10 Reasons Vermont Deserves to Lead the Strolling of the Heifers’ 2015 Locavore Index
May 17, 2015 | Trish Popovitch
This piece is part of a series exploring the top 10 states in the Strolling of the Heifers’ 2015 Locavore Index.
It’s hardly surprising with all the great things going on there, that Vermont comes in first place in the 2015 Strolling of the Heifers Locavore Index. When community gardens were still just a seed catalog and a dream for many around the nation, Vermont was building on firmly established sustainable ground.
Here are ten reasons why Vermont ranks high in local, sustainable agriculture and food systems.
- Vigorous Farm to School Program. The statewide appeal and success of the program provides a sample of what Vermont’s bringing to the sustainable table. Started in 2007, the program that brings local choices into schools has over 40 schools and districts in its slow food network. Those schools work with 13 local farm networks. Working with over a dozen partner organizations, Farm to School is thriving in Vermont.
- Established Farm to Plate Program. With training programs, funding opportunities and food system education, Vermont’s Farm to Plate is a triumph of dissemination,collaboration and networking. In 2009, Vermonters began the work of creating New England’s first comprehensive food system plan. This powerhouse statewide plan involves 350 agencies all working together to relocalize food production and distribution in Vermont and help New England reach 50 percent regional food production by 2060.. Read more about the statewide plan for Vermont here.
- Diversity of Food Systems Education. If you want a degree in sustainability, look no further than Vermont. Vermont has many certification programs as well as traditional degree opportunities. The University of Vermont’s Farmer Training Program offers six months of on-the-farm education. The UVM degree in Ecological Agriculture covers all the plant, soil and ag training you can handle. With others such as Green Mountain College and Sterling College offering sustainable agriculture and food systems degrees, Vermont students have several options to stay local. This helps the Green Mountain state avoid sustainable “brain drain.”
- Passionate Extension Programming. Agricultural Extension programming has come into its own in the last few years with Vermont one of many great examples. The University of Vermont’s Extension network provides farmers, would be farmers, back yard gardeners and property owners with all they need for a successful harvest. Offering education, business assistance, food law training and an ever growing bed of training literature, Vermont’s Extension offices are home to best practices publications and a respected field of community experts.
- Actively Creating Green Jobs. Creating a respected source of sustainable ag jobs online is no easy feat. Internships offer hands-on experience. The Vermont Intern Program provides the transition from college to work for graduates. Many of the internships are for local growers and artisans. The well-maintained job banks of folks like Vermont Green Jobs, Vermont Environmental Consortium, Vermont Sustainable Job Fund and others like them, provide virtual access to the world of farm fresh and locally made.
- Promoting Local Food Economies. Food hubs may be the trending topic in sustainability, but the concept isn’t new in New England. Food hubs and food hub support have firm footing in the region. Vermont’s first food hub showed up in 2008. In 2009, Vermont had six food hubs according to the state’s Agency of Agriculture. In 2012, there were 23 food hubs. In 2014, the University of Vermont launched the nation’s first Food Hub Management Certificate program reflecting the rapid growth of this niche industry.
- Prolific Nonprofits. Nonprofits and their programs across Vermont help small growers, urban farmers and family farms stay abreast of training opportunities, technical information, marketing help and local food advocacy. Need help with an aspect of a sustainable Vermont business? Vermont has an agency that can help. There’s the Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, the Vermont Small Business Development Center and Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets. Let’s not forget the nonprofits focused on farm training and sustainable businesses. Notables include the folks at Food Connects, the Donella Meadows Institute, Shelburne Farms and the Vermont Association of Conservation Districts.
- Strong Regional Partnerships. New Englanders can be pretty competitive when it comes to who has the prettiest leaves or the most tourist attractions. When it comes to strengthening the local food system and the future of the New England states, everyone is working together. Several groups including Vermont Farm and Forest Viability, East Central Vermont Sustainability Consortium, Vermont Sustainable Agriculture Council, and the Institute for Sustainable Communities work hard to connect regional dots, create jobs, promote local food and solidify the regional network.
- Abundant Farmers’ Markets and CSAs. Community Supported Agriculture is a staple in Vermont with markets, farms stands and CSAs across the landscape. There are 64 registered summer markets and 23 winter markets, according to the Vermont Farmer’s Market Association. Farmers markets made their way to Vermont in the 1970s. With decades of experience, Vermont farmers’ markets offer a wide variety of products encouraging cottage industry to flourish.
- Oodles of Social Capital. Maybe it’s the long history and spirit of independence coupled with a cultural instinct toward land stewardship, but in Vermont, community means a lot. With bucket loads of volunteers, community events, fetes, carnivals, festivals, fun runs, family days, craft shows, tasting fairs, brew fests and sustainable expo-style events, Vermont has community covered. Everyone seems determined to keep screen time to a minimum and community time to the max. Outdoor activities and fresh air are formally encouraged across the board. Vermonters want to be involved with Vermont. The whole ‘community-minded people’ thing is a big part of the state’s sustainable success.
Building a local food economy, that is not only sustainable but growing every year, is simply a way of life. Vermonters enjoy a long and rich relationship with their land. Sustainable isn’t a buzz word there, it’s a community staple. Well done Vermont, your sense of local is not only established, its ribbon worthy.