By Cecilia McCrary, VAAFM Intern
It’s no secret that Vermont is a dairy state. 63% of all milk produced in New England comes from Vermont, and dairy represents 70% of Vermont’s total agricultural sales. In fact, milk generates more sales than any other Vermont agricultural product. Dairy is a big part of Vermont’s identity, and yet, you might not know it from the looks of the dairy displays in our schools.
Many Vermont schools do not have appropriate storage facilities to display and keep milk ice cold for their students. New milk coolers can cost thousands of dollars, which may be out of reach for many schools. That is where Vermont’s dairy farmers and the Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets has stepped in. In 2014, the agency launched the Milk Cooler Program using funds made available through the Vermont dairy check-off funds ($0.10 per one hundred pounds of milk collected from farms and managed by the Vermont Dairy Promotion Council for the purposes of promoting the Vermont dairy industry). The Milk Cooler Program, which is funded directly by Vermont dairy farmers, allows Vermont schools to apply for funding for the purchase and installation of new milk coolers. In 2016, the program gifted $12,000 to 12 schools. These schools include schools like Putney Central School, Wardsboro Elementary, the Halifax School, and Thetford Elementary.
Putney Central School received Milk Cooler funds last year (2015). Putney’s new bulk milk dispenser purchased with Milk Cooler program funds has led to an increase in milk consumption, a decrease in waste, and a reduction in labor cost associated with maintaining a milk program. Before the bulk milk cooler was installed, the school was tossing 51,000 milk cartons into the landfill annually. Now, the school provides tumblers to students, and the waste of milk cartons has been drastically reduced. Using tumblers also means a much easier clean-up for the cafeteria staff.
The kids are also very happy with the new milk cooler. In fact, that the school recently had to put a locking system on the cooler to keep kids from drinking milk outside of lunchtime. “Having to lock up milk so kids won’t drink it was not something we predicted,” said Alice Laughlin, who is on the school board at Putney Central School. “[The staff was] pretty convinced it was going to cause them more work and kids were not going to drink it,” she said. “Turns out we are experiencing the opposite.”
To schools, the funds mean more than just machinery. It means that their students are able to enjoy a healthy, vitamin rich drink option at lunchtime. Healthier students lead to happier students, and that leads to better students overall. In addition, the milk coolers provide an opportunity for Vermont students to learn about the very industry that helps Vermont produce some of the best milk, cheese and ice cream in the world.
The next round of applications will be accepted in fall 2016. Schools interested in participating in the Milk Cooler Program, should contact Ali Zipparo by phone: 802-505-1822, or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Kristina Sweet, VAAFM
VAAFM has launched a new online decision tree tool to help farmers determine whether a farm is subject to Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) final
Produce Safety Rules. The tool may be accessed at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/vtfsma or taken over the phone by calling (802) 522-7811.
The FSMA Produce Safety Rule will impact farms that grow, harvest, pack or hold fresh produce for human consumption and that have annual produce sales of greater than $25,000. The rule was finalized in November 2015 and became effective on January 26, 2016. VAAFM estimates that at least 150 Vermont farms will be fully covered under the rule and will need to meet all of the rule’s requirements. An additional 400 farms are likely to be eligible for a “qualified exemption” under the Produce Safety Rule, which subjects them to modified requirements including recordkeeping and labeling.
For more information about FSMA and produce safety at the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, visit: http://agriculture.vermont.gov/food_safety_consumer_protection/fsma and http://agriculture.vermont.gov/food_safety_consumer_protection/produce_safety
By Chuck Ross, Secretary, Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, & Markets
As I was presenting the Agency of Agricluture’s annual budget to the house and senate appropriations committees earlier this month, I was struck, once again, by the breadth and depth of programs and services administered by this agency. From water quality initiatives, to consumer protection, to implementing federal food safety laws, and from promoting Vermont dairy in school lunch rooms, to farm viability across our working landscape; the scope of work our small agency is responsible for is truly astounding.
This perspective is validated by the range of content on display in this March edition of Agriview.
The Agency of Agriculture has a significant regulatory mission, as directed by the Vermont legislature and resulting statute. We work hard to ensure that our regulatory practices are accompanied by wrap-around services including education, and financial and technical support, so that, together, we can strengthen and grow the economies, cultures, and communities of Vermont's working landscape. I could not be more proud of our team of smart, dedicated agency staff who are as diverse as our mission.
Winter Cover Cropping Update:
For the past few years, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets has encouraged farms to apply for financial assistance for winter cover cropping with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
To be considered for FAP Program funding for winter cover cropping, farms must apply for federal assistance with NRCS by April 15, 2016.
Farms that fail to apply, or miss the NRCS application deadline mentioned above will not be eligible for funding through the FAP program for 2016 fall cover cropping. Farms that apply by the application deadline and are either deemed ineligible for funding from NRCS or do not receive a funded contract from NRCS may apply for funding through the FAP program for winter cover cropping by July 1, 2016.
It is important to note that funding is not guaranteed and that the seeding date for all winter cover cropping remains October 1st.
For more information on the FAP Program, please check out our website at http://agriculture.vermont.gov/water-quality/farmer-assistance/fap or contact Lisa Gilman at (802) 828-5050.
By Hannah Reid, VAAFM
Gov. Peter Shumlin celebrated Vermont's 2016 maple sugar season on Monday, March 14th with a ceremonial tree tapping event at Sugartree Maple Farm in Williston. The Governor was joined by Vermont Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross, Consumer Protection Chief and state maple expert, Henry Marckres, Executive Director of the Vermont Sugar Makers Association (VSMA) Matthew Gordon, as well as 3rd and 4th graders from Williston Central Elementary school who aided the governor in the tree-tapping process, and accompanied him on an educational tour of the Sugartree Maple Farm facility.
Established in 2009 by Mark and Amy Yandow, Sugartree Maple Farm encompasses 49 acres of prime sugar maple trees, 4,200 taps, and a modern wood fired sugarhouse boasting a new reverse osmosis machine capable of processing 900 gallons of sap an hour. Designed to evaporate 75% of the water out of the sap before it enters the evaporator, reverse osmosis machines enable sugar makers to save both valuable time and fuel.
“According to a recent study, Vermont’s maple industry contributed between $317 and $330 million in total sales to the state economy in 2013, in addition to supporting roughly 3,000 full-time jobs and over $140 million in profits and wages.” said Gov. Shumlin. “Maple is Vermont’s signature brand, and the kind of technological innovations that we see right here at Surgartree Maple Farm – combined with the Vermont entrepreneurial spirit – will ensure Vermont’s maple industry remains the national leader in production and quality.”
In response to questions about the variable weather conditions this year, Agency of Agriculture Consumer Protection Chief and state maple expert, Henry Marckres said, “It has certainly been an interesting weather year, but it’s hard to say for certain how the weather will affect production over the course of the season. It takes 40 days to make a season; I think we’ve probably had about 15 strong days so far. It looks like we’re supposed to get some cold nights over the next week or so, which should result in good runs and will hopefully carry us until April.”
Despite this winter’s variable weather conditions, Vermont continues to lead that nation in maple production. In 2015, Vermont produced 41% of the nation’s syrup, roughly 1.4 million gallons, twice the amount produced by the next largest maple states, combined (New York and Maine each produced 17%, respectively). The value of Vermont’s maple crop in 2014 was over $44.5 million.
“Maple production in this state has increased by 111% since 1992 – from 570,000 to 1,320,000 gallons a year,” said Chuck Ross, Secretary of Agriculture. “This astounding is growth a testament to our sugar makers, who not only help promote and preserve Vermont’s heritage, but also help to ensure our state’s Working Landscape endures for future generations of Vermonters to enjoy. We could not be more proud to lead the nation in syrup production!”
Visitors to the Sugartree Maple Farm during this year’s sugaring season will have the opportunity to watch and learn about the sugaring process, and, most importantly, sample and buy the Yandow’s 100% pure maple syrup, as well as maple lollipops, maple candy, maple cotton candy, maple cream, and maple sugar.
“We share this wonderful business with our children Matthew and Mackenzie and many other supportive family members and friends,” said Mark Yandow. “We all take part in the sugaring process — from cutting and stacking firewood, to the final boiling of the sap. We are exceedingly proud of our business, and honored to have the opportunity to host the governor in our sugarhouse.”
To learn more about Vermont's maple industry, please review this recently completed study conducted by UVM's Center for Rural Studies for the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association: http://www.vermontbiz.com/news/march/study-vermont-maple-industry-contributes-more-300-million-sales-states-economy.