During this session, we got to hear from four inspiring individuals committed to bringing about change at a local and regional level on a variety of different topics surrounding food and agriculture, such as shaping policy to allow for greater number of farmers’ rights, bringing good food to institutions and attaining government funding to create more jobs and business.
Len Bull, chairman of the Vermont Agriculture Development board opened up the session. An academic, committed agriculturalist, and former head of Animal Science at the University of Vermont, Bull spoke about some of the work he’s done to help develop the Agriculture Development board. The board was introduced to the Farm to Plate program two years ago and was asked to revise it. Now, a couple of years later they are completely involved with the program. The board has also put out a report about the classification of Maple Syrup, a rather hot topic in Vermont, and another report on farm slaughter. Len states that the board remains a-political and that it was specifically designed that way.
The Microphone was then handed over to Will Robb of the Burlington food council. Will spoke a lot about the Farm to Plate movement on a town level. He began his talk by introducing us to a great way of thinking about how to food shop. People have to change the order in which they do things, according to Robb. He suggests that instead of first going to Costco and getting most of what you need to buy there, start at the smallest scale, i.e. your own garden or farmer’s market, and then move to bigger and bigger establishments to look for products such as coffee. Robb also spoke about the New Farms for New Americans Program in Burlington- a program that helps people who are new to the country get situated with growing their own food and offers any business or language help they might need to make a living doing so. He closed up by saying that municipalities can and should take an active role in creating change from doing things including using unused parking spaces to create gardens, pushing for local food and removing barrier and zoning laws.
Julia Freedgood of the American Farmland Trust was the next panelist to speak about what she is doing on a more regional level. Currently Julia is working with the New England Farm and Food Security Initiative focusing on areas such as food safety, meat processing, and dairy laws. She has worked on getting the USDA to facilitate approval for smaller farmers, tweaking school regulations to allow for more local food, and is continuing to move forward with Farm to Institution plans focused on schools to get more food sourced locally and a project to address the state and federal policy for farm land regarding things such as land protection, retention, affordability and access. Her goal is for all New England states to eventually having food system plans and Farm to Plate programs in all 6 states.
Lastly we heard form Carolyn Partridge who is the state representative of Vermont House Agriculture Committee. She held many board positions on the committee and helped create the Agriculture Development Board in the legislature. She spoke about an incredible project she was involved with raising $3.9 million that went on to create 500 new jobs and 112 new food related establishments. Her most recent work was on the Working Land Enterprise Bill, taking the bill apart and identifying what it is exactly the group wanted to include and figuring out how to write it in a way that portrays that effectively. After 7 weeks and 66 persons’ efforts and much opposition from the administration they were able to get $1.175million for Farm to Plate.