Blog

July 30, 2018

Wide variety of technologies seek innovative water quality solutions while providing economic opportunity in Vermont

Montpelier, Vt. – Vermont’s 2018 Clean Water Week, which kicked off Sunday and runs through August 4, celebrates Vermont’s lakes, rivers and wetlands, as well as the tremendous efforts of businesses, farms, communities and organizations to protect and restore clean water. Clean water is essential to Vermont’s health, quality of life and strong economy. It supports diverse recreational opportunities, serves as a major drinking water source and provides critical fish and wildlife habitat.

As part of this event, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets (VAAFM), Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) and the Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD) are announcing the latest development of the Vermont Phosphorus Innovation Challenge (VPIC).

The VPIC, conceptualized and launched by the Scott Administration, opened on April 27 and is one example of the State’s focus on clean water. The VPIC issued a call for innovative approaches for capturing phosphorus from manure or other organic waste streams, seeking solutions that ultimately reuse that phosphorus as a part of a value-added product, creating economic development opportunities.

The initial submittal period for Stage One of the VPIC ended on July 6, and 27 proposals were received – not only from Vermont-based companies, but from entrepreneurs and innovators from multiple states and countries. The proposals presented a wide variety of potential opportunities and strategies for phosphorus capture and reuse.

A list of the submitted proposals are located on the VPIC website: http://agriculture.vermont.gov/Vermont_Phosphorus_Innovation_Challenge.

“Clearly there is a lot of interest in, and recognized need for, the types of solutions VPIC is seeking and I appreciate the work of my team in developing this program and implementing its first phase,” said Governor Phil Scott. “I’ve called for my Administration to think differently about the challenges we face so we can better serve Vermonters and improve our state. The VPIC project is a great example of that innovative thinking, and I’m pleased with its success so far.”

The Evaluation Committee will review proposals and decisions on finalists will be made by August 7. Selected finalists will present in person to the Evaluation Committee on September 6 in Montpelier. These presenters will be the ‘short list’ of innovators, from which the Evaluation Committee will select the final proposals moving onto Stage Two. These proposals selected to move forward to Stage Two will split $250,000 of funding for prototyping, business case development and a demonstration of the proposed technology. 

The Evaluation Team (listed below) is comprised of subject matter experts, scientists, entrepreneurs and State officials, including:

  • Jeanette Brown, Manhattan College
  • John Cohn, IBM Corporation
  • Jed Davis, Agri-Mark/Cabot Creamer Co-operative
  • Max Herzog, Cleveland Water Alliance
  • Eric Howe, Lake Champlain Basin Program & New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission
  • Ken Jones, Vermont Agency of Commerce & Community Development
  • Tim Kenney
  • Julie Moore, P.E., Vermont Agency of Natural Resources
  • Bryan Stubbs, Cleveland Water Alliance
  • Guy Roberts, Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets

For more information on the VPIC, including details and a list of submitted proposals, visit: http://agriculture.vermont.gov/Vermont_Phosphorus_Innovation_Challenge.

Please direct any questions regarding the VPIC to kaitlin.hayes@vermont.gov or call 802-622-4112.

Visit the Clean Water Week website to see a list of events: http://dec.vermont.gov/watershed/cwi/clean-water-week.

Please direct any questions regarding Clean Water Week to elle.ocasey@vermont.gov or call 802-760-9967.

July 27, 2018

 

Branch Out Your Vermont Brand: A Digital Media Workshop Designed To Help Vermonters Thrive

From dairy producers and sugarmakers to tree fruit growers and beef producers, a wide range of southern Vermont agricultural entrepreneurs poured into the beautiful and historic Hildene – The Lincoln Family Home, in Manchester Village. Their mission? Learn new Social Media marketing techniques to help branch out their Vermont brand.

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets (VAAFM) partnered with Northshire Grows, a nonprofit organization working to bolster the southwestern Vermont food system, to bring in Social Media marketing expert Nicole Junas Ravlin, partner and co-founder of People Making Good PR, a marketing communications firm based in Burlington.

“I love Vermont, I really want to see Vermont thrive, I want to see Vermonters thrive, I want us all to be doing business here, raising families here, growing our businesses and providing for each other… it’s really important that we all work together and row the boat in one direction,” said Ravlin.

PMG PR serves clients across Vermont, all over the United States, in Canada and even Europe. One of PMG’s most recognized clients is Duchy Home Farm, an organic farm started at Prince Charles’ home in England.

While the digital marketing budget for a royal organic farm is likely substantially larger than any Vermont producer could afford, Ravlin explained that the basic concept is similar. Small Vermont business owners can utilize simple, yet effective digital marketing strategies to grow their brand.

First, the discussion focused on identifying who you are trying to reach. Is it the Baby Boomers, Millennials, or GenZ? And then, understanding how to reach that audience on Social Media. Ravlin identified three key platforms every business owner should have a presence on.

1.     LinkedIn

2.     Facebook (business page)

3.     Instagram (business page)

She then explained the best ways to use each application to get the most bang for your buck. The key ingredient - being able to identify the parts of your operation that make you interesting and true to your Vermont roots. Each producer was asked to turn to their neighbors, talk about what they do, and learn from each other as “outsiders” about what’s most interesting. Nicole explained that in most cases, what is most engaging is something the business owners can’t see because they already have a vision of what they are..

With Ravlin leading the charge, the workshop proved very beneficial for the growing agricultural community.

“Branch Out your Vermont Brand was a very welcomed professional development opportunity for the farm and food sector in southwestern Vermont. Excellent feedback has been pouring in about the quality and accessibility of the workshop. Despite the hectic pace of the summer season, over 30 businesses expressed interest and/or attended the People Making Good PR facilitated learning session at Hildene on July 25.  Bennington County and Northshire Grows was thrilled to launch this timely and important VAAFM sponsored technical assistance opportunity for our working lands economy,” said Liz Ruffa with Northshire Grows.

Geared to getting Vermont producers the tools they need to grow their business, the workshop proved useful.

“The presentation was effective, and I made a number of takeaways. I was not aware the Dept. of Ag. was open to sponsoring events like this.  The group you had last night was quite varied with respect to their businesses. It is good to hear presentations sponsored by Dept of Ag about things other than worker protection standards and food safety - not that these are not important,” said Tom Smith, Mad Tom Orchard, East Dorset, Vermont.

If you’re a Vermont agricultural business and would like to see a workshop like this in your area, let the team at VAAFM know. Contact Trevor Audet at trevor.audet@vermont.gov.

July 20, 2018

“Paul Knox is a real farmer. He's always curious, always asking questions, nearly always wants to try something new and always thinking about how to do things better - for his animals, the land, the water and the folks that work for him too. It's a pleasure working with him.” Kimberly Hagan, Grazing Specialist at the UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture.

Paul Knox grew up on a farm in Southern New Hampshire. He owns and manages Knoxland farms, a Large Farm Operation well known for pasturing their cows in the Connecticut River Valley. If you haven’t met Paul, heard him speak at an event, or had a chance to visit his farm, you should consider it. Before I went to meet Paul and learn about his pasture management, a fellow colleague informed me, “Paul can tell you a story.” A good story can be something simple, yet so influential.

 “Always been dairy, I don’t know anything else,” Paul explained. He calls himself a conventional farmer but is likely something closer to an alternative farmer, early adopter, or even an innovator. “We’ve had cover crops since 1976,” said Paul. The day I went to visit him, Paul was planting 40 acres as no till corn for the first time. He explained why he was willing to take the risk and try no till for the first time, “I have always been interested in it. The theory of saving a little money was one reason, streamlining the planting operation was another, and not having the ground be tilled in the month of May in the Connecticut Valley holds a lot of appeal.”

After digging a little further, Paul explained how hearing about another farmer’s success is what made it seem like a risk worth taking.  “I went to a meeting with the Connecticut River Watershed Farmers Alliance, and Keith Sprague spoke about no-till corn. He had a really great story to tell and he does a great job telling it. That was in March... It was kind of the tipping point.” I then reminded Paul why I had come to visit him in the first place. I wanted to try and tell his story.

Paul bought the land where he now farms right when agricultural regulations started coming into place in Vermont. “You had to apply manure, half way intelligently,” he explained as we compared the changes in regulations through the years. Meanwhile he maintained a desire to replicate what farmers did in New Zealand, where he had traveled in 1987. He knew they gave their dairy cows fresh grass twice a day and had read about rotational grazing. “When I was a little kid, my dad took a field out of the woods, a 20-acre field, pretty stony.” Paul described himself at the time, “I had to have been 9 or 10. I couldn’t do a lot, but I could chase cows. The field was about a mile away, half mile away from the farm. It was so rough he decided to pasture it for a year or two and let the roots die down…. I learned pasturing there,” he explained.

While Paul told me how he learned the “half-assed” method of pasturing that his father taught him as a child, we walked into the field to move some fence line around for his heifers. Most days, Paul walks through his fields, moving fence line and opening fresh pasture for his heifers. “It’s good for me too,” he says.

“We talked about it, we could graze some milk cows here, that would be good for them before they went dry, good for their feet, good exercise, cheap way to harvest grass, and we would make some cheap milk, and it would slow the cows up, a whole laundry list of things,” said Paul as he explained his reasons for turning to rotational grazing.

Paul has his heifers custom grown until 10 months old, seasonally pastured, and pastures his milking cows just before they go dry. “This would be a way to alleviate some of the pressure in the barn in the summer…and then when they were dry cows they would be used to grass.” Paul attests that the butter fat content will go up, but of course you get less milk. “They get a little thin. I have always said; a thin cow will scare you to death and a fat cow will starve you to death.”

According to Paul, some things to watch out for when you’re pasturing cows include driving snow storms, rain storms, hot air balloons, and of course, hot and humid weather. “The number one thing if you are going to graze a lot, is make sure you have plenty of cows early in the grazing season. For us, we need to have a lot of dry cows, for us its 80-100…and they will really chew up some grass. You have to move them through fast,” explained Paul. As many farmers do, Paul is a trial by error kind of guy, learning things along the way. “Mostly it was by myself, but I had some people come in who gave me some ideas, a lot of people, Kimberly Hagan, Willy Gibson, Don Maynard, he helped me a lot. I didn’t know much of anything.” While it took some time for Paul to get the grazing system down, the benefits are clear. Soil productivity has increased the more it is grazed, the barn is a little less full, his cows are healthy, and Paul is happy out in the pasture with them.

“The cow health thing is huge, economically, I know it’s huge from a management point of view, it simplifies things…Economically, it is probably the most important thing. And then I guess there is a certain amount of satisfaction, walking around with the cows and seeing them happy,” Paul explained as he pulled his fence tester out to check his new lines for juice.

As he went to drop the line where the heifers anxiously waited, it started to rain and the wind swept through the pasture. The cows scattered across the field and huddled together in the corner. We waited to watch them run into the new grass, but the weather kept them where they were. “The cows will tell you what they like,” said Paul, “If I had been two minutes earlier they’d have been in here... they’ll come back.”

Whether it is a good story, the desirability of taking a risk, or just a general desire to do things differently, I think we can all take a note from Paul’s book.

To check out more Fantastic Farmers visit, http://agriculture.vermont.gov/Vermont%20Fantastic%20Farmer#overlay-cont...

July 16, 2018

 

Bouchard Family Dairy Implements First Two-Stage Ditch Design in Vermont

A strectch of land in Franklin has been farmed by the Bouchard family for over a century. When Greg Bouchard came back to the dairy farm 4 years ago, he brought new and exciting agronomic practices with him.

“With the assistance from a lot of the Agencies to get practices such as animal trails, water tubs, fencing…I’ve been able to make this all work,” said Greg Bouchard, Bouchard Family Dairy, LLC.

Before returning to the farm, Greg worked as an engineer at the Vermont Agency of Agriculture helping other farms make water quality improvements. One project being implemented on land in the Midwest caught his eye.

“We saw the two-stage ditch design and I said I know of a good place for that, but how do we get that there… and here we are 10 years later,” said Greg 

The concept: By digging out the ditch banks 2-3 feet above the bottom and 12-15 feet wide on each side of the stream, you create more space for water to go during a flood event. The design mimics a natural flood plain.

“When we have a big flood, it will have the opportunity to hold the water within the created flood plain channel versus out on the fields,” Staci Pomeroy, Vermont River Management Program scientist. 

The project can save farmers time and money, but it is also helps the environment.

“These types of projects also provide a lot of great water quality benefits as well as habitat benefits. It provides an opportunity for more sediments and nutrients to be captured in the watershed on this flood plain over time,” said Pomeroy.

Stopping nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen from entering waterways that lead directly to Lake Champlain.

But this practice has never been done on Vermont land.

“As soon as we got here and walked out that day I was like this is perfect because it has really low gradient from one end to the other, he had bank erosion he had to maintain the channel frequently, and does it get out of its bank at times, all those factors kind of checked all the boxes for a site like this,” said Ben Gabos, Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets.

After several years, funding from the Agency of Natural Resources helped get the project off the ground.

“The first step was to go through an engineering and design phase. So, what you see now is the construction going on. Now we’re working with Fish & wildlife to monitor the results of our project," said Dr. Kent Henderson, Friends of Northern Lake Champlain.

It's important analysis that could shape state programs in the future.

“So, we get an idea of really how many pollutants, how much phosphorus are we keeping out of Lake Champlain by doing this sort of project on farms,” said Dr. Henderson.

With farmers leading the way.

“Our program is really interested to see these types of projects explored more because they are the areas where we have the most opportunity with a variety of land owners," said Pomeroy

Staying persistent and willing to take risks.

“The water quality, I believe will improve quite a bit, the vegetation and benches down here will help catch a lot of the sediment. We’re always out here to do better,” said Greg.

Working for quality in water… and farming.

TO LEARN MORE ABOUT VERMONT WATER QUALITY PROGRAMS VISIT:

agriculture.vermont.gov/water-quality

EMAIL: AGR.WaterQuality@vermont.gov

CALL: (802) 828-2431

To learn more about Two-Stage Ditch Designs visit:

https://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/indiana/howwework/two-stage-ditches.xml

 
 
 
July 13, 2018

 

Since 2007, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets (VAAFM) Farm to School and Childcare Program has invested more than $1 million in nearly 200 schools and childcare providers. Beginning in 2018, VAAFM partnered with Vermont Community Garden Network to provide school garden support for Farm to School and Childcare grantees. School gardens are an effective strategy for reaching the goals of the grant program, and serve as a tangible way schools can engage in farm to school.

VCGN supported grantees through a series of workshops for grantees, offered throughout the state. The goals of the workshops were to help grantees:

  • Develop a reasonable approach to integrate the school garden into the entire farm to school program;
  • Focus on the importance of building human capital and using existing school and community resources to support successful school gardens; and
  • Cultivate community buy-in for long-term, sustainable school gardens.

Workshops attendees included 54 school garden leaders and stakeholders, representing 14 different schools and childcare centers, and eight different community partners and support organizations. The school staff participating included a broad range of stakeholders, including teachers from a wide variety of subjects (history, STEM, science, language arts, social studies, math, biology, art) and grades (early care through high school), para educators, after school coordinators and educators, a school counselor, a food service director, an assistant principal, and facilities staff.

Each year, the Vermont Farm to School & Childcare Program continues to grow and innovate, serving our most vulnerable and enabling equitable access to healthy food, achieved through a focus on viable school meal programs and early exposure to farm to school principles. Farm to school programs not only promote healthy lifestyles in children but have also been shown to improve children’s behavior and academic performance at school.  VCGN is one of many partners who make the comprehensive, team-based program a success. 

For more informtaion contact Ali Zipparo @ 802-505-1822 or alexandra.zipparo@vermont.gov.

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