As spring comes to the Green Mountains, shades of green slowly paint the contours of our rolling hills, valleys, and farm fields. Farmers are planting crops; gardeners are sowing seeds in earnest. Food and beverages are making their way to market. Visitors are traveling to Vermont for food, drink, experiences, and beauty. Vermont once again unfolds into a new season, and the Green Mountains continue to provide the backdrop for farmers, producers and those making their living off the land.
Life meanders on, but clouds hang in the air as the Vermont Legislature, too, moves toward summer recess. If we do not invest in our food and farms, the system will suffer and along with it, the Vermont economy. Small communities in our rural regions are at risk. That is why the Governor, and the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets are proposing that the Legislature invest more in Vermont’s aging agriculture infrastructure. It’s our turn.
The Legislature is considering a $14-million-dollar package that will help Vermont produce more food for the region and make our farmers more viable. Investing in those who make their living growing produce means more local food can be sold at our grocery stores, farm stands, institutions, and farmers markets. It also means we can rely less on produce that is hauled thousands of miles before reaching our plate.
Investing in our hills and valleys means encouraging farmers to keep more animals on the land. More Vermonters would like to raise beef, lamb, and goats but aging meat processing facilities are challenged and stretched to capacity. That’s why investing in meat processing is good for Vermont’s future. We benefit by being able to eat more local meat, and animals keep our land open.
Maple is rooted in Vermont’s history, while also blazing a trail to the future. This iconic industry is growing, with care and investment. The Governor’s proposal ensures that sugar makers of all sizes, shapes, and practices would be able to invest in their operations, expanding their reach to bring this natural sweetener farther into the market. Vermont is the leading producer of maple in the United States. Let’s stay on top by investing in our sugarhouses and sugarbushes.
Lastly, our working lands will retire unless we invest in their future. This is the 10th anniversary of the Working Lands Program. It has supported dozens of small businesses in the past decade, including entrepreneurs in Vermont’s dairy industry. For example, the Working Lands Program has supported new creameries, new products, and new companies. The Governor’s proposed budget invests $4 million dollars in Working Lands because active agriculture supports the food and forest economy, the benefits of which are turned back into our rural communities. Let’s keep the momentum in our Working Lands moving forward before the Legislature adjourns for the year.
As the Legislature winds down, we encourage you to connect with your Representative or Senator about the importance of investing in Vermont’s future by supporting programs that help our rural villages and towns grow. This includes direct investment in Agriculture, but also financing expansions in broadband, water, sewer, and transportation. All these areas are also critical to the future of our Agriculture and those who feed us.
Those who work the land contribute to so many businesses, from hospitality to people who rely on farmers to purchase supplies, feed, and fertilizers. Now is the time to invest in rural Vermont and Agriculture. Our farmers and those who support them in the Green Mountains are worthy of support and celebration – today, tomorrow, and every day.
(Anson B. Tebbetts is secretary of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets.)