Blog

November 3, 2016

 

Four Agricultural Organizations Will Receive 2016 Specialty Crop Block Grant Program Funds

By Kristina Sweet

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets (VAAFM) announces grants totaling $237,845 for seven projects to benefit Vermont fruit, vegetable, and added-value producers and increase consumer access to locally produced food. These grants, funded through the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP), were awarded to four agricultural organizations to undertake a range of technology development, research, education, marketing, and program-building projects. The grants will leverage an additional $167,000 in matching funds.

“Specialty Crop Block Grants are critical to maintaining a safe, sustainable, and secure food supply and to enhancing the Vermont brand,” said Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross. “These funds will enable the Agency of Ag and our statewide partners to make strategic investments in research, infrastructure, and education to improve on-farm efficiency and safety, develop new marketing tools, open distribution channels to Vermont producers, and promote farm profitability. We are grateful to our Congressional delegation for their continued support of the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, which helps to boost Vermont’s agricultural economy, create jobs, and sustain our working landscape.”

Since the program’s formation in 2006, the Vermont SCBGP has invested over $2.1 million in projects to benefit Vermont specialty crop producers, including the awards announced today. The program supports projects led by both agricultural service providers and producers, including a recently-completed project directed by Zack Woods Herb Farm ($16,550 awarded in 2011), which helped to establish the Vermont Herb Growers Cooperative (VHGC), a cooperative business that provides a reliable marketing channel for high-quality herbs from small-scale, diversified Vermont farms.

The VHGC currently consists of eight founding member farms and offered 38 different dried herbs, five of which were also offered in their fresh form, over the 2016 season. Within the past year, VHGC built relationships with 15 mid to large-scale U.S. based herbal product companies including 3 located in Vermont. The Cooperative has made sales to 6 of these companies and are currently working to secure growing contracts with 3 more for the 2017 season. 

VAAFM awards SCBGP funds through a competitive review process guided by industry, nonprofit and government stakeholders. An independent stakeholder advisory committee identified the development of innovative horticultural production practices and efficiencies, pest and disease management, food safety, value chain enhancement, and market access as funding priorities for 2016. A proposal review committee selected the following projects out of thirty applications representing total funding requests of over $911,000:

  • Upstream Ag/Pitchfork Farm to develop a food-grade stainless steel leafy greens spinner and wash-line kit ($18,000)
  • University of Vermont Extension to conduct field studies on maximizing nitrogen release from legume cover crops on Vermont vegetable farms ($29,965)
  • University of Vermont Department of Plant & Soil Science to field test plant essential oils and pest pheromones to control swede midge, an invasive pest of brassica crops ($36,055)
  • University of Vermont Gund Institute for Ecological Economics to develop management techniques for locally sourced native bees as alternative pollinators for Vermont specialty crops ($13,151)
  • The Vermont Fresh Network to increase the competitiveness of the Vermont wines in Vermont restaurants ($20,000)
  • University of Vermont Department of Plant & Soil Science to undertake a pest monitoring and management study to address the spread of leek moth and its impact on allium crops ($39,023)
  • The Vermont Agency of Agriculture’s Food Systems Section to develop a direct to consumer marketing program ($52,802)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service awards Specialty Crop Block Grants to the 50 States, the District of Columbia, and U.S. Territories. In Vermont, VAAFM administers these funds to enhance the competitiveness of Vermont and regionally-grown specialty crops, defined as “fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops (including floriculture).”

To view the USDA-AMS press release announcing SCBGP awards nationally, visit http://go.usa.gov/xkdbQ. To learn more about the Vermont SCBGP, visit http://bit.ly/vtscbgp.

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November 1, 2016

By Ali Zipparo

MEDIA ALERT

Vermont Farm to School Conference to Feature Talks by US Senator Leahy, USDA Farm to School Director, Detroit Child Nutrition Hero, and Over 25 Workshops

Learn about the positive impacts of Farm to School Programming from the Nation’s leading experts and spokespeople, sample local cuisine, and help shape the future of Farm to School in Vermont

WHAT:  Statewide Conference: Farm to School, Grow the Movement hosted by The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets and Vermont FEED in partnership with the VT Farm to School Network

The goals of the Vermont Farm to School, Grow the Movement conference are to:

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

WHERE:  Lake Morey Resort in Fairlee, VT (Directions)

WHEN:  Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016 - 12:00pm – 5:00pm followed by dinner & Thursday, November 3, 2016 – 9:00am-4:30pm.

WHO:  Keynote speakers include: US Senator Patrick Leahy, President Obama appointed USDA Farm to School and Community Food Systems Director Deborah Kane, and Executive Director of Child Nutrition of Detroit Public Schools Betti Wiggins. Additional speakers include: Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross, Vermont Commissioner of Health Dr. Harry Chen, Vermont Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe.  Conference attendees will include: Vermont child nutrition professionals, teachers, school administrators, farmers, food processors and distributors, government officials, policy makers, farm to school coordinators, advocates, and non-profit partners.

For more information visit http://vermontfarmtoschoolconference.org/ or contact Ali Zipparo at Alexandra.Zipparo@vermont.gov or call (802) 505-1822. 

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October 26, 2016

By Theresa Snow, Executive Director of Salvation Farms

On Tuesday, September 27, Salvation Farms celebrated the opening of its new surplus-crop food hub in Winooski, Vermont. Known as the Vermont Commodity Program, the initiative engages a workforce development crew to clean, quality assess, and pack crops that would otherwise not leave Vermont’s farms.

The kickoff event drew more than 70 guests to the Vermont Commodity Facility. Attendees toured the facility, where the Vermont Commodity crew was busy sorting approximately 1,000 pounds of apples into 5-pound bags destined for charitable food programs around the state. During the program’s first 16-week cycle, Salvation Farms estimates the Vermont Commodity Program will process at least 100,000 pounds of unsold but edible crops, resulting in more than 300,000 servings.

The program’s launch comes after several pilot projects to test its feasibility, including three years at the Southeast State Correction Facility. Salvation Farms’ new facility will fill an important role in increasing the state’s food independence by broadening access to the more than 14.3 million pounds lost on Vermont farms each year, a figure the Morrisville-based nonprofit released in a study this year.

Speakers at the event welcomed the initiative and affirmed the need for this work. In a heartening welcome speech, City of Winooski Mayor Seth Leonard, who had previously toured the facility and met the trainees, stated the importance of this workforce development program in his city.

Abbey Willard, Food Systems Section Chief for the Vermont Agency of Agriculture Food and Markets, spoke to the need for greater access to fresh, wholesome food. She described the Vermont Commodity Program as filling a critical gap in getting more fresh food from farms to people, and also highlighted the program’s economic benefits. She stated that “We see the development of this program and its connection to new partnerships as an important component to promoting the viability of Vermont farms and job creation in the agricultural sector.”

Closing out the program with a farmer’s perspective, Senator David Zuckerman shared anecdotes from his recent squash harvest to highlight his own experience of farm surplus. His remarks reiterated the need for an operation like the Vermont Commodity Program to ensure that the resources farmers invest in growing food are not wasted when food goes unharvested and uneaten, but rather are maximized through effective food management strategies.

For more information about Salvation Farms and The Vermont Commodity Program, please visit: http://www.salvationfarms.org/programs

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October 25, 2016

By Chuck Ross,

Secretary, Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets

Agriculture is critical to our communities, our economy, our landscape, and our way of life here in Vermont. As Vermonters, we have grown accustomed to a vital and robust agricultural lifestyle. But when I leave our state, in my travels as Secretary of Vermont’s Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets, I am always reminded that our local agriculture here in Vermont is special, and serves as a model for others.

Take our Farm to School program, for example. Today, 83% of Vermont students are engaged in Farm to School curriculum in their classrooms, cafeterias, and communities, compared to 42% nationally. We are creating opportunity for local farmers by serving healthy, local foods in our schools, while also providing kids access to nutritious meals and building their agricultural literacy. Our statewide Farm to School network just set the ambitious goal of providing nourishing universal meals to all Vermont students within the next ten years, purchasing at least 50% of that food from a socially just and environmentally and financially sustainable regional food system. Not only are we leading, but we are constantly pushing ourselves to do more, and do better.

Dairy is the backbone of our agricultural economy. It constitutes 70% of our agricultural sales, and 80% of total agricultural land. We are a small state, but we produce 63% of the total milk in New England. And yet the dairy industry is struggling because of persistent low prices, due to a complex and convoluted national pricing system, over which our hardworking dairy farmers have no control. Farmers must be paid a viable price for their milk. While the organic model is part of the solution, it is not the only solution. The recent proposed purchase of WhiteWave, the largest organic dairy brand in the country, by an international conglomerate, speaks to the fact that the organic market may not be immune from the consolidation we have seen plague the conventional processing market.

Despite challenging economic times for the industry, dairy in Vermont continues to be an important part of the fabric of Vermont. With over 15% of the total acres in Vermont dedicated to dairy farming, it is critical to our landscape.  Our farms are growing more efficient and more sustainable, with a focus on stewardship and conservation, and producing quality products. Our cheesemakers are a force to be reckoned with nationally – this year Vermont took home fifteen blue ribbons from the American Cheese Society, as well as nine 2nd place and ten 3rd place finishes.  We have more methane digesters per capita than any state in the country. Our dairy farmers are actively engaged in protecting water quality, soil building, energy production, nutrient removal, and marketing the Vermont brand. These are part of the path forward for Vermont dairy and Vermont agriculture writ large, and are good for our economy, environment, consumers, and brand.

All food, farm and forestry businesses play a critical role in our economy and our working landscape. Since Governor Shumlin took office, Vermont has added more than 5100 new jobs in the farm and food sectors. Our Agency has supported this growth through key initiatives, from working with institutional food purveyors to add local food to the menu at our colleges and in our correctional facilities, to furnishing technical assistance to dramatically increase the number of in-state meat and dairy processing facilities. We have provided grants and guidance to open new markets for local businesses, created networks for best practice sharing among producer organizations, and promoted the Vermont brand across the nation, and around the world. Everywhere we go, we are reminded, once again, that our reputation for quality food and farm products is unparalleled.

We have much to be proud of, but there is still work to do. We must continue to address agriculture and food system illiteracy and expand access to healthy food.  Today, too few people understand where our food comes from, how its produced, who produces it, and what the choices and actions are required to produce food.  We need to shift our priorities so that all of agriculture is understood and recognized for the critical role it plays in community health. Vermont is a leader in this regard but we must do better and more, as food insecurity and food related illnesses still haunt us here in Vermont, our region, and country.

We must also build upon, and continue to leverage, our great Vermont brand.  There are millions of customers to our south who know and want Vermont products. We need to increase our efforts to connect these consumers with our outstanding farmers and food producers.

To that end, we must also support the current generation, and attract the next generation, of farmers, food entrepreneurs and innovators who understand that farming and food careers are exciting, rewarding and meaningful to our collective future. We need people who can make important contributions to our future challenges, ranging from nutrition, food security to climate change. 

As I look toward the future, I have no doubt the future of agriculture in Vermont will be very bright. Vermont is on the cutting edge of community supported agriculture – we must maintain the momentum. Over the course of the past six years, I have been consistently impressed by the women and men engaged in Vermont’s food system. On our farms, in our schools, at our food hubs, here in Montpelier and across the state – some of Vermont’s best and brightest minds are at work advancing local agriculture and our role as a regional and national leader. There is tremendous opportunity for growth in this sector, and I truly believe we are poised to seize it. For our communities, for our economy, for our landscape, and for future generations, we must do all we can to support Vermont agriculture.

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October 25, 2016

By Ryan Patch, VAAFM

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets (AAFM) is pleased to announce the first ever Request for Proposal (RFP) for the Ag Clean Water Initiative Program (Ag-CWIP).  This grant program is made possible and supported by the Clean Water Fund—a fund created by Act 64 of 2015, Vermont’s Clean Water Act. 

“This program is an exciting new opportunity for the agricultural community in Vermont,” said Chuck Ross, Secretary of Agriculture.  “It will help support the farmers and organizations who have embraced the call for clean water, and will enable them to enhance and expand programming to provide education, outreach and implementation on farms throughout all of Vermont.”

The Ag-CWIP will provide new funding opportunities for farmers, nonprofit organizations, regional associations, and other entities for the development and implementation of locally-led agricultural water quality programs and projects.  Funds will be available in three distinct categories—though organizations may submit applications in more than one category—including:

  • Education, Outreach and Implementation
  • Organizational Development
  • Innovative Phosphorus Reduction Activities

Laura DiPietro, Deputy Director of the Ag Resources Management Division at AAFM, expanded “One focus of this RFP is Innovative Phosphorus Reduction Strategies—we know there are watersheds where significant advances need to be made to meet water quality standards, and this program will help jumpstart and expand new strategies to meet these goals.”  DiPietro continued, “It’s important to note that AAFM currently has an additional $1.8 million available in traditional Best Management Practices (BMP) Program funding for 2017—the BMP program provides technical and financial assistance directly from AAFM to farms to implement conservation practices on farms.  This Innovative Phosphorus Reduction RFP is meant to cultivate new and more effective ways of meeting water quality standards on farms.”

For the complete RFP Documents, please visit:

 http://agriculture.vermont.gov/water-quality/farmer-assistance/ag-cwip

Applications for this program are due by 4PM on November 3, 2016.

All applications must be submitted electronically to: AGR.PhosphorusRFP@vermont.gov
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