by Courtney Llewellyn
More than 1,500 Vermonters provided input for the Vermont Agriculture and Food System Strategic Plan 2021-2030, which was publicly posted in early February. The plan features 15 goals, 34 priority strategies (the recommended programs, investments and policies which will lead to meeting objectives) and 276 recommendations for advancing the agriculture and food system in the state.
Ellen Kahler, executive director of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, said the efforts behind these long-term plans began in 2009. In January 2011, the first 10-year strategic plan was released. “We wanted to publish the plan in a way that is accessible and relevant to a wide range of farmers, food producers and food system advocates,” Kahler said. “The only way we’re going to accomplish these goals is if we all work together to make the Vermont food system better for everyone involved.”
Before moving forward, though, it helps to review the success of Vermont agriculture over the past 10 years. Over 6,500 net new jobs added to food system. The state’s ag value grew 48%, from $7.5 billion to $11.3 billion, between 2011 and 2020, and Vermonters are spending more on local food – from $114 million to $310 million in the same span. The Green Mountain State’s farm and food products now represent 13.9% of all in-state food purchases
Focus groups of beef, dairy, sheep and goat, maple, vegetable and berry producers, Vermont Cheese Council board members, farmers market managers, specialty food association members and Farm to School leaders convened to help shape the new plan.
“The meetings with community stakeholders and producers informed the vision of the plan, validated the key findings and recommendations and prioritized action steps that will support the growth and viability of each of these agricultural industries,” said Jake Claro, Farm to Plate director at the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund. “While we have made great progress over the past 10 years, the global COVID-19 pandemic has shown us just how much more we still have to do to strengthen our state and regional food system, shorten supply chains and expand our ability to feed Vermonters.”
The Farm to Plate Investment Program aims to achieve the following outcomes by 2030: Increase sustainable economic development and create jobs in Vermont’s food and farm sector; improve soils, water and resiliency of the working landscape in the face of climate change; and improve access to healthy local foods for all Vermonters. The 15 goals are separated into four categories: sustainable economic development (such as making production portfolios more diverse, farm and food businesses having equitable access to capital and providing livable wages), environmental sustainability (increasing carbon sequestration and keeping agricultural land in production and available), healthy local food for all Vermonters (increasing in-state consumption and ease of access to Vermont-grown goods) and racial equity (food system organizations and stakeholders prioritizing racial equity and actions to eradicate structural racism in their work and supporting BIPOC participation and representation).
“This is an impressive step as we look to the future of agriculture. We will use this plan and work with our important partners, including the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund,” said Vermont Secretary of Ag Anson Tebbetts. “We are very excited to build on the progress we have already made to grow the economy, make Vermont more affordable and protect the most vulnerable. This report will guide us for years to come.
“Progress will not happen overnight. This is a long-term effort,” he continued. “Some goals we can try to achieve in the next year – meat processing, for example. The governor is proposing $3.6 million in Working Lands funding to help with that, and we’re looking to the USDA and the private sector to help with meat processing.”
Kahler said the plan is “a road map for the decade that lies ahead. We need to work together to seize the market opportunity before us.”
The full plan can be viewed at vtfarmtoplate.com/plan.