Costello: Investment in landscape crucial

Investing in Vermont’s Working Landscape

Editor’s note: This op-ed is by Paul Costello, executive director, Vermont Council on Rural Development.

In early December over 300 farmers and foresters, policy and nonprofit leaders, innovative entrepreneurs, business owners and advocates, packed the State House, attracted by the prospect of a new approach to saving Vermont’s Working Landscape.

Studies like the recent findings of the Council on the Future of Vermont show that Vermonters rank the working landscape as a preeminent value, one essential to us as a people, a reflection of our heritage, and a key foundation for our future. We celebrate the working landscape as central to Vermont’s brand identity and as the critical asset of tourism. It’s the foundation for our quality of life and the reason why many of us choose to live here.

Vermont’s working landscape is primarily the legacy of the economic decisions, investments, risk and sweat equity of generations of farm and forest landowners. It’s the compendium of their practical decisions that have produced the historic pattern of farms, forests, and compact communities that Vermonters value today.

In reviewing the past 40 years of policy related to agriculture and forestry in Vermont a clear pattern emerges. Each commission, each study, calls for diversification and value-added development. However, as a state and as a people we have not invested in the working landscape commensurate with its importance to us. We haven’t confronted the key challenges or completely understood the potential return on investment in supporting agricultural and forest enterprises to keep the Vermont we so cherish.

We have this perpetual policy discourse on the working landscape because the land in Vermont is crucial to who we are, what attracts us here, and how our economy works. But, as we talk about it, farms go out of business and forests are broken up for house lots, estates, or commercial developments that no longer support working enterprises on the land.

We face a quiet crisis that will end the working landscape as we have known it. It’s time to act.

We have a huge opportunity to advance the growth of the local foods movement and agricultural innovation, and to engage the energies of a new generation of working landscape entrepreneurs.

The Vermont Working Landscape Steering Committee founded by the Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD), has produced a five point Action Plan that advocates for new working landscape policy and investment:

A. Build a Major Campaign to Celebrate the Distinctiveness of the Working Landscape that is Vermont.
B. Target Strategic Investment through a Vermont Agriculture and Forest Products Development Corporation.
C. Designate and Support “Working Lands.”
D. Develop Tax Revenue to Support Working Landscape Enterprise Development and Conservation.
E. Build a State Planning Office and Activate the Development Cabinet

At the State House Summit VCRD launched the “Vermont Working Landscape Partnership” to spearhead a movement to implement these policies and investments to ensure the vitality of Vermont’s working landscape for the next generation. So many of the groups represented that day are already striving to achieve this goal. The Partnership is in place to help galvanize their efforts.

Over 200 individuals and organizations are already signed on to support the Action Plan above. To see their names, learn more about the Plan, and add your voice to this rapidly growing Partnership, visit the VCRD website at www.vtrural.org.

It’s time we speak with one voice about what we are for. We have the opportunity in Vermont to build a reputation as the friendliest state in the nation to businesses that connect with our environmental aspirations and values—especially those that can act as long-term stewards of Vermont’s working landscape. We can claim national leadership as the local foods state, agriculture innovation state, and value-added forest products state. We can claim it, and then we can make it so.

No one left the Summit thinking this will happen overnight. VCRD is committed to helping the Partnership build support over the next year. Add your voice, talk to others, and help us keep the landscape working for all of us.

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7 Comments on "Costello: Investment in landscape crucial"

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5 years 6 months ago

And Vermont’s population grew by 17,000 people during the last decade! This is the equivalent of Barre and Montpelier’s population combined. That certainly is impacting the working landscape of the part of the state where I live in Orange County. Isn’t it time that we acknowledge that factor in the equation?

5 years 6 months ago
December 11, 2010 Paul Costello, Executive Director Vermont Council on Rural Development P.O. Box 1384 Montpelier, VT 05601 Dear Paul: I admire your repeated admonitions to attendees of the VCRD Ag Summit that the time for talking is past and that it is now time for action. But if it is truly time to act, then it is imperative to distinguish normative economics from evidence-seeking, data-based economics. “The FMMO price of milk should be adjusted to reflect regional costs to give dairy farmers a higher price and to save the family farm” is a normative statement making several subjective judgments:… Read more »
Duncan Kilmartin
5 years 6 months ago
Instead of devoting so much energy to investing in a landscape, and adding the dehumanizing term “working” to the generations of farmers and forest workers who have invested their families, their capital and labor a/k/a “sweat equity, why not start devoting energy and resources to the Vermont citizens who work and invest in agriculture and forests, and target those who actually do it for Vermonters and Vermont families instead of the large out of state foundations and multinational corporations, e.g VLT, the Plum Group that bought out Merck at a four hundred percent profit to Merck, etc. If our working… Read more »
Bill Bevans
5 years 6 months ago

Thank you, Paul, for your tireless leadership in finding “a new approach to saving Vermont’s Working Landscape.”

“Never linger in the rut of results.” René Char

Bill Bevans
CoachWorks Farm

T. A. Hoppe
5 years 6 months ago
The Vermont legislature vote to legalize the growing of hemp. Here is a crop that the US imports, its legal to grow n Vermont, has a greater crop value than cow corn, and yet not one farmers are growing it or plan to anytime soon. Why, and more to the point why isn’t Paul Costello addressing the issue? The 5 point “Action Plan” he outlines above isn’t worth lining a litter box with. The answer to the question, why are no Vermont farmers planning on growing hemp is because there are still federal laws on the books that prohibit its… Read more »
T. A. Hoppe
5 years 6 months ago
Edited The Vermont legislature already voted to legalize the growing of hemp. Here is a crop that the US imports, its legal to grow n Vermont, has a greater crop value than cow corn, and yet not one farmers are growing it or plan to anytime soon. Why, and more to the point why isn’t Paul Costello addressing the issue? The 5 point “Action Plan” he outlines above isn’t worth lining a litter box with. The answer to the question, why are no Vermont farmers planning on growing hemp is because there are still federal laws on the books that… Read more »
5 years 6 months ago
Thank you to All Vermonters working in this effort of solidarity to recognize “The Commons”, not just in the physical sense but also within values! The one word I looked for, through-out your article, is TRUST. Trusts are THE most important tool we have to claim this heritage with in our present system. We already have great Trusts working in Vermont that lower housing costs and conserve lands, these are templates, we need to not only utilize, but to innovate providing for the unique needs of our communities. The other key component is creating and implementing an EDAP, which the… Read more »
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