About the Vermont Environmental Stewardship Program
Conceptualized in 2016 in response to statewide water-quality and environmental challenges, the Vermont Environmental Stewardship Program (VESP) is a voluntary program that encourages and supports local agricultural producers to achieve environmental and agricultural excellence. VESP’s goal is to accelerate water-quality improvements through additional voluntary implementation efforts, and to honor farmers who have already embraced a high level of land stewardship.
Using a combination of on-farm natural resource assessments and Cornell soil health tests, VESP applicants will be evaluated by a team of conservation planners and technical service providers to ascertain current land-use practices. The resulting data is used to set customized environmental goals for the farm, and to enact a long-range plan encompassing a full range of regenerative farming practices.
To be certified under this new program, applicants must meet high environmental standards regarding nutrient management, sediment and erosion control, soil health, greenhouse-gas emissions and carbon sequestration, and pasture health. If the applicant meets the standards in each category, he or she will be awarded with a 5-year certification, an on-farm sign designating the farm as meeting high levels of environmental stewardship, and other recognition-based incentives.
If the farmer does not meet the standards designated under the VESP program, he or she can elect to work with VESP technicians on a conservation plan to implement best-management practices to achieve those standards. While working toward certification, the applicant may be eligible for additional financial and technical assistance to help achieve VESP standards. Once approved, VESP-certified farms are eligible to re-certify after five years, and will have periodic verification assessments to ensure continued land stewardship throughout the duration of the five-year period.
The Vermont Environmental Stewardship Program is a partner effort by the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Vermont Association of Conservation Districts, Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, and the University of Vermont Cooperative Extension.
A pilot program is currently underway to inform the final development of the VESP. We are evaluating 10 farms from a diversity of farm types, sizes, and geographic locations across the State.