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Vermont Leads Way for "Farm to Plate" Planning

10 year plan seeks path to more sustainable local food system

- Common Dreams staff

Big ideas can come from small states and when it comes to implementing innovation approaches its sometimes takes small pockets of dedicated individuals and organizations to show more populated areas exactly what's possible.

Dylan Zeitlyn of Diggers' Mirth Collective Farm sells produce at the Old North End Farmers Market. It's estimated that Vermonters consume about 5 percent local food. (Free Press File) This seems to be the lesson from Vermont, at least, where a state-funded initiative to foster the growth of local food systems has taken bold strides in less than two years.

And, as the Associated Press reports Monday, organizers of the program —called the 'Farm to Plate Strategic Plan,' and designed to boost the state's sustainable food system —"are celebrating its progress."

Open to all farms, food system-related entrerprises and trade associations, coops, public agencies, nonprofit organizations, private funders, and community groups, the state program carves a ten year path to a more sustainable food system within the state and region.  According to the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, which oversees the project, the program is designed to "catalyze and accelerate the development of markets for sustainably produced goods and services."

‘Local food is exploding in this state, and it’s because of consumer demand and consumer interest. It’s also really being led by entrepreneurs who see an opportunity and are finding new ways of accessing markets,’’ Ellen Kehler, executive director of the VSJF, told the AP.

Estimates cited by AP say that Vermonters consume about 5 percent local food on average—a national high—but that the state program's goal is to boost that to 10 percent by 2021. A state conference last week saw the gathering of nearly 200 experts and food system stakeholders for a conference to reflect on the progress of the intitiative.

Writing for FarmPlate.com, Jeff Gangemi, who attended Vermont's Farm to Plate Network Conference last week, highlights some of the key elements of the state's booming local food infrastructure:

• 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.

• The Green Mountain Farm to School program has launched a mobile farmers' market that is delivering fresh food to four food deserts around the state.

• 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.

• The Organic Valley Cooperative, which supplies Stonyfield Farm with all of its dairy, has shown that Vermont’s grass contributes to milk with twice the Omega 3 acids as conventional milk.

• 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.

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