By Kristina Sweet, Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets
*****Editors: please note hi-res photos are available here: https://goo.gl/photos/cdHFBvQdxW2oEZvQ9 ****
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.
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.
Over the past four months, Vermont’s Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets (VAAFM) has embarked on an extensive outreach effort to solicit feedback on the new draft Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs). The response from the farming community and the public-at-large has been significant. Nearly 800 people attended more than 30 meetings across the state to voice their opinions, and 169 Vermonters submitted written comments. The Agency is now in the process of consolidating this feedback and re-drafting the RAPs to reflect the community’s input.
The RAPs are an updated version of the Accepted Agricultural Practices (AAPs), the laws which regulate farms in order to protect water quality, re-written to a higher level of performance. As part of Act 64—the Clean Water Act—signed into law in July 2015, the Agency of Agriculture was tasked with updating these regulations to further reduce the impact of agriculture on water quality across the state. The Agency sought public input on its first draft of the new regulations, to ensure the draft RAPs reflected the realities of farming and the legislative intent of Act 64.
“The feedback we received over the past few months is now being incorporated into a second draft, which we will present to the legislature and the public in February,” according to Jim Leland, VAAFM’s Director of Ag Resource Management. “From February to March, we will continue to be open for informal public comment at our AGR.RAP@vermont.gov e-mail address. We will file a final draft of the RAPs with the Secretary of State in mid-March, which will kick off the formal rulemaking process.”
The public will then have the opportunity to comment formally and attend public meetings during this process. Act 64 specifies that the RAPs will be finalized by rule before July 1, 2016.
“We are very pleased to have received so much constructive feedback,” said Vermont’s Ag Secretary, Chuck Ross. “This is a clear indication that Vermonters, particularly farmers, care very deeply about water quality and getting this right. When the RAPs are eventually finalized and signed into law, I know they will be stronger and more effective, as a result of all the input we received.”
A wide range of Vermonters contributed feedback, including lakefront camp owners, environmentalists, and farmers. Based on the sign-in sheets, 54% of the attendees at the public meetings were farmers. Respondents shared a wide range of opinions on issues ranging from the definition of “small farms” to the standards associated with manure spreading and stacking, to the proposed requirements for cover cropping on fields subject to flooding.
“We are currently making significant changes to the draft, based on the feedback we’ve received,” said Leland. “For instance, we now know we need to make changes to the small farm definition, and revise the proposed standards around manure application and stacking – among other changes. We look forward to finalizing the second draft, and sharing it next month.”
In addition to sharing the second draft of the RAPs, VAAFM will make available all written public comments received before Jan 1, 2016. The Agency will simultaneously publish an abridged responsiveness summary, outlining major themes of public comments. The anticipated delivery date for the second draft of the RAPs was originally scheduled for mid-January, but due to the vast volume of feedback, the deadline has been extended. The second draft of the RAPs, the responsiveness summary, and the public comments will be available to the public on the Agency’s website in early February.
For more information about the RAPs, and the Agency’s efforts to implement Act 64, visit http://agriculture.vermont.gov/water-quality/regulations/rap
Questions and comment about the RAPs can be directed to AGR.RAP@Vermont.gov
By Robynn Albert, VMEC
Vermont Manufacturing Extension Center (VMEC) will host an innovation seminar for Working Lands businesses at Vermont Technical College (VTC) in Randolph Feb 16 - Feb 17, 2016 from 8:00am - 5:00pm.
In two full days, Innovation Engineering Experience will help participants go from defining their strategic mission for innovation, to having a tested idea ready to pitch to new or existing customers. And, they will receive support and coaching following the event, to help complete a project. With grant support from the Working Lands Enterprise Initiative, the event cost is just $250 per person for both days, including breakfasts and lunches.
Ideas for new company products, services and business models will be created and tested as part of the event. Up to 150 participants, from 25 or more companies in the agricultural, food production, forest products and wood products businesses, will be able to participate in this high energy, fast-paced, learn-and-apply experience.
Innovation Engineering® is a proven, scientific system for never-ending innovation developed by Eureka! Ranch, the University of Maine, NIST MEP and the Innovation Engineering Network. Grounded in 27+ years of research and project work, it incorporates the systems thinking mindset of Dr. W. Edwards Deming through education, tools, coaching and mentoring to enable innovation by everyone, every day. VMEC is a founding member of the Innovation Engineering Network and has been assisting companies with Innovation Engineering projects since 2006.
“Having been to a similar two and a half day event put on by VMEC along with most other RDC directors in the state, I can tell you first hand that the takeaways from attending and fully participating in this very intense training program are absorbing, eye-opening, mind-expanding and above all, enlightening beyond anything I expected at the time.” – John Mandeville, Executive Director, Lamoille Economic Development Corporation
“At first I was fairly skeptical of the 3-day commitment it would take for so many folks from our company. I can tell you it’s been transformational in our view of the importance of innovation and how it will affect our ability to deliver interesting new products and great marketing in the future.” – Joe Perrotto, President, Country Home Products, Inc.
The discounted registration fee for this event, made possible through a Vermont Working Lands Enterprise Initiative grant for Vermont working lands sector companies (including agriculture, food production, forest products and wood products) is $250 per person, including breakfast and lunch. NOTE: The registration fee for non-Working Lands organizations is $895 per person; please visit www.vmec.org/events/innovation-engineering-experience/ to register. If possible, companies are strongly encouraged to bring 2-4 team members from their company. Seats are limited, so we encourage you to register early.
Visit www.vmec.org/events/innovation-engineering-experience/ for more information
By Chuck Ross, Secretary, Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, & Markets
Over the past five years serving as Vermont’s Secretary of Agriculture, I have had the privilege of witnessing, first hand, the tremendous impact farming has on our state. It touches nearly every aspect of Vermont life – our communities, our economy, and our culture.
According to the USDA Ag census, sales of Vermont agricultural products exceed $776 million annually.
And that's just sales of agricultural products – the overall impact is much greater. For instance, when you count up all the ways our largest agricultural sector, the dairy industry, impacts our economy – from creating jobs, to supporting local businesses, to bringing in services providers, like veterinarians, to the region – the overall economic impact to the state exceeds $2.2 billion each year. The food and farming sectors continue to fuel job growth: according to recent data released by Farm to Plate, since 2011, the Vermont’s food system has added an additional 4,486 jobs.
Beyond the obvious economic impact, agriculture is key to our way of life. Farms represent about 18% of our total landscape in Vermont – keeping scenic land in use, and undeveloped. And though harder to measure, farms enrich our communities in countless ways - from the important role farmers’ markets play in connecting neighbors, to providing healthy, local food, to inspiring students through Farm-to-School programming.
Our industry is not without challenges. Anyone who visited the Missisquoi Bay last summer knows the issues facing Lake Champlain are real, and agriculture, like the development, transportation, and business sectors, has a big role to play in turning things around. In July, the legislature passed Act 64, the Vermont Clean Water Act, which requires the Agency of Agriculture to write the Accepted Agricultural Practices (AAPs) to a higher level of performance. The new rules will be known as the Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs).
Throughout the fall, we held 30 meetings across the state to share a preliminary draft of the RAPS and gather feedback from farmers and the public-at-large. The turn-out was tremendous – our farmers are eager to be engage and be part of the solution. Based on what we heard, we are now revising our draft, and will present a new version to the legislature this spring.
Our goal is to create a new set of rules farmers can realistically implement, and to help them every step of the way by providing both technical assistance, and access to financial resources. We understand the pressures farmers face, and want to put forth guidelines that are not only effective in restoring water quality, but also fair to the farming community.
The bottom line is, agriculture is critical to our state. And we owe it to future generations to preserve and restore the waters of our state. I believe both can thrive. If there was ever a group of people who rise to a challenge like this, it is Vermont’s hardworking farmers.
For more information about the impact of agriculture on Vermont’s economy, visit:
To learn more about the Agency’s efforts to implement the Clean Water Act, visit:
Thank you for all you to do to support Vermont agriculture.