By Anson Tebbetts
Vermont’s rural communities are intricately tied to our economy, identity and way of life. At the same time, all of Vermont suffers when our farm and forestry sectors falter.
The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets and Vermont Farm to Plate are taking steps to build on our strengths and innovate for the future. This session the Legislature will hear a preview of the Vermont Agriculture and Food System Plan to stimulate rural economic development and bring Vermont products to people throughout the Green Mountains and beyond.
In collaboration with a wide variety of farmers, producers and business development experts, the plan asks the Agency of Agriculture to set the table for the future of rural Vermont.
Key findings include:
• Between 2007 to 2017 the Vermont Food System economic output expanded from $7.5 billion to $11.3 billion.
• Food manufacturing is the second largest manufacturing industry in Vermont.
• Over 64,000 Vermonters are directly employed by over 11,500 farms and food-related businesses.
We identified key factors in growing Vermont’s economy while protecting farmers and making it more affordable to do business in Vermont. The 23 topic-related briefs contained in the plan address training, conservation, regional competition, marketing, innovation, planning, succession and more, demonstrating the immense opportunity to propel Vermont agriculture into a viable and sustainable future.
This economic activity is encouraging, and amid the gaps and bottlenecks the plan outlines opportunities. We all can relate to savory Vermont cheese, crisp Vermont produce and fruit, top-of-the-line meats, a favorite Vermont brew or cider, delicious specialty, top-notch forest products and so much more.
At the same time, these monumental numbers behind the foods we love illustrate the magnitude of Vermont farmers’ contribution, as well as the strength – and potential – in the Vermont food and farm industry. How do we grow others’ preferences for these products?
Ultimately, this impact data illustrates the power of our rural communities, and how much more we will accomplish when we harness that power. In the next steps, the report asks policy makers to research and develop recommendations to stabilize and revitalize Vermont’s agricultural industry.
Now it’s your turn. We invite you, private and public partners and industry leaders to review this comprehensive plan, and get in touch with your comments and suggestions. Collectively, as we come together with a strong vision, we can ensure Vermont’s agricultural future through the 21st Century.
Anson Tebbetts is secretary of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets.