Blog

November 28, 2016

By Chuck Ross

Thanksgiving is a special holiday for many farming communities throughout the United States, as it is, more than any other American holiday, organized around food.  This day of gratitude coincides with the end of the growing season and is an opportunity to celebrate the year's agricultural bounty.  For many Vermonters, Thanksgiving continues to be a celebration rooted in agriculture. 

While many Americans are no longer connected to the origins of their food - where it comes from, how it is grown, and by whom, many Vermonters still are. In fact, Vermont is home to 12,000 farm operators (3.6% of the work force) and more farmers’ markets, farm stands, CSAs and farm to school programs than any other state in the country per capita.

We Vermonters have many reasons to be thankful - for living in this remarkable state, for being a part of such a remarkable agricultural community, and, of course, for the food on our tables painstakingly raised, cultivated, cared for, harvested, slaughtered, prepared and packaged by hardworking farmers throughout Vermont and the region. 

As we gather around the table this holiday season, we must also remember the many members of our communities struggling with food insecurity, and rarely know where their next meal is coming from - on Thanksgiving or any other day. It can be hard to reconcile the reality of hunger in a state like Vermont, with its rich history in agriculture and its global reputation for fine foods, but hunger is a reality in Vermont communities, it is probably a reality in your neighborhood. According to the Vermont Foodbank, 153,000 Vermonters struggle with hunger. That number includes one in five Vermont kids who may not have enough to eat. The good news, is that we can do something about it.  To learn more about hunger in Vermont and what you can do about it at https://www.vtfoodbank.org/ and https://www.hungerfreevt.org/.

I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving and holiday season, full of thankfulness, thoughtfulness, love, generosity and joy. 

Sincerely,

Chuck Ross

Vermont Secretary of Agriculture

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November 27, 2016

Christine McGowan named director of Forest Products Value Chain Investment Program at the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund

By Rachel Carter, Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund

The Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund has launched a new initiative to assist the forest products industry in creating and retaining quality jobs and opening additional markets for locally produced wood products. A collaboration between the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, the Northern Forest Center, and the Vermont Working Lands Enterprise Board, the new Forest Products Value Chain Investment Program will include business assistance to wood products manufacturers, market research and development, the creation of an industry-wide network, and a comprehensive communications strategy designed to raise the profile of the industry in Vermont and the region. 

Christine McGowan of Stowe has been hired as program director. She will be responsible for building a forest industry network to expand the market of Vermont forest products, working with industry members to research and develop new products, and implementing a communications strategy that raises the profile of the people and products behind the Vermont forest products industry.

McGowan previously served in strategic communication roles for the National Wildlife Refuge Association, The Nature Conservancy, and the National Wildlife Federation, where her efforts around the 2010 Gulf oil spill disaster and the 2013 Green Inaugural Ball helped elevate the issue of climate change’s effect on wildlife through the media. She grew up working in her family’s business, Dorsey Millwork, Inc., a distributor for Andersen Corporation, a major manufacturer of wood window and door products. McGowan and her husband Dan own Lamoille Valley Painters in Stowe.

The Forest Products Value Chain Investment Program grew out of a year-long industry analysis funded and led by the Working Lands Enterprise Board Forestry Committee who worked with Yellow Wood Associates to identify how to strengthen the industry, access new markets outside the state, and develop new products that could be produced in a more collaborative manner among industry members.

The Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund’s work with the forest products industry dates back to the early 2000s with its Cornerstone Initiative which focused on sourcing more local wood in state and college campus buildings. VSJF also collaborated with the Vermont Wood Manufacturing Association to educate architects and design firms on how to source local wood through the use of ‘green specs’ in construction projects around the state.

“We are pleased to be able to bring our network development, business assistance and communications expertise to this next phase of forest products industry development – as we’ve demonstrated most recently through the Farm to Plate Network’s implementation of Vermont’s food system plan. The goal of the new Forest Products Value Chain Investment Program is to enhance the economic competitiveness of the forest products industry in the region by exploring ways to access new markets outside the state, developing new products that could be produced using Vermont wood and encouraging innovation and facilitating collaboration among industry members,” says Ellen Kahler, executive director at the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund.

The Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund (VSJF) is a non-profit organization committed to nurturing the sustainable development of Vermont’s economy. VSJF provides business assistance, network development, research and financing in agriculture and food system, forest product, waste management, renewable energy, and environmental technology sectors. Located in Montpelier, Vermont, VSJF was created by the Vermont Legislature in 1995 to partner with state government, private sector businesses, and non-profits to build a thriving economic, social, and ecological future for Vermont. Learn more at www.vsjf.org and www.facebook.com/VermontSustainableJobsFund

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November 27, 2016

Christine McGowan named director of Forest Products Value Chain Investment Program at the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund

By Rachel Carter, Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund

The Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund has launched a new initiative to assist the forest products industry in creating and retaining quality jobs and opening additional markets for locally produced wood products. A collaboration between the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, the Northern Forest Center, and the Vermont Working Lands Enterprise Board, the new Forest Products Value Chain Investment Program will include business assistance to wood products manufacturers, market research and development, the creation of an industry-wide network, and a comprehensive communications strategy designed to raise the profile of the industry in Vermont and the region. 

Christine McGowan of Stowe has been hired as program director. She will be responsible for building a forest industry network to expand the market of Vermont forest products, working with industry members to research and develop new products, and implementing a communications strategy that raises the profile of the people and products behind the Vermont forest products industry.

McGowan previously served in strategic communication roles for the National Wildlife Refuge Association, The Nature Conservancy, and the National Wildlife Federation, where her efforts around the 2010 Gulf oil spill disaster and the 2013 Green Inaugural Ball helped elevate the issue of climate change’s effect on wildlife through the media. She grew up working in her family’s business, Dorsey Millwork, Inc., a distributor for Andersen Corporation, a major manufacturer of wood window and door products. McGowan and her husband Dan own Lamoille Valley Painters in Stowe.

The Forest Products Value Chain Investment Program grew out of a year-long industry analysis funded and led by the Working Lands Enterprise Board Forestry Committee who worked with Yellow Wood Associates to identify how to strengthen the industry, access new markets outside the state, and develop new products that could be produced in a more collaborative manner among industry members.

The Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund’s work with the forest products industry dates back to the early 2000s with its Cornerstone Initiative which focused on sourcing more local wood in state and college campus buildings. VSJF also collaborated with the Vermont Wood Manufacturing Association to educate architects and design firms on how to source local wood through the use of ‘green specs’ in construction projects around the state.

“We are pleased to be able to bring our network development, business assistance and communications expertise to this next phase of forest products industry development – as we’ve demonstrated most recently through the Farm to Plate Network’s implementation of Vermont’s food system plan. The goal of the new Forest Products Value Chain Investment Program is to enhance the economic competitiveness of the forest products industry in the region by exploring ways to access new markets outside the state, developing new products that could be produced using Vermont wood and encouraging innovation and facilitating collaboration among industry members,” says Ellen Kahler, executive director at the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund.

The Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund (VSJF) is a non-profit organization committed to nurturing the sustainable development of Vermont’s economy. VSJF provides business assistance, network development, research and financing in agriculture and food system, forest product, waste management, renewable energy, and environmental technology sectors. Located in Montpelier, Vermont, VSJF was created by the Vermont Legislature in 1995 to partner with state government, private sector businesses, and non-profits to build a thriving economic, social, and ecological future for Vermont. Learn more at www.vsjf.org and www.facebook.com/VermontSustainableJobsFund

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November 18, 2016

By Chelsa Lewis

Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets leads successful business-to-business mission to Tokyo

How about some smoked maple syrup with that yakitori? And some Vermont hard cider to wash it down? Japanese consumers may soon see more Vermont products on the menu, thanks to a successful trade mission led by Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, Jolinda LaClair. Eight of Vermont’s premier specialty food and beverage companies, including maple, cheese, cider and spirits traveled to Tokyo with the Deputy Secretary during the last week in October. The trip was co-organized by Susan Murray, Director of the U.S. Commercial Service Vermont Export Assistance Center, and Food Export USA, a non-profit trade promotion organization based in Philadelphia.

While many Japanese consumers may not yet be familiar with the Vermont brand, the product attributes they are looking for align well with what Vermont has to offer: high-quality, healthy, organic, and beautifully packaged food and drink are in demand. Japan is the third largest consumer of maple syrup, after the U.S. and Canada, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture asserts that it continues to represent one of the best opportunities in the world for American food producers.

“The Vermont brand stands for quality, purity, and authenticity,” said Deputy Secretary LaClair. “It became clear during our mission that there are good prospects for Vermont products in Japan, and this mission is just the first step in an emerging trade relationship.”

Participating companies represented seven Vermont counties:

The Vermont cohort took part in a seminar on the Japanese market, toured retail and restaurant establishments, met with Japanese representatives from Burton and Ben and Jerry’s, hosted an “Experience Vermont” reception for media and trade, and engaged in one-on-one meetings with buyers who had been specifically pre-qualified by Food Export’s Tokyo staff.

“The trade mission to Japan afforded us an opportunity to learn, build relationships and grow our business in a way we could never have done on our own,” said participant Curt Alpeter of Runamok Maple. “We now have the first-hand knowledge and connections to pursue business in Tokyo and beyond.”

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets operates International and Domestic Export Programs, supporting Vermont businesses to develop new market opportunities outside of the state.  Funding is available to assist Vermont businesses with entering new markets. For additional information please visit http://agriculture.vermont.gov/trade-Japan or contact Chelsea Bardot Lewis, Business Development Section Chief, at Chelsea.lewis@vermont.gov.

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November 4, 2016

By Ali Zipparo

**Editors: please note hi-res photos are available here: https://goo.gl/photos/PqbuMhnR2zKiKidM6 **

Over 250 local and national farm to school leaders gathered together this week at the 2016 Vermont Farm to School Conference to learn about the positive impacts of Farm to School programming, sample local cuisine, and help shape the future of farm to school in Vermont.  Held over the course of two days at Lake Morey Resort in Fairlee, Vermont, the conference featured talks by US Senator Patrick Leahy, USDA Farm to School and Community Food Systems Director Deborah Kane, and Executive Director of Child Nutrition of Detroit Public Schools Betti Wiggins. 

Conference attendees had opportunities to attend over 25 workshops focused on a variety of topics including farm to school curriculum design and funding strategies, sharing stories of impact, school garden program planning, and engaging teens through innovative food systems programs.  A number of state government leaders and representatives were also in attendance, including Vermont Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Jolinda LaClair, Commissioner of Health Harry Chen, MD, Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe, and Windsor County Senator Dick McCormack.

“Vermont has long been a leader of farm to school efforts, and this conference is a clear indicator of what has seeded that leadership,” said USDA Farm to School Director Deborah Kane during her keynote speech yesterday.  “I am so inspired by Vermont’s vast farm to school network and its strong, meaningful, and effective partnerships. Working together helps make farm to school work!”

The first state in the nation to implement a Farm to School Grant Program, Vermont has long been a national leader in the Farm to School movement. Since 2007 the Vermont Farm to School Grant Program, administered by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets (VAAFM), has invested over $1.5 million in Farm to School Programs in over 30% of Vermont’s schools, impacting over 30,000 students. 

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets recently announced more than $130,000 in funding available to Vermont schools in 2017. Grants are available for planning and development of new Farm to School (FTS) Programs, expanding existing FTS programs, or (new for 2017) transitioning to a universal meals program, which enables schools to offer all students fresh, healthy meals at no charge.

“I am extremely proud of the innovation and leadership provided by Vermont’s Farm to School Network over the last 10 years, and I’m pleased to see so many people here today working together to strengthen and grow the farm to school movement throughout our state,” said Vermont Ag Deputy Secretary Jolinda LaClair.  “Our Farm to School programs are essential to building a culture of ‘Ag Literacy’ in our schools and communities and to preparing our students to make a lifetime of healthy choices.”

Hosted by the Agency of Ag and Vermont FEED, in partnership with the Vermont Farm to School Network, the 2016 Farm to School Conference offered workshops and opportunities for both beginners and experts dedicated to food, farm, and nutrition education. The goals of the conference included:

  • Strengthening the connections between the Classroom, Cafeteria, and Community and share best practices from across the state
  • Strengthening the Vermont Farm to School Network and connect people so they envision themselves as part of the FTS Movement
  • Widening the audience aligned with Vermont’s Farm to School goals and strategies

Betty Wiggins, the Executive Director of Child Nutrition of Detroit Public Schools, spoke at the conference dinner on Wednesday night, which featured bean and vegetable cassoulet made with locally grown beans from Vermont Bean Crafters.  Responsible for school meals in 137 schools in Detroit, Betty credits the Vermont Farm to School model for much of the success of her farm to school programs.

“I need to thank Vermont and all of you for providing me with the inspiration to start farm to school programs in my own school system in Detroit,” said Wiggins.  “Almost a decade ago, I visited Vermont to learn about farm to school, and I stole your model.  At this point in my talk, I just wanted to remind you all that imitation is the highest form of flattery.”  

“Our goal at the Vermont Department of Health is to help ensure the ‘healthy choice’ is also the easy choice and the attractive choice for kids,” said Health Commissioner Harry Chen, MD. “Farm to School does just that by making local, healthy foods available to our children in a way that is appealing to them.”

The conference attracted a wide range of FTS members and leaders, including farmers, food processors & distributors, child nutrition professionals, teachers, school administrators, government officials, policy makers, advocates, and non-profit partners.  In welcoming remarks, VAAFM Food Systems Chief Abbey Willard challenged all conference attendees to “learn something new, share something inspirational, and commit to replicating something successful in your community.”

Conference attendees heeded this opportunity and spent two inspirational days sharing stories and communicating the educational, nutritional, and economic impacts of Farm to School in their communities.

For more information about Vermont Farm to School visit http://agriculture.vermont.gov/producer_partner_resources/market_access_development/farm_school  or contact Ali Zipparo at Alexandra.Zipparo@vermont.gov or call (802) 505-1822.

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