“Farmland continues to be sold to developers at a staggering rate,” begins Roger Albee, former Vermont Secretary of Agriculture. While Vermont is the “Green Mountain State” with abundant cows and pastures, there is limited terrain suitable for field farming.
According to Vern Grubinger, a professor at the University of Vermont, with the additional threats of climate change, peak oil, economic instability, and diet-related illness, present food and community systems are alarmingly fragile. A new metric for a resilient food system has emerged that includes meeting the full potential of local markets for local agriculture, investing long term in farmland, farms, and farmers, and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions.
Grubinger calls for a redesign of local agricultural systems guided by collaborative, horizontal systems based on authentic human relationships that value an “economy of scope” – a diversification strategy whereby small-yet-safe facilities for slaughtering, processing, and distribution are owned collectively and former “waste” outputs are proactively integrated into systems for added value. The good news is that Vermonters are developing these local solutions even as federal and state regulators are slow to respond.
One such example is the collection of cow manure on dairy farms into onsite biogas digesters that produce wholesale electricity and hot water for the farm while reducing methane escape. The digester solids are then used for bedding, to spread on fields and for sale to community members.
Similarly, “heat exchangers should be everywhere,” states Grubinger. He also encourages increasing efforts to cultivate oil seed crops. The food grade oil may be sold to restaurants and later recaptured for transportation fuel. In the meanwhile, the meal becomes livestock feed and nitrogen-rich fertilizer.
Enthusiasts are experimenting with growing rice while keeping ducks for bug control. The growing of winter greens in unheated hoop houses is catching on. Wheat is being planted, and one outlier is apparently growing cranberries in the hills. A boom in successful artisan producers of breads, ice cream, cheeses, and spirits is on.
“The examples exist in many cases,” Grubinger concludes, “but there’s a way to go. Dream it, take risks and try it out. We just need to do it!”