Vermont Farm to Plate Initiative Offers Blueprint for Local Food Systems
Jeff Gangemi Oct 11, 2012 News 5 comments
By virtue of being a small, rural, and community-driven state, Vermont has been a beacon of light in the effort to build a strong local food system. The Green Mountain State is already the national leader in selling direct to consumer. But leadership in Vermont – Governor Peter Shumlin, Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross, and Commerce Secretary Lawrence Miller, among many others – have put their money, and a 10-year strategic plan called Farm to Plate (not to be confused with the site you’re currently perusing, FarmPlate.com), where their mouths are.
"The Farm to Plate (F2P) Initiative, approved at the end of the 2009 Vermont legislative session, directed the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, in consultation with the Sustainable Agriculture Council and other stakeholders, to develop a 10-year strategic plan to strengthen Vermont’s food system," according to the VSJF site.
We attended the 2nd Annual Farm to Plate Network Conference in Fairlee, Vermont over the last two days. And all evidence is showing that the network, its members, and the local food movement in Vermont is going strong.
HERE ARE SOME OF THE HIGHLIGHTS AND IMPRESSIVE THINGS WE LEARNED AT THE CONFERENCE:
• Secretaries Ross and Miller both spoke at the event, voicing nothing but support for Vermont’s local food movement, something Conference participants decidedly DO NOT take for granted.
• The Burlington (VT) Intervale Center operates one of the most successful food hub models around. Though it’s part of a 25-year-old non-profit organization, the five-year-old hub operation runs slightly over break-even with over $500,000 in sales and 25% growth per year. The hub distributes products from two dozen farms to 40 drop locations with the twin goals of returning as much money as possible to farmers, and delivering the best possible food to eaters.
• Sodexo, one of the largest food service companies in the country, has doubled down on its commitment to local. The company, which already operates the UVM dining halls and has passed the Real Food Challenge, now operates 18 locations in Vermont and is working with local farmers to develop tactics for getting more local product into its cafeterias.
• DigInVT.com, a really cool website developed by the Vermont Agriculture and Culinary Tourism Council, offers in- and out-of-staters 12 different food “trails” and 316 listings to explore Vermont’s rural food and culinary experiences.
• The Windham Farm and Food Network offers buying clubs for low-income residents to pool small amounts of money to buy affordable local food.
• Salvation Farms delivers food “gleaning” programs to help harvest and quickly distribute extra food to folks that need it around the state.
• The Grand Isle Farm Fresh Fuel Project out of UVM encourages farmers to grow sunflower seeds for fuel and food. So far, they’ve succeeded in planting 87 acres of sunflowers that produced 65 tons of seeds, 5800 gallons of oil, and 44 tons of meal (food).
• The Vermont Sheep and Goat Association enabled a “wool pool” that combined, sold and delivered 20,000 pounds of wood to a mill in Ohio. Instead of making waste, they made money for producers.
• Vermont Technical College just got a $3.4 million grant to develop an Institute for Applied Agriculture and Food Systems.
• The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board has preserved 144,000 acres of farmland in the last 24 years.
• After Tropical Storm Irene, the Vermont Community Foundation raised $2.4 million to support the state’s farmers, making grants to 225 farms. And perhaps most triumphant of all, none of the 470 farms affected by the storm ended up closing because of losses they incurred.
And those are just a few of the highlights of the conference! To learn more about the Vermont Farm to Plate Initiative (as a number of other New England states already are), please visit the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund site.