Vermont FEED "Cultivating Farm to School" course in Bennington is a great success!

 

This fall, 18 educators and food service directors from schools across the Pre K - 12 spectrum and throughout the Southshire attended a six part professional development course at Mount Anthony Union Middle School. Schools represented were: Bennington Elementary, Early Education Program - Division Street, Molly Stark Elementary, Mount Anthony Middle and High School, On Point Elementary and Middle Schools, Pownal Elementary, Sunderland Elementary, and Village School North Bennington. Together, they learned about the many ways that schools can embrace the three C's of Farm to School - classrooms, cafeterias and communities, to impact student learning, health and engagement in their "place".  You can read more about the course here.

We had a stellar group of guest educators and sector leaders join us, including: 

Derek Andersen, Burr and Burton Academy, Dene Farm Campus; Chris Callahan, UVM Extension;   Alisa del Tufo, Threshold Collaborative; Kimberly Griffin, UVM Extension and 4H;  Rebecca Mitchell, Hunger Free Vermont; Abbie Nelson, NOFA- Vermont;  Beth Roy, Vital Communities;  Rob Terry, Merck Forest and Farmland Center; Kestrel Plump, Shelburne Farms;  Joe Bossen, Vermont Bean Craters and All Souls Tortilleria;  Kathleen O'Reilly, Vermont Department of Heath;  and Maureen O'Neil, The Abbey Group and Food Director for the Southwestern Vermont Supervisory Union (SVSU).

Each school "team" now has an actionable project or idea to bring into their school community in 2018. We plan to offer a "Farm to School - Classroom, Cafeteria and Community Connections"  course this Spring, 2018 which will strengthen the baseline and engage more schools in this engaging and fun work. 

Special thanks to Ryan Morra at Shelburne Farms and Vermont-FEED (Food Education Every Day) for making this course so successful in our region and to Laura Boudreau, Director of Curriculum at SVSU, for her encouragement and support.

 

Commentary: Vermont’s workforce dilemma

Labor force does not match employer needs; a deeper look into growing the food system workforce by Ellen Kahler, Executive Director, Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund 

Vermont’s struggle to grow its workforce weakens our economy, inhibits the ability for Vermont businesses to expand their operations, and threatens the ability for Vermonters and future generations to grow and thrive here in the Green Mountains. An aging workforce, stagnant wages in jobs without career ladders, the cost of housing and childcare, the opioid epidemic, and a need for more young adults entering the workforce are all contributors to our workforce dilemma.

According to a 2013 Vermont Food System Workforce Needs Assessment report, 40 percent of large employers and 50 percent of small employers surveyed said that hiring challenges are holding their businesses back—meaning they are faced with reduced revenue, less efficient production, and delayed expansion plans into new markets or larger production spaces. Four years later, the challenges have only increased.

The simple demographic fact is that more people are retiring and fewer people are entering the workforce each year. According to a report from the Vermont Futures Project released in January 2017, 11,375 Vermonters retire every year, and only 8,000 young people are entering Vermont’s workforce from either high school or college.  Frankly, we need more people in Vermont or these negative trends will continue and we will not be able to afford to sustain the traditions that make Vermont such a special place to live.

There is also a widely-held perception that Vermont lacks sufficient opportunities for job seekers in general, and thus many young people leave the state for more or better opportunities elsewhere.

Yet, in the Vermont Farm to Plate Network’s efforts to strengthen economic development in the food system,  we often hear from local food producers and businesses that the biggest challenge to growing their business is finding labor. Farmers, producers, and distributors cannot find the local people they need to drive trucks, harvest vegetables, process meat, milk cows, or manage poultry and livestock. These jobs are available, but Vermonters often do not apply because they are under the impression that these are low-wage jobs with no opportunity for career advancement. The honest truth is that not as many Vermonters want to do hard physical labor anymore, which begs the question—who will do this needed work?

Some who do apply, do not get hired or are not able to keep the job because they lack the necessary skills or struggle with drug and alcohol dependence. We’ve also heard that farmers and food producers cannot find enough workers with basic skills such as timeliness, accountability, and a work ethic.

Jobs that are typically hard to fill in the local food economy include truck drivers, product operations managers, shipping and receiving, and general labor like hand-weeding and working the packing line—especially during the harvest season. There is also a need for skilled meat cutters, cheese makers, HVAC installers, food safety inspectors, and experienced managers.

In addition, too few businesses in Vermont, employ human resources professionals to work with owners to develop a compensation philosophy and workforce development and training processes. Often employees need additional on-the-job training before they can be fully productive, which can be challenging for employers to provide.

In some cases these jobs cannot be filled because of low wages, but not always. Wages in the local food economy are competitive and often above the state’s $10 minimum wage. Farmers and producers often pay anywhere from $12.38 to $17 per hour, with annual salaries of $50,000+ for professional employees in higher level positions. The range of jobs in our food system varies widely. There are jobs in quality assurance, marketing and brand development, accounting, information technology, shipping and receiving in a farm or food business setting, and other professional positions just as there would be in other industries. 

So, when we talk about Vermont’s workforce, it’s important to remember that this is a complex issue. It’s not a simple argument about having enough jobs, paying good wages, or Vermont’s aging population. The Vermont food economy has plenty of jobs available. These jobs—much to people’s surprise—offer decent wages, quality of life, and an opportunity to be part of a growing sector of Vermont’s economy. The jobs are there, and the local economy needs hardworking, skilled people to fill them.

Learn more about the work taking place to implement Vermont’s Farm to Plate food                   system plan at www.vtfarmtoplate.com.

Vermont Foodbank Welcomes New Board Member Elizabeth Ruffa

For Immediate Release September 26th, 2017

Contact: Nicole Whalen, Vermont Foodbank 802-505-0123


Barre, VT – Sept. 26, 2017 – Yesterday the Vermont Foodbank’s Board of Directors unanimously voted in Liz Ruffa as a new member, to serve a three year term.

A resident of East Dorset, Vermont, Liz Ruffa has dedicated her career to building networks that support community and economic development. She is the Executive Director of Northshire Grows Inc., a food systems network that connects Bennington County farms and food businesses with their communities. Northshire Grows focuses on farm viability issues, market channel development, and Farm to School programming. Northshire Grows aims to improve access to and build community around local food and to build up the region’s food economy.

Liz also partners with Common Good Vermont on special projects for the mission-driven, non-profit sector, that have included regional capacity building, impact investing research, and advocacy initiatives. She serves on the Town of Dorset’s Select Board, the VT Farm to Plate Network’s Steering Committee, and is the Commissioner of Local Food and Agriculture at the Bennington County Regional Commission.

“The Vermont Foodbank is fortunate indeed to welcome Liz to our Board of Directors,” says Vermont Foodbank CEO, John Sayles. “With her focus on food systems and work improving access to local foods in southwestern Vermont, she will bring a valuable perspective to our team. Liz’s vibrant voice and strategic thinking will help us to better achieve our mission that no one in Vermont will go hungry. We are thrilled to welcome her to the Vermont Foodbank’s board!”

###

About the Vermont Foodbank

Vermont Foodbank is the state’s largest hunger-relief organization, serving Vermont through a network of food shelves, meal sites, schools, hospitals, and housing sites. In FY2016, the Vermont Foodbank distributed more than 12 million pounds of food to 153,100 Vermonters. The Vermont Foodbank, a member of Feeding America, is nationally recognized as one of the most effective and efficient nonprofits and food banks in the nation. Learn more at www.vtfoodbank.org. 

Author Presentation with Philip Ackerman-Leist

A Precautionary Tale: How One Small Town Banned Pesticides, Preserved Its Food Heritage, and Inspired a Movemen

 

Event Date: Saturday, November 18, 2017 - 7:00pm

Event address: Northshire Bookstore, 4869 Main St, Manchester Center, VT 05255

Mals, Italy, has long been known as the breadbasket of the Tyrol. But recently the tiny town became known for something else entirely. A Precautionary Tale tells us why, introducing readers to an unlikely group of activists and a forward-thinking mayor who came together to ban pesticides in Mals by a referendum vote--making it the first place on Earth to accomplish such a feat, and a model for other towns and regions to follow.

For hundreds of years, the people of Mals had cherished their traditional foodways and kept their local agriculture organic. Their town had become a mecca for tourists drawn by the alpine landscape, the rural and historic character of the villages, and the fine breads, wines, cheeses, herbs, vegetables, and the other traditional foods they produced. Yet Mals is located high up in the eastern Alps, and the valley below was being steadily overtaken by big apple producers, heavily dependent on pesticides. As Big Apple crept further and further up the region's mountainsides, their toxic spray drifted with the valley's ever-present winds and began to fall on the farms and fields of Mals--threatening their organic certifications, as well as their health and that of their livestock. 

The advancing threats gradually motivated a diverse cast of characters to take action--each in their own unique way, and then in concert in an iconic display of direct democracy in action. As Ackerman-Leist recounts their uprising, we meet an organic dairy farmer who decides to speak up when his hay is poisoned by drift; a pediatrician who engaged other medical professionals to protect the soil, water, and air that the health of her patients depends upon; a hairdresser whose salon conversations mobilized the town's women in an extraordinarily conceived campaign; and others who together orchestrated one of the rare revolutionary successes of our time and inspired a movement now snaking its way through Europe and the United States.

A foreword by Vandana Shiva calls upon others to follow in Mals's footsteps.

About the Author

Philip Ackerman-Leist, author of Rebuilding the Foodshed and Up Tunket Road , is a professor at Green Mountain College, where he established the college's farm and sustainable agriculture curriculum, directs its Farm & Food Project, and founded its Master of Science in Sustainable Food Systems, the nation's first online graduate program in food systems, featuring applied comparative research of students' home bioregions. He and his wife, Erin, farmed in the South Tyrol region of the Alps and North Carolina before beginning their nineteen-year homesteading and farming venture in Pawlet, Vermont. With more than two decades of field experience working on farms, in the classroom, and with regional food systems collaborators, Philip's work is focused on examining and reshaping local and regional food systems from the ground up.