Blog

November 1, 2016

By Ali Zipparo

MEDIA ALERT

Vermont Farm to School Conference to Feature Talks by US Senator Leahy, USDA Farm to School Director, Detroit Child Nutrition Hero, and Over 25 Workshops

Learn about the positive impacts of Farm to School Programming from the Nation’s leading experts and spokespeople, sample local cuisine, and help shape the future of Farm to School in Vermont

WHAT:  Statewide Conference: Farm to School, Grow the Movement hosted by The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets and Vermont FEED in partnership with the VT Farm to School Network

The goals of the Vermont Farm to School, Grow the Movement conference are to:

  • Strengthen the connections between the Classroom, Cafeteria, and Community and share best practices from across the state
  • Strengthen the Vermont Farm to School Network and connect people so they envision themselves as part of the FTS Movement
  • Widen the audience aligned with Vermont’s Farm to School goals and strategies

WHERE:  Lake Morey Resort in Fairlee, VT (Directions)

WHEN:  Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016 - 12:00pm – 5:00pm followed by dinner & Thursday, November 3, 2016 – 9:00am-4:30pm.

WHO:  Keynote speakers include: US Senator Patrick Leahy, President Obama appointed USDA Farm to School and Community Food Systems Director Deborah Kane, and Executive Director of Child Nutrition of Detroit Public Schools Betti Wiggins. Additional speakers include: Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross, Vermont Commissioner of Health Dr. Harry Chen, Vermont Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe.  Conference attendees will include: Vermont child nutrition professionals, teachers, school administrators, farmers, food processors and distributors, government officials, policy makers, farm to school coordinators, advocates, and non-profit partners.

For more information visit http://vermontfarmtoschoolconference.org/ or contact Ali Zipparo at Alexandra.Zipparo@vermont.gov or call (802) 505-1822. 

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October 26, 2016

By Theresa Snow, Executive Director of Salvation Farms

On Tuesday, September 27, Salvation Farms celebrated the opening of its new surplus-crop food hub in Winooski, Vermont. Known as the Vermont Commodity Program, the initiative engages a workforce development crew to clean, quality assess, and pack crops that would otherwise not leave Vermont’s farms.

The kickoff event drew more than 70 guests to the Vermont Commodity Facility. Attendees toured the facility, where the Vermont Commodity crew was busy sorting approximately 1,000 pounds of apples into 5-pound bags destined for charitable food programs around the state. During the program’s first 16-week cycle, Salvation Farms estimates the Vermont Commodity Program will process at least 100,000 pounds of unsold but edible crops, resulting in more than 300,000 servings.

The program’s launch comes after several pilot projects to test its feasibility, including three years at the Southeast State Correction Facility. Salvation Farms’ new facility will fill an important role in increasing the state’s food independence by broadening access to the more than 14.3 million pounds lost on Vermont farms each year, a figure the Morrisville-based nonprofit released in a study this year.

Speakers at the event welcomed the initiative and affirmed the need for this work. In a heartening welcome speech, City of Winooski Mayor Seth Leonard, who had previously toured the facility and met the trainees, stated the importance of this workforce development program in his city.

Abbey Willard, Food Systems Section Chief for the Vermont Agency of Agriculture Food and Markets, spoke to the need for greater access to fresh, wholesome food. She described the Vermont Commodity Program as filling a critical gap in getting more fresh food from farms to people, and also highlighted the program’s economic benefits. She stated that “We see the development of this program and its connection to new partnerships as an important component to promoting the viability of Vermont farms and job creation in the agricultural sector.”

Closing out the program with a farmer’s perspective, Senator David Zuckerman shared anecdotes from his recent squash harvest to highlight his own experience of farm surplus. His remarks reiterated the need for an operation like the Vermont Commodity Program to ensure that the resources farmers invest in growing food are not wasted when food goes unharvested and uneaten, but rather are maximized through effective food management strategies.

For more information about Salvation Farms and The Vermont Commodity Program, please visit: http://www.salvationfarms.org/programs

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October 25, 2016

By Chuck Ross,

Secretary, Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets

Agriculture is critical to our communities, our economy, our landscape, and our way of life here in Vermont. As Vermonters, we have grown accustomed to a vital and robust agricultural lifestyle. But when I leave our state, in my travels as Secretary of Vermont’s Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets, I am always reminded that our local agriculture here in Vermont is special, and serves as a model for others.

Take our Farm to School program, for example. Today, 83% of Vermont students are engaged in Farm to School curriculum in their classrooms, cafeterias, and communities, compared to 42% nationally. We are creating opportunity for local farmers by serving healthy, local foods in our schools, while also providing kids access to nutritious meals and building their agricultural literacy. Our statewide Farm to School network just set the ambitious goal of providing nourishing universal meals to all Vermont students within the next ten years, purchasing at least 50% of that food from a socially just and environmentally and financially sustainable regional food system. Not only are we leading, but we are constantly pushing ourselves to do more, and do better.

Dairy is the backbone of our agricultural economy. It constitutes 70% of our agricultural sales, and 80% of total agricultural land. We are a small state, but we produce 63% of the total milk in New England. And yet the dairy industry is struggling because of persistent low prices, due to a complex and convoluted national pricing system, over which our hardworking dairy farmers have no control. Farmers must be paid a viable price for their milk. While the organic model is part of the solution, it is not the only solution. The recent proposed purchase of WhiteWave, the largest organic dairy brand in the country, by an international conglomerate, speaks to the fact that the organic market may not be immune from the consolidation we have seen plague the conventional processing market.

Despite challenging economic times for the industry, dairy in Vermont continues to be an important part of the fabric of Vermont. With over 15% of the total acres in Vermont dedicated to dairy farming, it is critical to our landscape.  Our farms are growing more efficient and more sustainable, with a focus on stewardship and conservation, and producing quality products. Our cheesemakers are a force to be reckoned with nationally – this year Vermont took home fifteen blue ribbons from the American Cheese Society, as well as nine 2nd place and ten 3rd place finishes.  We have more methane digesters per capita than any state in the country. Our dairy farmers are actively engaged in protecting water quality, soil building, energy production, nutrient removal, and marketing the Vermont brand. These are part of the path forward for Vermont dairy and Vermont agriculture writ large, and are good for our economy, environment, consumers, and brand.

All food, farm and forestry businesses play a critical role in our economy and our working landscape. Since Governor Shumlin took office, Vermont has added more than 5100 new jobs in the farm and food sectors. Our Agency has supported this growth through key initiatives, from working with institutional food purveyors to add local food to the menu at our colleges and in our correctional facilities, to furnishing technical assistance to dramatically increase the number of in-state meat and dairy processing facilities. We have provided grants and guidance to open new markets for local businesses, created networks for best practice sharing among producer organizations, and promoted the Vermont brand across the nation, and around the world. Everywhere we go, we are reminded, once again, that our reputation for quality food and farm products is unparalleled.

We have much to be proud of, but there is still work to do. We must continue to address agriculture and food system illiteracy and expand access to healthy food.  Today, too few people understand where our food comes from, how its produced, who produces it, and what the choices and actions are required to produce food.  We need to shift our priorities so that all of agriculture is understood and recognized for the critical role it plays in community health. Vermont is a leader in this regard but we must do better and more, as food insecurity and food related illnesses still haunt us here in Vermont, our region, and country.

We must also build upon, and continue to leverage, our great Vermont brand.  There are millions of customers to our south who know and want Vermont products. We need to increase our efforts to connect these consumers with our outstanding farmers and food producers.

To that end, we must also support the current generation, and attract the next generation, of farmers, food entrepreneurs and innovators who understand that farming and food careers are exciting, rewarding and meaningful to our collective future. We need people who can make important contributions to our future challenges, ranging from nutrition, food security to climate change. 

As I look toward the future, I have no doubt the future of agriculture in Vermont will be very bright. Vermont is on the cutting edge of community supported agriculture – we must maintain the momentum. Over the course of the past six years, I have been consistently impressed by the women and men engaged in Vermont’s food system. On our farms, in our schools, at our food hubs, here in Montpelier and across the state – some of Vermont’s best and brightest minds are at work advancing local agriculture and our role as a regional and national leader. There is tremendous opportunity for growth in this sector, and I truly believe we are poised to seize it. For our communities, for our economy, for our landscape, and for future generations, we must do all we can to support Vermont agriculture.

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October 25, 2016

By Ryan Patch, VAAFM

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets (AAFM) is pleased to announce the first ever Request for Proposal (RFP) for 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. 

“This program is an exciting new opportunity for the agricultural community in Vermont,” said Chuck Ross, Secretary of Agriculture.  “It will help support the farmers and organizations who have embraced the call for clean water, and will enable them to enhance and expand programming to provide education, outreach and implementation on farms throughout all of Vermont.”

The Ag-CWIP will provide new funding opportunities for farmers, nonprofit organizations, regional associations, and other entities for the development and implementation of locally-led agricultural water quality programs and projects.  Funds will be available in three distinct categories—though organizations may submit applications in more than one category—including:

  • Education, Outreach and Implementation
  • Organizational Development
  • Innovative Phosphorus Reduction Activities

Laura DiPietro, Deputy Director of the Ag Resources Management Division at AAFM, expanded “One focus of this RFP is Innovative Phosphorus Reduction Strategies—we know there are watersheds where significant advances need to be made to meet water quality standards, and this program will help jumpstart and expand new strategies to meet these goals.”  DiPietro continued, “It’s important to note that AAFM currently has an additional $1.8 million available in traditional Best Management Practices (BMP) Program funding for 2017—the BMP program provides technical and financial assistance directly from AAFM to farms to implement conservation practices on farms.  This Innovative Phosphorus Reduction RFP is meant to cultivate new and more effective ways of meeting water quality standards on farms.”

For the complete RFP Documents, please visit:

 http://agriculture.vermont.gov/water-quality/farmer-assistance/ag-cwip

Applications for this program are due by 4PM on November 3, 2016.

All applications must be submitted electronically to: AGR.PhosphorusRFP@vermont.gov
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October 25, 2016

Working Lands grants and a new low-interest, payment-deferred loan offer eligible farm and forest product businesses an opportunity to improve infrastructure, process or profitability.

By Noelle Sevoian, VAAFM

The Working Lands Enterprise Board (WLEB) is delighted to announce the opening of this year’s grant cycle and the availability of approximately $650,000 in grants funds for the 2017 program year.  Funds support projects across forestry and agriculture that enhance Vermont’s communities, economy and culture.  Links to the requests for proposals and applications can be found online at http://workinglands.vermont.gov/apply/rfp.

In addition to the grant program, the WLEB has created two innovative new loan pilots in partnership with the Vermont Community Loan Fund (VCLF) and the Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA) to support working lands entrepreneurs and dairy farms that are transitioning to organic production. Funding for these loan pilots was provided by Charles and Leigh Merinoff, Progressive Farm Alliance, and Long Trail Brewing Company.

The partnership with VCLF has launched SPROUT Deferred Payment Loan Program (SPROUT), a low-interest revolving loan fund that will meet the capital needs of Vermont’s working lands entrepreneurs.  SPROUT offers deferred-payment, low-interest loans of up to $60,000 at 0% with no payments for the first two years, with a 2% fixed rate thereafter. VCLF will also coordinate comprehensive business development and financial planning/management technical assistance for borrowers as needed.

“SPROUT financing will provide a powerful tool for emerging working lands businesses which are facing exciting growth opportunities,” says VCLF Executive Director Will Belongia. “There isn’t a loan product like SPROUT currently available to working lands entrepreneurs in Vermont. SPROUT’s rates and terms will allow VCLF to extend financing and free technical assistance to businesses that otherwise wouldn’t qualify for a VCLF loan. The Working Lands Enterprise Initiative has been an incredible partner in supporting working lands businesses in Vermont.” 

For more information about the program contact Dan Winslow, VCLF Business Programs Loan Coordinator, at dan@vclf.org, or visit http://www.investinvermont.org/borrowers/small-business/sprout.

The partnership with VEDA and the Vermont Agricultural Credit Corporation (VACC) will support conventional dairy farms looking to transition to organic production.  VEDA CEO, Jo Bradley, says, “VEDA is especially excited that through its partnership with the Working Lands Enterprise Board and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (VAAFM), an attractive new loan option will be made available to Vermont dairy farmers transitioning from conventional to organic milk production.”  VACC will be able to offer these borrowers interest-free loans with deferred principal payments for up to the first two years, thanks to subsidies being provided by WLEB.  By providing these loans, VEDA hopes to help improve the long-term financial viability of dairy farms transitioning to organic production so that they may receive the higher price that organic milk demands in the marketplace.

For more information about the program contact info@veda.org or visit www.veda.org.

“Since 2012, the Working Lands Enterprise Initiative has created a vehicle to target funds and technical assistance to capitalize on the quality and brand of Vermont’s Working Lands enterprises.” says Chuck Ross, Secretary of Agriculture. “New loan pilot programs are an important extension of that work, further leveraging the program’s funds, engaging key partners, and providing a funding option to businesses who may not have otherwise been able to access appropriate capital.”

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.

 

The two investment areas are as follows:

1. Business Investments: $5,000-$50,000

RFP AVAILABLE: 10/3/16
LETTER OF INTENT DUE: 11/9/16 at noon
APPLICANT NOTIFICATION OF ACCEPTANCE/DENIAL OF LETTER OF INTENT: Late December 2016
INVITED FULL APPLICATION DUE: 2/9/17 at noon
APPLICANT NOTIFICATION: March 2017
ESTIMATED PROJECT START DATE: Late April 2017

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).

2. Service Provider Investment:    $15,000-$75,000

RFP AVAILABLE: 10/17/16
LETTER OF INTENT DUE: 12/2/16 at noon
APPLICANT NOTIFICATION OF ACCEPTANCE/DENIAL OF LETTER OF INTENT: Late January 2017
INVITED FULL APPLICATION DUE: 3/7/17 at noon
APPLICANT NOTIFICATION: April 2017
ESTIMATED PROJECT START DATE: Late May 2017

Projects should demonstrate direct impact on Vermont Working Lands businesses. Types of technical assistance provided may include: Market development, marketing plans, and sales; Business and financial planning; Succession planning; Access to capital; Manufacturing efficiencies or process flow

 

The Working Lands Enterprise Initiative, (Act 142), is administered by the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets in partnership with the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation and the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development.  The Working Lands funds are administered by the Vermont Working Lands Enterprise Board (WLEB), an impact investment organization whose mission is to grow the economies, cultures, and communities of Vermont’s working landscape by making essential, catalytic investments in critical leverage points of the Vermont farm and forest economy, from individual enterprises to industry sectors.

About the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets: VAAFM facilitates, supports and encourages the growth and viability of agriculture in Vermont while protecting the working landscape, human health, animal health, plant health, consumers and the environment.  www.Agriculture.Vermont.Gov

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