September 29, 2016

By Myra Handy, Farm First

The Farm First Program focuses on the human element: farmers themselves. Farming can be stressful.  That’s no secret. Farmers thrive on solving the unexpected challenges of each day, digging deep into personal and financial reserves during the hard times. The freedom of being your own boss brings satisfaction when things are good, yet when times are tough, and the buck still stops with you, that freedom comes at a cost. Vermont’s farmers know all too well the blood, sweat and tears behind Vermont’s lush, productive landscape.

When their personal “bucket” empties, farmers need to be aware of their vulnerability to mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety. Farm First is often the first call Vermont farmers make (anytime, day or night) when they feel discouraged or depressed: 1-877-493-6216.  In addition, we urge those experiencing a depressive episode to talk about it with a trusted friend, family member, neighbor or physician.

Depression is defined as having five or more of these symptoms that last more than two weeks:

• A down or blue mood

• Decreased interest in things you normally enjoy

• Appetite and weight changes–Losing or gaining weight

• Sleep disturbance–Sleeping more or sleeping less

• Psychomotor changes– Feeling keyed up, on edge, tense, limbs feeling like lead

• Decreased energy –Mental or physical

• A sense of worthlessness and/or guilt

• Decreased concentration

• Possible thoughts of death and/or suicide.

Depression distorts reality, often leaving the sufferer feeling like a burden to others. It’s often described as “a fog.” When a person is depressed, thoughts of suicide can occur because the mind is looking for a way to stop the pain. Taking an intermediate step between the thought of suicide and the action is what saves lives: talking to a neighbor, a friend, a counselor, even a stranger, can interrupt a fatal action and begin the path to recovery. People want to help; ask for it. Because we humans are all susceptible to stress, anxiety and depression at times, we are not surprised (and may even be relieved) to hear that someone else is struggling and that we are not alone. The stigma and secrecy surrounding emotional vulnerability can end with each of us as we begin talking about our lives together and supporting one another.

Connecting with a Farm First counselor (free and confidential) helps Vermont farmers find solutions to mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety, family issues and more. Farm First helps solve practical concerns such as difficulty farming with an injury or disability, as well.  Call Farm First 24/7 at 1-877-493-6216 to speak with a counselor, or visit our website at  If you are having thoughts of self-harm or suicide, please call Farm First or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), a free, 24-hour hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.

Parts of this article were borrowed with permission from an Agri-View, Madison, WI article dated 4/12/13 by Jane Fyksen.


September 29, 2016

By Jon Turner, VFVC President & Ali Zipparo, VAAFM

On August 25 at the Vermont State House, Deputy Secretary Diane Bothfeld joined members of the Vermont Farmer Veteran Coalition (VFVC), FVC founder Michael O’ Gorman, Farm Credit VP Gary Matteson, and others in a celebration the kick-off of Homegrown By Heroes, a national branding program designed to raise consumer awareness of products produced by military veterans.

The mission of the Farmer Veteran Coalition is to mobilize veterans to feed America, and in Vermont, to provide veterans with educational and internship opportunities, assistance with land acquisition through federal and state programing, peer to peer mentorship, and an appropriate re-integration back into the civilian sector through ecological land stewardship.

Homegrown by Heroes began through the Kentucky Department of Agriculture and granted the Farmer Veteran Coalition to administer the program on Veterans Day in 2013. Since its inception, HGH has assisted over 500 veterans in 48 states to market their product as being from a veteran-owned operation. The Farmer Veteran Coalition currently has over 7,000 members in all 50 states and has given away over a million dollars to help a veteran establish or expand their agricultural operation.

The Farmer Veteran Coalition of Vermont is recognized as being one of the first four chapters of this national organization and has already garnered support from the Vermont Farm Bureau, NOFA-VT, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Vermont AgrAbility, UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Sterling College, U .S . Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Office and Congressman Peter Welch’s Office for veterans who are interested in transitioning into agriculture following their time in service.

Since December of 2015, the FVC-VT received a donation of 3,375 packets of seeds from High Mowing Organic Seeds (which were distributed to veterans in eight different states), pro-vided a keynote address at the fourth annual NEK Veterans Summit, hosted a veterans retreat in partner-ship with Zeno Mountain Farm in Lincoln, Vt ., partici-pated with the St . Michael’s Veterans Garden through the Vermont Community Garden Network and pro-vided agricultural guidance/sweat equity to our farmer veterans which include John Hojek’s Gold Star Roses in West Burke, Frank Hill’s Integrity farm in Grand Isle, and the Bowen family’s Meadowdale Farm in Putney.

VAAFM is proud to support the Vermont Farmer Veteran, and will continue to work with VFVC, VA, and other partners to create more opportunities for Veterans to engage in agriculture throughout the state.


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    


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:
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: The webinar will be recorded and posted on the Farm to School webpage. For more information, visit:


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.