After a long and difficult deliberation, the Senate has passed a Farm Bill, which will arrive on the President’s desk, for his signature, at the end of the week. Although some compromises were made, overall, this is a win for agriculture both in Vermont, and on a national level.
Locally, our dairy farmers will benefit the new dairy margin protection program, which will provide a necessary safety net for the bed rock industry of Vermont agriculture.
This federally subsidized margin protection program will help dairy farmers to offset low margins caused either by low milk prices or high input costs, and prevent an erosion of equity. Our farmers will be able to insure their margins at significantly lower rates than the mega-farms in other parts of the country.
I am also pleased to see the creation of a new dairy donation program, which will redirect dairy products to food banks, when a glut of dairy hits the market. This is smart policy, and a win-win solution for all involved.
The new Farm Bill also renews the REAP Zone program, which has done much to stimulate Vermont’s economy, especially in the Northeast Kingdom.
Other key Farm Bill highlights which will benefit Vermont include:
- New cost share programs for farmers seeking organic certification
- A 50% increase to Specialty Crop Block grant funding
- Reauthorization of the Food Export Program, which helps Vermont companies expand to foreign markets
Vermonters will also benefit from Farm Bill funding directed towards healthy food initiatives for schools, marketing specialty crops, and forest programs.
I would like to thank Senator Leahy and Representative Welch who, with the strong support of Senator Sanders, worked hard to move a new Farm Bill forward.
Recently, Fletcher Allen won Healthcare Without Harm’s “Sustainable Food Procurement Award” for the work they do to source local, sustainably produced ingredients for the more than 2 million meals the institution serves each year. The hospital spends more than 37% of its food budget with Vermont producers annually – an impressive $1.5 million is spent on food grown or raised right here in our state.
This success story is a shining example of the potential created by connecting producers with local institutions. In Vermont today, farmers are increasingly working directly with hospitals, schools, workplaces, and higher-education to supply healthy, local foods. The economic impact to farmers can be sizable, and the benefits to the overall health of the community are significant.
Local institutions have tremendous power, and in my opinion, a responsibility, to create economic opportunity by buying from local farmers. Consumers are increasingly interested in the origins of their food, and by offering local options, institutions have an opportunity to enhance their reputation for social responsibility among the customers, employees, and students they serve.
Over the past two years, the Agency of Agriculture has played a leadership role in a state-wide Farm-to-Institution initiative. We’ve created a CSA program for state employees, enabling them to sign up directly with farmers who will drop off their weekly delivery at state office buildings. We’ve held workshops for farmers interested in learning how to scale-up to institutional sales. And we’ve created opportunities for farmers to connect directly with institutional buyers, including Sodexo, a commercial food service provider serving 34,000 meals daily in Vermont. These priorities align well with the Farm to Plate 10-Year Strategic Plan for Vermont’s Food System which identifies health care supported agriculture goals of: increased local food sourcing by institutions, developing strategic partnerships to allow food producers access to larger scale markets, and measuring local food consumption data for use in tracking Vermont’s food system progress.
A success story like Fletcher Allen’s does not happen overnight. Fletcher Allen’s transformation began slowly, but deliberately. Under the direction of Nutrition Services Director Diane Imrie, the hospital took the first step in 2006. At that time, Fletcher Allen became one of a handful of health care organizations across the nation to sign the Healthy Food in Health Care Pledge, with the national organization Health Care Without Harm, to improve the health of patients, the community, and the environment.
There was a learning curve, from figuring out the finances, to changing food preparation practices, to garnering buy-in from boards and staff. It took more time to source foods and develop relationships with farmers and producers than it did to buy everything from one industrial vendor.
All that effort has paid off: sales across Fletcher Allen’s cafes and cafeterias have been up every year since 2006. Their commitment to sourcing local, fresh food and superior culinary expression has gained Fletcher Allen a reputation of being one of Burlington’s most desirable eating destinations.
And Fletcher Allen isn’t alone. Across the state, schools are serving local foods in their cafeterias, as part of Farm to School programming. Our colleges and universities and many local employers are taking strides to incorporate more local foods in their cafeterias. Ten of Vermont’s hospitals, as well as Wake Robin Senior Living Community in Shelburne, have signed the Healthy Food in Health Care Pledge validating their commitment to increasing local and sustainable food purchases.
I commend Fletcher Allen, and all the local institutions making similar strides, on their efforts. Farm-to-Institution partnerships are a win for all the stakeholders. As we look towards the future, I envision a Vermont food system in which producers and institutions work together seamlessly to fill the nutrition needs of a community, to the benefit of all involved.
Thank you for visiting our new website!
Our Agency's mission is to facilitate, support and encourage the growth and viability of agriculture in Vermont while protecting the working landscape, human health, animal health, plant health, consumers and the environment.
To that end, are pleased to launch this new resource, which aims to connect business, producers, and consumers with key resources related to agriculture in our state.
As Secretary of the Agency, I will post here regularly about the emerging issues, opportunities, and challenges facing agriculture in Vermont.
Never before has our culture been so fascinated with food, and the origins of food, as it is today. Vermont has a unique story to tell. Vermonters are deeply connected to the land, and many enjoy a close relationship with agriculture. Today, more than ever, consumers across the country are interested in the "who, what, why, and how" of where their food comes from, and Vermont answers these questions in compelling, innovative, and sustainable ways. I look forward to using this space to share some of the stories behind agriculture in our state. I am also eager to address some of the challenges our state faces related to agriculture, and the ways in which we can work together to find solutions.
We hope this site serves as a useful resource. Your feedback, thoughts, and suggestions are welcomed and appreciated.
The Working Lands Enterprise Board today announced the release of available grant funds to invest $986,500 into agricultural, forestry and forest product enterprises and organizations. The announcement took place during the luncheon of the “Financing the Working Landscape Conference”, organized by Addison County Relocalization Network (ACORN), the Addison County Economic Development Corporation (ACEDC) and the Addison County Regional Planning Commission (ACRPC).
“Vermont’s working landscape captures Vermont’s heritage, its culture, and its people,” according to Board Chair, Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross. “It provides tens of thousands of jobs and contributes greater than 15% to Vermont’s Gross Domestic Product. Today’s announcement represents the state of Vermont’s investment in preserving and enhancing Vermont’s working lands.”
The 2012 Legislative session brought with it a renewed commitment to Vermonters’ values by passing the Working Lands Enterprise initiative for the management and investment of $1 million into agricultural and forestry based businesses. Over 97 percent of Vermonters value the working landscape. Approximately 20 percent of Vermont’s land is used for agricultural purposes and 75 percent as forestry. The backbone of Vermont’s “working landscape” is the economic viability of the agriculture and forestry based businesses. It is Vermont’s working landscape that allows us to be a key economic engine within the northeast metropolitan markets of the regional food system. Commissioner of the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, Michael Snyder, comments on the importance of the partnership, saying “This is a historical moment, placing agriculture and forestry on the same investment platform.”
The Working Lands Enterprise initiative, Act 142, created the Working Lands Enterprise Fund (WLEF) and the Working Lands Enterprise Board (WLEB). The WLEB includes private sector representatives from agriculture and forestry; state government including the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets, Vermont Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation, and the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development; and ex-officio members from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, the Vermont Economic Development Authority, and the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund.
The following are the three investment areas of the Working Lands Enterprise Fund:
1. Agriculture and Forestry & Forest Products: Enterprise Investments:
$3,000-$15,000 grants. Applications due no later than 5:00pm., January 24, 2013. (Postmarked by January 24 for mailed proposals)
2. Agriculture and Forestry & Forest Products: Working Lands Service Provider Grants:
$10,000 - $100,000 grants. Letter of Intent due no later than 5:00pm., January 4, 2013. Applications due no later than 5:00pm., February 15, 2013.
3. Agriculture and Forestry & Forest Products: Capital and Infrastructure Investments:
$15,000 - $100,000 grants. Letter of Intent due no later than 5:00pm., January 4, 2013. Applications due no later than 5:00pm., March 8, 2013.
Secretary of Commerce and Community Development, Lawrence Miller, states “The working landscape is the foundation of several of our most important economic sectors: fundamental to agriculture, forest products, stone and minerals, and renewable energy, but also critical for our tourism economy. Interacting with the land in work and recreation is also a fundamental part of our culture. The WLEF is an important tool for ensuring that we are able to make the transitions and diversification necessary to secure the working landscape for future generations.”
On September 27th Chuck Ross, Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets, issued the following statement in response to news from Washington that the House of Representatives will not vote on the bill’s expiration on September 30, 2012: I am very disappointed to learn Congress will not vote on a new Farm Bill until after the November elections. Our Congressional delegation from Vermont worked diligently to advance a new Farm Bill, as well as an extension of the Milk Income Loss Contract Program (MILC), but their efforts were not supported. Without a new bill, or an extension of the current bill, or some interim provisions from Congress, our farmers, particularly in the dairy sector, are left in a precarious position. MILC will expire with the current Farm Bill on September 30th. The dairy community relies on this safety net, which is administered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA), when milk prices plummet. This Congressional stalemate is yet another threat to our dairy industry here in Vermont, and across the nation. I would like to thank Senator Leahy and Representative Welch who, with the strong support of Senator Sanders, worked hard to move a new Farm Bill forward. Our Congressional delegation continues to be a strong, consistent advocate for farmers in Vermont, and nationwide. It is my hope that, with the leadership provided by our delegation, Congress will pass a Farm Bill in the near future.