Vermont Press Releases

Vt Working Landscape Council to address farm and forest economy

March 16, 2011

Vermont Council on Rural Development
[email protected]

MONTPELIER, VT – Surveys repeatedly show Vermonters want a strong working landscape for all its scenic, cultural, economic, environmental and recreational benefits. However if alarming trends that threaten its economic viability are not reversed, it will vanish within a generation.

The Vermont Council on Rural Development is launching a new nonpartisan and broad-based partnership to keep our farm and forest economy a vital foundation for the future of Vermont. The Partnership is proposing a bold plan. Today it announced the 17 member Vermont Working Landscape Council (VWLC) that will develop the details to make this plan a practical reality. The VWL Council represents deep expertise in issues pertaining to farm and forest enterprises and rural development in Vermont. It is chaired by retired Secretary of Agriculture Roger Allbee and includes:

Bob Ackland, VCRD Board, Recreation Development Consultant

Cliff Allard, Allard Lumber Company

Marie Audet, Blue Spruce Farm

Deb Brighton, Natural Resource Economist

Greg Brown, VCRD Board, Retired Regional and State Planning Leader

India Burnett Farmer, Northeast Vine Supply & Rutland Area Farm and Food Link

Peter Condaxis, Ryegate Power Station

Jacques Couture, Couture’s Farm, Sugarhouse and B&B

Allison Hooper, VT Butter and Cheese

Andrew Kehler, Jasper Hill Farm

Gil Livingston, Vermont Land Trust

John Meyer, Bardill Land and Lumber Company

Jan Rozendaal, retired Chittenden County Business Leader

Robin Scheu, Addison County Economic Development Corp.

Michael Snyder, Commissioner, Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation

Will Stevens, Golden Russet Farm

“It’s time to give voice to this quiet crisis,” explains VCRD Executive Director Paul Costello. “The Partnership will bring a singular focus to putting the policies in place that help everyone trying to make a living from the land.”

According to Roger Allbee, “The working landscape is fundamental to what Vermont is all about; let’s work together to ensure its future.”

All Vermonters are invited to join the Partnership to stay updated and help shape the campaign for the future of Vermont’s Working Landscape. To learn more visit or contact VCRD at 802-223-6091 or by email at [email protected].

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  • I have read the Key Findings of the VCRD Summit on the Future of Vermont’s Working Landscape and it is of course wonderful that 97% of Vermonters say they support agriculture. But let’s reframe the question: how many respondents would support Vermont agriculture if they had to pay double for Vermont grown food? Those who participated in the breakout sessions told the Council that Vermont should place more stress upon education, upon energy from wind, solar, methane, upon collecting and storing seeds, upon recruiting young people, upon farm visits and getting local foods in schools etc. There was even a suggestion that farms should receive tax revenues and another that warned that if Use Value is lost so goes the ballgame!

    All this paints a curious picture of what ails Vermont agriculture but all of it misses the point. There are just two things we need to fix: The second highest obstacle to a Renaissance for Vermont Agriculture is Vermont’s cost of production and the first is federal omnibus policy in place since FDR that holds commodity food prices down for the benefit of manufacturers and consumers. Federal government effects its policy by its tacit support of western economies of scale, federal water projects, tax incentives, farm subsidies, low paid immigrant labor and technologies that produce food in surplus, which are profligate of natural resources and pollute the environment. Vermont is a bit player in this scheme and it neither has nor wants to have huge farms liberally laced with artificial fertilizers and petroleum-based herbicides and worked by poorly paid immigrant laborers. But any food including Vermont food produced out side this model – if the farmers who make it want to sell it – must compete with food produced in accordance with this model and its supporting federal policy. The Council on Rural Development and citizens gathered to talk about what can be done to save Vermont agriculture must deal with this fact and only this fact.

    The way to make Vermont food attractive to consumers is to make it something that commodity food is not. Determine what the market demands that is not being delivered by commodity agriculture. Then make that product, market and sell it where the money is, which is not here but in Boston and New York.

    Note bene: there is no way to make Vermont food special by making it the same. There is no way to launch a Renaissance in Vermont Agriculture without raising prices for Vermont made food. There is no way to make the production of Vermont food profitable without taking the legs out from under the local production of its cheap alternative. All Vermont food production must conform to the model in order to give durable value to the brand. Vermont food has to equal high quality in the minds of consumers. This cannot be achieved by simply affixing a Seal of Quality on commodity milk or if our highest agriculture officials continue to tell Vermont’s large, conventional dairy farmers that they enjoy state support.