Blog

September 29, 2016

Anaerobic digester can be replicated nationwide to keep excess nutrients out of watersheds and food residuals out of landfills while generating renewable electricity

By Amanda Chaulk, Vermont Technical College

Big Bertha,” the anaerobic digester at Vermont Technical College, is operating at full capacity and successfully putting electricity onto the grid. With a carefully formulated diet of cow manure and organic matter from Vermont farms and brewery waste from the Alchemist and Long Trail Brewing Co., at full power Big Bertha transforms 16,000 gallons of waste to 8,800 kilowatt hours of electricity daily—equivalent to about 200 gallons of heating oil, or the amount of electricity consumed by about 70 houses on a cold day.

“One of only a handful of anaerobic digester projects of its kind in the country, Big Bertha provides electricity for the grid, a living laboratory for students, and recycled nutrients for agriculture,” notes out-going Vermont Tech President, Dan Smith.  “This project embodies Vermont Tech’s unique combination of education theory and applied learning.”

The biodigester serves as a real world classroom providing students and the community with hands-on emerging technology training. Vermont Tech has created curriculum, an apprenticeship program, and integrated the biodigester into the college’s renewable energy Bachelor Degree program. Big Bertha also produces clean animal bedding and crop fertilizer output for Vermont Tech’s farms and fields.

Vermont Tech and project partner Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund published the Vermont Tech Community Anaerobic Digester Report, a collection of digester manuals and management plans, timeline and process, and data collection systems so colleges and municipalities across the country can replicate the community scale anaerobic digester model.

“As communities in areas with impaired watersheds consider how else they might manage excess nutrients and keep food residuals out of landfills, as well as explore ways to produce more of their own electricity from renewable sources, a community scale anaerobic digester may be a viable scenario,” says Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund Executive Director, Ellen Kahler.

With funding from the U.S. Department of Energy that was secured by U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy and managed by the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, along with a bond from the Vermont State Colleges, the total cost of the Vermont Tech biodigester project was $4.2 million.

“This digester project has fulfilled exactly what I hoped would be accomplished when I sought the funding,” said US Senator Patrick Leahy. “It is a true research digester, and Vermont Tech and the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund have put together a project that will add greatly to our knowledge of how to build and operate digesters at this scale, while giving Vermont Tech students first-hand experience with the technology, experience that can’t be matched by much larger research universities.”

Vermont Tech took on calculated risk in both per-mitting and technology to become fully operational. The biodigester was the first in Vermont to go through a permitting process to accept food waste. Vermont Tech conducted comprehensive community outreach to build support for the project and successfully connected education, agriculture, waste management, and environment interests to get behind the project. They also facilitated collaboration among state and federal regulators, food system organizations, farmers, and food waste producers. Big Bertha is modeled after European technology, and is a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency AgSTAR partner, which recognizes biogas recovery systems that “help to reduce methane emissions and can also help achieve other social, environmental, agricultural and economic benefits.”

Big Bertha is also helping Vermont reach its goal of 90% renewable energy by 2050. As Vermont’s Universal Recycling Law (Act 148) ramps up to ban food and organic waste from landfills by 2020, Vermont Tech and its food waste transportation partners will become integral in helping to divert organic waste from landfills, preventing the flow of excess nutrients to Lake Champlain and other watersheds, and supporting agriculture and increased local food production.

The Vermont Tech Community Anaerobic Digester Report is available at http://www.vtc.edu/meet-vtc/anaerobic-digester/digester-report    

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September 28, 2016

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture (VAAFM) is pleased to announce Fiscal Year 2017 grant opportunities to support investment in Vermont’s working lands enterprises, marketing and brand development, and our organizations and schools.
 
Working Lands Enterprise Initiative - Grants
 
The Working Lands Enterprise Board is pleased to announce the availability of over $650,000 in grant funds for the fiscal 2017 program year. The application period opens October 3rd, 2016 for businesses and October 17th, 2016 for Service Providers. Grants will be available to Vermont agriculture and forest sector businesses and service providers that provide the critical technical assistance needed for business growth. Business Letters of Intent are due on November 9th. Service Provider Letters of Intent are due on December 2nd.
 
The two investment areas are as follows:
 
1. Business Investments    
Projects may include, but are not limited to: Infrastructure (project-specific planning, permitting, and/or engineering/architectural plans; and/or building and equipment costs); Marketing (accessing new markets and securing new customers); Research and Development (testing new systems or technologies or developing innovative solutions). Projects focused on scaling up to meet new market opportunities are encouraged. Working capital is an eligible use of funds.
 
2. Service Provider Investments
Projects should show direct impacts on Vermont Working Lands businesses. Types of technical assistance provided may include: Scaling up; Market development, marketing plans, and sales; Business and financial planning; Succession planning; Access to capital; Manufacturing efficiencies or process flow
 
Again in FY2017, $30,000 of Local Food Market Development (LFMD) grant funds will be made available through the Working Lands grant process. The focus of LFMD funding is to increase Vermont producers’ access to institutional and wholesale markets, promote consumption of local food, and encourage scaling up through new market development opportunities across the state.
 
Applicant Informational Sessions are scheduled for October 6th (Chapter 1) and October 11th (Chapter 2 & 3). These will be scheduled as webinars with opportunities to attend in person around the state. Live webinars will be recorded and posted online for 24/7 viewing. Further information regarding these informational webinars can be found at our website at: http://workinglands.vermont.gov/apply/rfp.
 
Tradeshow Assistance Grants 
In addition to Working Lands grants and loans, the application period for the Trade Show Assistance Grants will open in October. Through funding made available by the Working Lands Enterprise Board, AAFM will be accepting 50% matching grant applications (up to $2,000) for Vermont food and forestry businesses to help identify, plan, exhibit and sell their Vermont products at out-of-state trade shows.  In total, AAFM has made grants to over 60 businesses to attend 21 different trade shows in 14 different states with grantees projecting more than $2 million in total annual sales attributable to exhibiting at these trade shows.
 
Farm to School Grant Program
 The Vermont Farm to School Grant Program will release the RFP for the 2017 grant round on September 30, 2016, which includes the new Universal Meals Program. More than $120,000 will be available in grants and technical assistance for Vermont schools to plan or implement a farm to school program. The Vermont Farm to School Grant Program, now in its tenth year, works to improve nutrition among Vermont’s children by connecting food producers to their local schools, as well as providing enriched educational experiences and curricula. The grant program enables Vermont schools to engage students in their local food system by incorporating local food and farm education into their cafeterias, classrooms and communities.
 
On October 12th from 3:00-4:30pm, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets will host a webinar for all potential Vermont Farm to School Grant Program applicants. The webinar will cover all of the basics of the Request for Proposals. There will be time to ask questions, during this interactive webinar. If you are interested in joining in on the webinar, register here: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/5795699890154428929. The webinar will be recorded and posted on the Farm to School webpage. For more information, visit:http://agriculture.vermont.gov/producer_partner_resources/funding_opportunities/vaafm_funding/farm_to_school

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September 28, 2016
An Op-Ed Written in Collaboration by Vermont Agency of Transportation Secretary Chris Cole, Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Deb Markowitz, Agency of Commerce and Community Development Secretary Pat Moulton & Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross.

As Vermonters, many of us take advantage of our short summer by spending time outdoors with our families. Whether boating on Lake Champlain, swimming in Lake Memphremagog, paddling down the Connecticut River, or fishing in our backyard stream, summer in Vermont often involves recreating at a nearby water body. When we arrive at the water’s edge, we expect a cool, clear river, pond or lake stretched out before us.

Sadly, there are summer days when Vermont’s waters are unsafe for swimming, fishing and boating. Harmful algae blooms and other water quality concerns can result in beach closures and unhealthy conditions.

Everyone is frustrated when these poor conditions occur. It is our shared vision for clean and healthy waters that continues to inspire and compel us to take action to achieve Vermont’s clean water goals.

In recent years we made significant strides in response to this call to action. In 2015, the Vermont Clean Water Act was signed into law, creating new programs to address harmful phosphorus coming from our roads, developed lands, wastewater treatment facilities and farms. The Lake Champlain cleanup goals were issued this summer, and the implementation plan has been released for public comment. The Clean Water Fund was created, establishing a crucial source of revenue to support the implementation of new programs and activities that strategically target the highest priority activities first.

Progress is crucial because so much is at stake, not only for clean drinking water, natural ecosystems, and our own recreational enjoyment, but also for one of Vermont’s economic engines: our tourism industry. Vermont attracts $2.5 billion in tourism spending each year, of which $300 million is from second home owners and visitors in and around Lake Champlain. According to a recent University of Vermont study, a minor decrease in water quality in Lake Champlain—measured as just a one meter decrease of water clarity—could end up costing $12.6 million in reduced tourism spending every year in July and August alone.

Clean water is also valuable for protecting our investments. In 2015, the grand list in Georgia, Vermont dropped by $1.8 million due to reassessments of 37 lakeside properties with declining water quality. The same UVM Study projected that a one-meter increase in water clarity would result in a 37% increase in seasonal home prices.  By maintaining clean water, we can protect property values and the economy statewide.

We will achieve clean water through three primary strategies. First, we must continue an “all in” approach. Together, state agencies, municipalities, businesses, farmers, partners, and the public, are in the best position to achieve our clean water goals. Everyone has a role to play. Second, smart investments in projects, programs and infrastructure remains key to our success. Targeting the highest priorities first will help us to reduce water pollution in the most cost-effective manner possible. Third, development of a long-term financial support for clean water will allow us to achieve our two-decade commitment to clean up Lake Champlain and Vermont’s waters statewide. The Clean Water Fund’s revenues will be depleted and the fund will sunset in June 2018. Next session, the Vermont Legislature will decide what long-term revenues should be made available for clean water.

Today, the right partners are in the “boat” headed for clean water. We have charted the shortest course, and have begun paddling in the same direction. We know that as Vermonters we must—and will—sustain our efforts and investments of time, money, and commitment to build a new and enduring culture of clean water where we are all “all in”: working together to achieve the clean water Vermont’s future generations need and deserve.

Chris Cole, Deb Markowitz, Pat Moulton and Chuck Ross serve as the Secretaries of the Agencies of Transportation; Natural Resources; Commerce and Community Development; and Agriculture, Food and Markets. 
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September 28, 2016

By Reg Godin, VAAFM

Friday, September 16th marked the 100th anniversary of the “Big E” Fair at Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield, Massachusetts. This milestone fair, which runs from September 16th through October 2nd 2016 will be the largest celebration of New England agriculture in history. The Vermont Building on the Avenue of States will once again be a main attraction for over one million fairgoers who return year after year to eat, drink and shop the best Vermont has to offer. This year’s special events include Vermont Day, held on Saturday, September 24th, attended by Agency of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Jolinda LaClair, Vermont Legislators, and building trustees, and Harvest New England Day, held on Friday, September30th, attended by Governor Shumlin and featuring 10 additional guest Vermont businesses on exhibit.

“I am excited to be visiting the Vermont Building at Eastern States Exposition this year. One hundred years is a major milestone for the Big E,” said Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin. “Not only does the Big E represent an opportunity for Vermont businesses to build great relationships with out-of-state consumers, it also helps to strengthen the Vermont brand, increasingly known around the world for quality and authenticity.”

A popular fair attraction, the Avenue of States is lined with smaller-scale replicas of the six original New England State Houses. Each building features vendors and exhibitors exemplifying the heritage, food, traditions, and products from their respective state. The Vermont building, which is owned and maintained by the state of Vermont and managed by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets (VAAFM) will showcase over 40 vendors and exhibitors sampling and selling Vermont made foods, drinks and wares, including: maple, ice cream, beer, cheeses, meats, jewelry, clothing, furniture and wood products, prepared foods, and much, much more . Vermont musicians will entertain visitors on the front lawn, while, the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing (VDTM) promotes Vermont attractions, events and recreational opportunities to our southerly neighbors.

“The Vermont building offers a unique opportunity for Vermont’s businesses to showcase the range of high quality products and innovation emerging from Vermont’s working landscape to over a million New England consumers,” said Secretary of Agriculture, Chuck Ross. “We have made some exciting improvements to our building this year, including a brand new cider tasting room that will enhance ‘The Vermont Building Experience’ for visitors and vendors alike.”

The Vermont Building has been a significant economic engine for participating vendors, completing over $10 million in total sales with gross sales growing over 30% since 2010. To accommodate growth and increasing interest from vendors and fairgoers, VAAFM has made significant investments in the building and vending spaces over the last two years. A new building was constructed on the back lawn adding five new vendor spaces, and, for the first time this year, the Vermont Building will feature a cider tasting room where visitors can enjoy Vermont cider from Champlain Orchards and Hall Home Place throughout the 17-day fair.

The Vermont Building showcases some of Vermont’s finest products, brands and organizations from across the state. The 2016 exhibitors are as follows:

• Agricola Farm, Panton†

• American Flatbread Company, Waitsfield

• Bear’s Den Carving, Towshend

• Ben & Jerry’s, Waterbury

• Bruce Baker Studio, Middlebury

• Champlain Orchards, Shoreham*

• Cold Hollow Cider Mill, Waterbury Center

• Danforth Pewterers, Middlebury

• Gringo Jacks, Manchester

• Hall Home Place, Isle La Motte

• Halladays Harvest Barn, Bellows Falls

• Hempfully Green Healing House, Putney†

• Joe’s Kitchen at Screaming Ridge Farm, Montpelier*†

• Johnson Woolen Mills, Johnson

• Long Trail Brewing Company, Inc, Bridgewater Corners

• Mother Myrick’s Confectionary, Manchester Center

• Rockledge Farm Woodworks, Reading*†

• Sap! Maple Beverages, Burlington†

• Seedsheet, Middlebury†

• Sweet Crunch Bake Shop, Hyde Park†

• The Village Peddler, East Arlington

• Vermont Bee Balm, Craftsbury

• Vermont Cedar Chair Co ., Hardwick

• Vermont Cheese (J & P Bonita Enterprises), Berlin

• Vermont Clothing Company, St Albans

• Vermont Cookie Love, North Ferrisburgh

• Vermont Flannel Company, East Barre

• Vermont Hand Crafters, Williston

• Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Assoc., Statewide*

• Vermont Peanut Butter Co., Morrisville

• Vermont Morgan Horse, Westford

• Vermont Prime Emu, Brandon

• Vermont Smoke & Cure, Hinesburg

• Vermont State Police, Statewide

• Willow Bend Publishing, Goshen

* Working Lands Enterprise Initiative Grantees
† First time exhibitors in 2016

About the “Big E”
The Eastern States Exposition, home of the “Big E”, was founded by Joshua L . Brooks in 1916 when he convinced the National Dairy Show to hold its annual event on the grounds in West Springfield, Massachusetts. In 1917, the first Eastern States Exposition took place . Brooks’ desire was to bring together all six New England states in one location to share ideas and improve regional agriculture. Learn more about the “Big E” here: http://www.thebige.com/

About The Vermont Building
The Vermont Building was built in 1926 at a cost of $60,500, and it is owned by the State of Vermont, along with the land it sits on. Management of the Vermont Building is a team effort among three state agencies: Agriculture, Food and Markets; Buildings and General Services; and Commerce and Community Development. Learn more about the Vermont Building at the “Big E” here:  http://agriculture.vermont.gov/news_media/big_e   

See you at the “Big E”!

 

September 20, 2016

By Ryan Patch

Final Step in Public Rulemaking Process Ongoing Since October, 2015

On September 14, 2016, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets filed the Required Agricultural Practices (RAP) Final Proposed Rule with the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (LCAR) and the Vermont Secretary of State’s office.  This filing represents the final step in the public rulemaking process the Agency has been engaged in since October of 2015.

“Throughout this process, we have been deeply committed to transparency and collaboration with our stakeholders,” said Chuck Ross, Secretary of Agriculture.  “I cannot stress enough my appreciation for the farming community and their positive engagement in this process to date; their willingness to come to the table and discuss the specifics of the rule over the many different drafts has helped us as an Agency develop a rule which strikes the balance between meeting stringent water quality standards and the realities of farming in Vermont.”

The Required Agricultural Practices Rules and supporting documents have been developed over the past year in conformance with the requirements of Act 64, signed into law in June of 2015.  The Agency has held 89 meetings with the public and the regulated community since October of 2015 to discuss the rule in detail; 83 of those meetings were held by the Agency in advance of the formal process and were not required by law.  These meetings were held as the Agency provided two drafts of a proposed rule prior to the formal rulemaking process and a third draft (the proposed rule) filed with the Secretary of State in May of 2016.

Over 2,100 individuals have attended meetings regarding the rule over the course of the pre-rulemaking and formal rulemaking process. The Agency has attempted to engage with the public and the regulated community regarding the requirements of this rule and has sought to be responsive to comments provided over the past year.  Substantial changes were made to the first two drafts of the rule prior to the formal rulemaking process.  The final proposed rule filed with LCAR on Wednesday has also been changed to reflect comments received during the formal comment period.

Over five hundred written comments and testimony were received by the Agency during the formal comment period and six public hearings which ran from May 13, 2016 to July 7, 2016.  Areas of the rule that received the greatest amount of comment were those that specified what types of farms would be required to self-certify and what entities would be subject to the rule in general (Section 3; 361 comments), buffer requirements (Section 6; 466 comments), and the requirements for livestock exclusion from surface waters (Section 7; 376 comments).  The Agency directs reviewers of the rule to the Responsiveness Summary for more detail regarding these comments and the Agency’s responses to them.

“The Agency has spent countless hours reviewing and considering all of the comments received about the rule in an effort to balance the needs of a highly diverse and thriving agricultural community, the requirements of Act 64, and the demands of the public at large for improvements to the State’s water quality,” said Jim Leland, Director of the Ag Resource Management Division.  “The Agency firmly believes that the resulting rule strikes that balance.”

To view the RAP Final Proposed Rule and all supporting filing documents, please visit the Agency’s RAP webpage at: http://agriculture.vermont.gov/water-quality/regulations/rap

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