs the lilac tree started to bud in December. This was why she admired the effort that went into decorating the large 20’–30’ trees. Although you may have the vision you also need lights… and more lights!

As many of you have family traditions focused around your Christmas tree, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets would like to you send a photo of your purchase/choosing of your tree at a Vermont Christmas tree farm. Please share on our Facebook page with #VtChristmasTree.

Whether you prefer cutting your own or selecting a precut visit the New Hampshire-Vermont Christmas Tree website to find a farm near you visit, http:// www .nh-vtchristmastree .org/ search .php .

The majority of Christmas Tree Farms will open the Friday after Thanksgiving for those eager to start the holiday season and close on Christmas Eve for those that are running a bit behind.

Happy tree hunting!

December 4, 2017

Prompted by questions pertaining to on-farm energy production, Representative Charlie Kimbell of Woodstock, looked to the Vermont Agency of Agriculture for answers. Deputy Secretary Alyson Eastman helped set up a trip to Blue Spruce Farm in Bridport, one of the first farms in Vermont to have both a methane digester and a 100-kilowatt wind turbine. Representatives Amy Sheldon (Middlebury), Peter Conlon (Cornwall) and Robin Scheu (Middlebury) also attended the tour led by farm owner and operator Marie Audet. The wide-ranging discussion covered everything from digesters to improving water quality with innovative farm agronomic practices.

(Rep. Amy Sheldon, Jeff Carter, UVM Extension, Rep. Peter Conlon, Deputy Secretary Alyson Eastman, Rep. Robin Scheu, Marie Audet, Rep. Charlie Kimbell)

Marie started the tour with the milking parlor, followed by a short visit to the free-stall barn.  She pointed out the importance of cow comfort and ventilation, while the cows munched on freshly delivered silage. 

The next stop was a visit with the calves, complete with a view toward Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks. Here Marie pointed out how things have changed from the old days.

The hillside of 13 or so acres below the calf hutches used to be pasture, which contained some gullies.  With the gullies and the slope, the area was prone to erosion.  The Audets converted it to a perennial crop and let the trees grow up in the gully areas, eliminating erosion and ensuring run-off never reaches a steam. In the foreground alfalfa grows. It’s a crop relatively unusual for Vermont. This area of the approximately 4,000 acres which the Audet’s farm happens to contain soils in which alfalfa grows well. 

After covering the calves, Marie showed the group the peat-moss-like solids being automatically piled up in a covered area. Solids from the digesters drop from a ceiling-mounted conveyor belt and can be easily loaded into a bedding-spreader type of skid steer or into neighboring farmers’ trucks. The material is used as bedding for cows at Blue Spruce and three other dairy farms.

After seeing the solids and the manure pit, the group looked at the digesters, the new biogas-cleaning tank, and the engine. Having seen all the components of the digester system, Marie explained how much work it all entailed. It turns out that for Blue Spruce Farm, it’s pretty much a full-time job. 

The conversation moved to water quality, dairy farming, climate change, digesters, and air quality. 

Jeff Carter of UVM Extension talked about cover crops both in terms of water quality improvements and financial benefits, while he and Marie Audet both emphasized the challenges, for example needing the right equipment and getting the timing right. 

As climate change causes more severe rain events, cover crops become especially important.At the same time, western dairy regions will face drier, hotter conditions, potentially giving Vermont’s dairies an advantage.

At the end of the day, the group walked away with a better understanding of how Vermont dairy farms are working to become more efficient and more sustainable.

November 21, 2017
Over $1M Available to Fund Agricultural Clean Water Planning and Implementation

November 21, 2017 / Montpelier, VT - The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets (VAAFM) is pleased to announce the opening of the Request for Proposal (RFP) period for at least $1 million in grant funding associated with the Ag Clean Water Initiative Program (Ag-CWIP).  This grant program is made possible and supported by the Clean Water Fund—a fund created by Act 64 of 2015, Vermont’s Clean Water Act.  

VAAFM’s Ag-CWIP will provide new opportunities for farmers and partner organizations to undertake projects that will achieve reductions in nutrient runoff from agricultural lands, with a focus on projects which reduce phosphorus losses in priority watersheds.  Please visit http://Agriculture.Vermont.gov/WQ-RFP for the complete RFP documents.

“Farmers and their partners are focused on improving the environment.  These funds are an important part of improving water quality,” said Secretary Anson Tebbetts. 

These local and statewide partners support farmers to identify, plan and implement management, agronomic and structural best practices to improve water quality.  Implementation efforts are further supported by an additional $3M in available funding from VAAFM’s Best Management Practices program for 2018.

VAAFM is requesting agricultural water quality program proposals that address the following priority outcomes to improve water quality in Vermont:

  • Regulatory compliance with the RAPs and agricultural non-point source pollution reduction; and
  • Economic and environmental viability on Vermont farms.

VAAFM will be prioritizing funding based on need, meaning it will consider those areas of the state identified through water quality monitoring and Tactical Basin Planning efforts to have the greatest reduction targets for agriculture.

The Request for Proposals applications are due by 4:00 p.m. on January 10, 2018.  Eligible applicants include farmers, non-profit organizations, educational institutions, and local government entities.

For the complete Request for Proposals, program details, and additional information, please visit http://Agriculture.Vermont.gov/WQ-RFP, call the Agency at (802) 828-2431, or email: AGR.WaterQuality@Vermont.gov.

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