At The Crossroads: Our Food and Farm Culture and Economy

Over 280 Vermont Farm to Plate Network attendees convened November 7-8, 2019 for the ninth annual Farm to Plate Gathering in Killington where attendees took a deep look at the meaning of culture and envisioning ways to move our food and farming culture forward.

This year’s Farm to Plate Network Gathering focused on being at a crossroads with our food and farm culture and economy. The theme could be felt throughout the two days from the opening remarks by Jake Claro, Farm to Plate director at Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, to a keynote presentation by Andy Kolovos of the Vermont Folklife Center examining the lived experiences of farmers and agriculture’s influence on Vermont’s overall cultural identity, to a multigenerational panel featuring five Vermont farmers.

Claro opened with remarks on why the idea of culture would take center stage for the two-day event, addressing network members comprised of farmers, food producers, food system businesses, nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, capital providers, food system funders, government officials and legislators.

“Isn’t it culture that gives our lives, whether as individuals, families, communities, businesses or organizations, meaning and direction?” asked Claro. “Isn’t culture so obviously a part of agriculture? Agriculture is our way of cultivating the field and of breathing life into the land that sustains us. Likewise, if culture breathes meaning into our lives, we should spend time examining what our culture is, with the hope that in doing so we will remind ourselves as to why we do the work we do, and refocus and re-energize ourselves to what it is we were trying to sustain, change, and create anew together.”

The Farm to Plate Network is responsible for implementing Vermont’s statewide food system plan to increase jobs and economic development in the farm and food economy, and improving access to healthy local food for all Vermonters. Vermont’s Farm to Plate food system plan is the most comprehensive in the country and the only state that has complete government engagement. And during the 2019 legislative session, Vermont Farm to Plate was reauthorized beyond 2020. In May 2019, Governor Phil Scott signed into law H.275 – an act relating to the Farm-to-Plate Investment Program.

The Farm to Plate Network creates the space for strategic conversations across multiple audiences and perspectives to make systematic food system change that no one organization can do alone to achieve the 25 goals in the plan.
At the Gathering, attendees worked together to identify how we can keep Vermont’s food and farm culture and economy alive since it is so significant to our present and past, and discuss how to move our culture of food and agriculture forward.

“Right now less than 2 percent of the United States population is in agriculture,” said Paul Doton of Doton Farm in Barnard, VT during the farm panel. “We need to be able to build trust between those who are not an agriculture and those who are in agriculture. The most sustainable way to have clean water, is to have a well-managed farm, regardless of what they are producing.”

Taylor Mendell Footprint Farm speaks at Vermont Farm to Plate Network Gathering
Taylor Mendell of Footprint Farm in Starksboro spoke about culture and community on a farmer panel at the Farm to Plate Annual Network Gathering.

Also speaking on the farmer panel, Taylor Mendell of Footprint Farm in Starksboro spoke about culture and community and how as a first-generation farmer, she started to feel more a part of the farming community as a whole after finding the Vermont chapter of the National Young Farmers Coalition. Mendell is now president of the Vermont Young Farmers Coalition.

“They were having monthly bonfires at the time and we were like, that’s our people, that’s our community, that’s how we’ll make friends,” said Mendell who runs a diversified vegetable farm with her husband Jake Mendell. “Since I’m now the president of that organization in this state, it allows me to go to the national meetups. I’ve met farmers from all over the country and created a community that’s outside of this state, but everybody from the rest of the country wishes they were in Vermont, which is really interesting.”

Mendell said she values the culture that is in Vermont in a different way because she has seen it from an outside perspective since she moved to Vermont to farm. To help young farmers build culture and community in Vermont she encouraged attendees to support groups like the Young Farmers Coalition and the Grange.

Farm to Plate 2.0 – A Food System Plan for the Next 10 years

Jake Claro Vermont Farm to Plate Director, Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund
Jake Claro, Farm to Plate Director at Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund provides an update on the next 10 years of Vermont Farm to Plate.

The reauthorization of Farm to Plate during the 2019 legislative session has brought with it the beginning stages of developing a new 10-year plan. During the event Claro said the network is beginning to craft a vision together and develop solutions as a way forward. In January 2021, Farm to Plate will deliver the next Farm to Plate food system plan for the next ten years to the Vermont Legislature.

Breakout Sessions

Additional topics that address the food system were explored at the Farm to Plate Gathering, including the true meaning of ecosystem services, rebalancing the Vermont agricultural portfolio, on-farm composting, the current state of the wholesale market, sowing the seeds for a sustainable future via succession planning and expanded access to affordable land, narrative and framing tools for more successful food system communications, the power of the dairy economy and why it is still important to Vermont, regenerative agriculture in the climate justice movement, next steps for the Taking Root Student Symposium, details on the World Tourism Conference on Agritourism to be held in Burlington in October 2020, the release of the new Food Access Planning Guide: a toolkit for Vermont’s communities, demystifying state grants, peer-to-peer opportunities for farmers and food businesses, creating inclusive prosperity through terroir, and approaches to improving food access in Vermont.

Laura Ginsburg, Vermont Agency of Ag
Agriculture Development Section Chief Laura Ginsburg at Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets shares a future vision of what Vermont Farm to Plate can accomplish by 2030.

About Farm to Plate

Farm to Plate is Vermont’s statewide food system plan implemented by 350+ member organizations of the Farm to Plate Network to meet the goals of legislation passed in 2009 calling for increased economic development and jobs in the farm and food sector and improved access to healthy local food for all Vermonters. Vermont’s farm to plate food system plan is the most comprehensive in the country and the only state that has complete government engagement. In 2019, Vermont Farm to Plate was reauthorized beyond 2020. Governor Phil Scott signed into law H.275 – an act relating to the Farm-to-Plate Investment Program. The program is managed by the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, a non-profit organization based in Montpelier, Vermont. www.VTFarmtoPlate.com