February 17, 2016

Since its inception in 2012, the Working Lands Enterprise Board (WLEB) has invested over $3.1 million dollars in 112 projects impacting every county of the state, leveraging just under $5 million in additional funds. Impacts to date include:

  • 106 new jobs created by working lands grantees
  • $12 million+ increase in gross income across all working lands grantees

On Thursday, February 4th, 2016 the Working Lands Enterprise Initiative annual report was submitted to the Vermont Legislature accompanied by a two hour presentation featuring a new 6-minute video and testimonials from four 2015 working lands grant recipients: Joe Buley of Screamin’ Ridge Farm in Montpelier; Karen Caron of Peaslee’s Vermont Potatoes in Guildhall; Parker Nichols of Vermont Wildwoods in Marshfield; and Andy Harper of Winterwood Timber Frames in East Montpelier.

Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross, Commissioner of Forests, Parks and Recreation Michael Snyder, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Jolinda LaClair, and Deputy Secretary of Commerce Lucy Leriche each delivered remarks, and the four grant recipients presented overviews of their businesses and working lands projects, and discussed challenges and opportunities facing their sectors.

“Grantees that emerge from WLEB’s formal vetting and selection process represent an innovative and resilient cohort of working lands businesses,” said Ag Secretary Chuck Ross. “They possess the determination and ingenuity to not only grow their business, but also expand economic opportunity in their communities and throughout Vermont.”

“This grant allowed us to significantly expand the diversity of our product offerings, which we hope will enable us to keep people employed even when the timber framing market is down,” said Andy Harper of Winter Wood Timber Frames.  “Working Lands is not only about growing ideas and expanding businesses, but about improving Vermont’s economy overall and keeping the landscape working.”

The Working Lands Enterprise Initiative 2015 Annual Report can be found here:
The Working Lands Video can be found here:
For more information about grant recipients in your area, visit:

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. For more information, visit


February 17, 2016
By Chuck Ross, Secretary, VAAFM
We are well into February, so I don’t want to let another issue pass without taking a moment to celebrate all Vermont farmers and food producers accomplished in 2015. It was another very successful year for agriculture in Vermont.  The Ag sector continues to be a bright spot in Vermont’s economy – creating jobs, enhancing the Vermont brand and our reputation for quality, and preserving our Working Landscape.
The local food movement continues to thrive – providing our communities with access to healthy, fresh food. Our specialty foods – including cheese and maple – continue to receive national acclaim.

Here are just a few of the food and farming highlights we celebrated in 2015

Our cheese is tops!
  • Vermont Cheese dominated the 2015 American Cheese Society Awards
  • 46 of the 355 ribbons awarded at the 2015 American Cheese Society Competition went to Vermont cheesemakers, including 13 for first place
    • First place awards for Jasper Hill, Cabot, Consider Bardwell, Franklin Foods, Parish Hill Creamery, Spring Brook Farm, Sweet Rower Farmstead, Vermont Creamery, Vermont Shephard
    • Best in Show for: Jasper Hill
Caption: Matteo Kehler of Jasper Hill. Photo by: Jasper Hill
VT Specialty Food Producers reign supreme!
  • Vermont specialty food companies take home 5 gold SOFIs (Specialty Outstanding Food Innovation) awards
  • Fat Toad Farm (Outstanding product line for their goat’s milk caramel)
  • Big Picture Farm (2 golds for Raspberry Rhubarb goat’s milk caramel and Chai goat’s milk caramel)
  • Vermont Creamery (Cultured Butter Sea Salt) 
  • Wozz! Creative Kitchens (Kiwi Lime Salsa)  
Photo Caption: A proud Big Picture Farm goat admires her SOFI Photo by: Big Picture Farm
Best Beer in the World
  • According to Beer Advocate, we make some of the best beers in the world…11 of their top 250 beers in the world are produced right here in Vermont by the Alchemist and Hill Farmstead Brewery.
Dairy & Meat Processing Boom…
  • Tremendous growth in meat and dairy processing sectors
    • 23 new meat facilities (including packing plants, slaughterhouses, and pre-packaged retailers) have come online in the past 12 months, creating skilled jobs, expanded capacity, and economic opportunity for Vermont’s farmers. State total: 1922 facilities
    • 20 new dairy processing facilities have come online since January 2015, with 10 additional plants under construction. We also have 4 plants undergoing multimillion dollar upgrades with new equipment and products. State total: 135 processing facilities
We lead NE in Dairy!
  • 63% of all the milk in New England is produced right here in VT
  • Dairy brings $2.2 Billion in economic activity to our state each year
  • Sales of VT dairy products exceed $1.3 billion annually
Syrup is as Sweet as Ever!
  • We continue to be the national leader in maple syrup, producing more than 41% of the nation’s maple crop. 
  • We have 4.5 million taps in the state! 
Creating Jobs, Preserving our Landscape…
  • Working Lands grants supported the creation of 65 new jobs this year
Domestic Export Expands our Vermont Brand…
  • “Harlow’s Vermont Farm Stand” at Boston Public Market, a partnership between Harlow Farm in Westminster, Agency of Ag, and the Department of Tourism, now features 35+ Vermont products.
    • More than 1 million shoppers are expected at the market annually!
    • Exposure for our best-in-class-products, right in the heart of Boston
  • The Vermont Building at the Big E = huge economic opportunity
    • In 2015, 29 companies exhibited their products at the building grossing $1.68 million in sales 
    • More than 1 million visitors experienced the Vermont brand in the Vermont Building!
Thank you for your continued support of Vermont agriculture! I am looking forward to all we will accomplish together in 2016!
February 17, 2016

Caption:  Top Chefs from the Vermont Agency of Agriculture celebrate their victory: Tonia Emmons, Matt Wood, Hunter Thompson, Alan Graham, and judge/Champlain Valley Union High School Student, Eva Rocheleau Photo by: Hannah Reid

Farmers, producers, and localvores from across Vermont converged on Wednesday, January 27 for the 5th annual Consumer Night at the Vermont Farm Show in Essex Junction. Held on the second night of the Farm Show, Consumer Night celebrates the diversity of Vermont agriculture with the Winter Buy Local Market and Capital Cook-Off.

The Winter Buy Local Market featured over fifty farmers and producers of local cheese, meat, fruits and vegetables, milk, maple syrup, jams, culinary oils, honey, wine, beer, spirits, wool, and handmade crafts as well as ready-to-eat prepared foods such as Maple Wind Farm’s bacon hot dogs and ice cream cones from Kingdom Creamery. Over 500 people shopped and grazed their way through the local product booths, and three raffle prizes were awarded to lucky Buy Local Market customers.

After a long day of debate in Montpelier, members of the Vermont House of Representatives’ Committee of Agriculture arrived just in time to compete the Capital Cook-Off against members of the Vermont Senate Committee of Agriculture and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture. Hosted by Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross and Deputy Secretary Diane Bothfeld, the Cook-Off gives teams only one hour to shop the Buy Local Market and prepare an attractive, delicious, and locally-sourced dish. 

Shirley Richardson of Vermont Chevon presented the cook-off’s secret ingredient: local chevon, or goat meat, while Representative Carolyn Partridge of Brattleboro shared a bonus secret ingredient from her own garden: Gilfeather turnip. The Gilfeather, a Vermont original, is currently under consideration to become the official state vegetable.

The use of chevon highlighted the emerging goat meat industry in Vermont, represented not only by Vermont Chevon but also by Huard Family Farm of Craftsbury (a Buy Local Market vendor) and Pine Island Farm in Colchester (a Farm Show exhibitor). Goat meat, the most widely consumed meat in the world, has gained increasing attention from Vermont chefs and consumers while adding value to Vermont’s dairy goat industry by utilizing surplus livestock. 

After a demanding hour of cooking, all three teams demonstrated creativity and culinary skill in turning chevon, Gilfeather turnip, and dozens of other local ingredients into delicious meals. A team of 2015 Junior Iron Chef Vermont champions from Champlain Valley Union High School—Jaida Breck, Emily Gilman, Kaitlin Robert, Madison Tobrocke, and Eva Rocheleau—also participated in the competition and judging.

A team of judges—including Andrew Burke of Scout & Co., Clarina Cravins of Healthy Living, Steve Marinelli of Milton Schools, Sally Pollak of the Burlington Free Press, Brian Roper of Sodexo, Lt. Governor Phil Scott, Lyndon Virkler of New England Culinary Institute, and Allison Weinhagen of City Market—declared the Vermont Agency of Agriculture team the Capital Cook-Off champions for the second year in a row.

The team’s winning dish, a goat meat stew, featured St. Hilaire Family Farm’s black currant marinade along with onions, garlic, celery, carrots, tomatoes, spices, and fresh local herbs. The stew was presented on a bed of mashed Gilfeather turnip and served with biscuits made with bacon and smoked maple syrup—by all accounts, the flavorful biscuits put the team’s dish over the top and into the winner’s circle. However, all three teams’ scores were close, and everyone appeared to enjoy the friendly competition. The Agency team members – Tonia Emmons, Alan Graham, Hunter Thompson, and Matt Wood—were thrilled with their dish and say they were proud to have participated in such a fun and exciting event celebrating local foods.

Caption: The Winning Dish Photo by Matt Wood

Consumer Night attendees also participated in Vermont’s Universal Recycling and Composting Initiative, with help from the Agency of Natural Resources and Chittenden Solid Waste District Waste Warrior volunteers who demonstrated how to keep recyclables and food scraps out of the trash.

For more information about Consumer Night, visit VAAFM’s Consumer Night page at and Buy Local Markets page at


February 17, 2016

By Ryan Patch, Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets and Marli Rupe, Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, Department of Environmental Conservation

Today, Vermont’s Secretary of Agriculture, Chuck Ross, and Vermont’s Secretary of Natural Resources, Deb Markowitz, jointly submitted the interim report on subsurface agricultural tile drainage to the Vermont General Assembly.  The Subsurface Tile Drainage Interim Report is a summary of the progress the two agencies have made in preparing a final report on tile drainage, which is due to the Legislature in January, 2017.  The interim report is available today on the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (VAAFM) website:

As requested by the General Assembly, the interim report summarizes assumptions and facts about the use and impact of subsurface tile drainage on Vermont’s farms and waters.  A literature review of current research around North America, and ongoing studies in Vermont, will further inform recommendations for management of tiles drains in the final report.  The Lake Champlain Basin Program is funding a tile drainage review of literature, which is due in the spring of 2016. The Interim Report provides context regarding the use of subsurface agricultural tile drainage in Vermont, outlines changes in the practice over time, summarizes the benefits and impacts of tile drainage, and outlines management strategies currently available and being researched. 

“This joint Interim Report continues the ‘all in’ collaboration that the two Agencies have delivered over the past five years to develop goals and strategies to clean up Lake Champlain and implement the Vermont Clean Water Initiative,” said Markowitz.  “Vermont’s Clean Water Initiative addresses all sectors impacting our waters—roads, wastewater treatment facilities, developed lands, forests and farms—and strategies are in place across those sectors to protect and improve Vermont’s water resources.”

While this report provides an interim assessment of the benefits and costs of tile drainage for farms and impact on waters, the final report will more fully describe current scientific research relating to the environmental management of agricultural tile drainage and how tile drains contribute to nutrient loading of surface waters.  The final report will also include recommendations on how to best manage tile drainage to prevent or mitigate the contribution of tile drainage to water quality in Vermont’s surface waters.  Likewise, the final report will identify knowledge gaps and areas where further study is needed, as well as opportunities for further investment in this field of research.

As required by Act 64 of 2015, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (VAAFM) will be revising the Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs) in 2018 to include requirements for tile drainage on Vermont’s agricultural land.  Secretary Ross elaborates, “This interim report is an important step towards delivering a final report in 2017 which will frame the RAP tile drain rule revision process.”  Ross continued, “Agricultural tile drainage is a common practice in Vermont and throughout the United States.  Balancing the agronomic need and economic benefits of the practice with a thorough review of the environmental impacts of tile drainage and strategies to prevent and mitigate the potential effects is at the core of the process VAAFM and Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (VANR) are currently engaged in as we work to develop recommendations for the management of tile drainage for the final report in 2017.”

Over the next year, VAAFM and VANR seek to bring together a working group of farmers, industry professionals, academics, and other stakeholders to review research, the use of tile drainage in Vermont, and management strategies available to farmers.  This working group will help inform recommendations VAAFM and VANR will be making to the legislature in 2017.

VAAFM and VANR remain firmly committed to the collaboration required to successfully implement the Environmental Protection Agency’s Lake Champlain TMDL, Vermont’s Phase I Implementation Plan for cleaning up Lake Champlain, the Vermont Clean Water Initiative, the development and implementation of the Required Agricultural Practices, and to addressing water quality issues throughout the State.  For a copy of the Subsurface Tile Drainage Interim Report, please visit:



February 17, 2016

By Ali Zipparo, Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets

Twenty-four Vermont schools receive nearly $70,000 in Farm to School Grants

Montpelier, VT – The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets, in partnership with the Vermont Farm to School Network, announced the recipients of the 2016 Vermont Farm to School grant awards at a special ceremony in the Statehouse cafeteria last Wednesday.

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 was established through the 2006 Rozo McLaughlin Act. Farm to School grant funding, allocated by the Vermont legislature, enables Vermont schools to engage students in their local food system by incorporating local food and farm education into their cafeterias, classrooms and communities.  As of January 2016, the Vermont Farm to School Program has reached 120 schools, impacting more than 30,000 Vermont students.

This year, 7 implementation grants and 6 planning grants were awarded to 11 schools and 3 school districts and supervisory unions, impacting a total of 24 Vermont schools and more than 5,000 students. The 2016 Farm to School Grant Recipients include:

  • Implementation Grants

o   Battenkill Supervisory Union

o   Franklin Central School

o   Newport City and Derby Elementary Schools

o   Putney Central School

o   Twinfield Union and Maple Hill Schools

o   Two Rivers Supervisory Union

o   Vermont School for Girls

  • Planning Grants

o   Bellows Free Academy Fairfax

o   Champlain Valley Union High School

o   Essex School District

o   Flood Brook School

o   Lund New Horizons Education Program

o   Proctor Elementary School

Agency of Agriculture Secretary, Chuck Ross and Agency of Education Secretary, Rebecca Holcombe, spoke at the event, along with State Senator Michael Sirotkin, who has introduced two new Farm to School-related bills to the statehouse this session.

 “Farm to School programs are a vital tool we can use to promote agricultural literacy in schools so that, from an early age, students understand the value of nutrition, develop healthy eating habits, and appreciate where their food comes from,” said Vermont Secretary of Agriculture, Chuck Ross. “My congratulations to this year's Farm to School grant recipients. We, at the Agency of Agriculture, look forward to supporting your planning and implementation efforts over the coming year, and working together to foster healthier and more resilient children, communities, and farms throughout Vermont." 

  Senator Michael Sirotkin, who serves on the Senate Agriculture Committee and is a dedicated supporter of farm to school, explained, “Farm to School is one of those rare win-win investments in the future of Vermont’s children and our farming communities. Vermont policy makers should be striving for 100% participation by our schools in our growing Farm to School programs.”

The Vermont Farm to School grant program was able to allocate more funding to more schools this year than any previous year thanks to the generous financial support of Leigh Merinoff, of Meadows Bee Farm in Windham, Vermont. Merinoff, inspired by the positive impacts of farm to school programming on students, has invested in the program in hopes of further increasing positive impacts and inspiring other investors.

Addressing her support, Merinoff said, "I am hopeful that we will be able to expand public support for Vermont’s Farm to School Program so that it may continue to support healthy children and communities, and remain a model for farm to school initiatives across the country. Thanks to all of the legislatures, state agencies, teachers, and others for supporting this unique and immensely valuable program.”

rstand the value of nutrition, develop healthy eating habits, and appreciate where their food comes from,” said Vermont Secretary of Agriculture, Chuck Ross. “My congratulations to this year's Farm to School grant recipients. We, at the Agency