Social Media Workshop on July 25 at Hildene

For Immediate Release

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Branch Out Your Vermont Brand

A Guide to Growing Your Business with Social Media

Manchester, Vt. – The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets is partnering with Northshire Grows Inc. to provide professional development opportunities for farm and food businesses in southern Vermont. The interactive Social Media workshop, led by marketing expert Nicole Ravlin from People Making Good PublicRelations in Burlington, is open to farmers, producers and local food entrepreneurs on Wednesday, July 25, from 5-7PM at the Hildene Welcome Center in Manchester Village.

The free learning session will offer Vermont businesses and producers the knowledge, skills and tools necessary to better promote and market themselves and their products.

“Southern Vermont is filled with small businesses that are generating high-quality agricultural products. We hope our producers will take advantage of this opportunity to learn how to share their story and better market their products, so that they can continue to branch out and grow,” said Vermont Secretary of Agriculture, Food & Markets Anson Tebbetts.

The workshop will explain why a presence on Social Media is critical to business, provide useful examples and tips on ways to use Social Media to help connect Vermont businesses with a larger audience, explore the Social Media channels that might be most beneficial and address any concerns.

To RSVP and learn more visit, or contact 802-379-4013.


About the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets: VAAFM facilitates, supports and encourages the growth and viability of agriculture in Vermont while protecting the working landscape, human health, animal health, plant health, consumers and the environment.  www.Agriculture.Vermont.Gov.

Trevor Audet for the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets;  802-522-4725


Bennington Banner: Veteran Picnic in Pownal, July 4

Locals gather to celebrate veteran farms


Attendees of the Pownal community picnic at the American Legion dish out local salads, barbecue, and more.


Posted Wednesday, July 4, 2018 6:24 pm

By CHRISTIE WISNIEWSKI , Bennington Banner

BENNINGTON— Friends, family, and community members gathered for a hearty and locally sourced community picnic to celebrate Independence Day and recognize veteran farmers. 

Pownal-based Harwood Homestead, run by former Marine Ashley Harwood and his wife Sarah, supplied some of the feast including fresh barbecued pork and chicken. The Harwoods pride themselves for having regenerative principles, earth-friendly crop and pasture rotation, as well as humanely raised animals. Their farm is a "Homegrown by Heroes Farm" according to the Farmer Veteran Coalition of Vermont. 

The holiday was their first time participating in a veteran farmers picnic, but they did provide chicken to the Vermont Veterans Home this Memorial Day. Also at the picnic, they brought homemade jams, jellies, and soaps to sell. 

In addition to the barbecued meat, the meal included artfully crafted side salads from Winchester's Deli, plentiful iced tea and water, festive cupcakes, and more. 

Shannon Barsotti, of Longview Farm has helped with the "Discover Pownal Farms and Food" initiative that ultimately led to this picnic. 

"The theme of today is to support our farmers and veterans," she said. 

She also hopes that events like this will help attract more people to Vermont and also help get more veterans involved in farming. 

The "Discover Pownal Farms and Food" series is a community-led celebration of Pownal farms. This is the inaugural year of the series, and events will be held through September to showcase local farms and food producers. Each event is family friendly and costs $5 per person, and children under 12 are free. 

Barsotti says "Discover Pownal" was made possible by a small grant from the Vermont Community Foundation with assistance from Northshire Grows, Inc. 

Liz Ruffa is the executive director of Northshire Grows, which she describes as a "food systems network" for Bennington County. This network helps farmers reach new markets, gain more representation, and even brings collaboration between farmers and schools for healthy meals. 

She commended the "wonderful energy" of the picnic and was pleased at how many people had come to grab a bite to eat. 

"Everybody needs to discover Pownal's farms," she said. "There's a very robust group of veteran farmers throughout the state." 

Christie Wisniewski can be reached at and at 802-447-7567, ext. 111.

Bennington Banner: Food Grown for Veterans by Veterans

Photo: This historical sign on the Vermont Veterans' Home property states that when the home opened in 1887, it included a working farm for able veterans. The site was the former country estate of Seth B. Hunt, which was built in 1860.

Photo: This historical sign on the Vermont Veterans' Home property states that when the home opened in 1887, it included a working farm for able veterans. The site was the former country estate of Seth B. Hunt, which was built in 1860.

Posted Monday, June 18, 2018 7:39 pm

By Patricia LeBoeuf, Bennington Banner

BENNINGTON — Residents of the Vermont Veterans' Home now have a recurring, local treat in the form of a veteran-sourced meal.

One Sunday a month, a meal served at the veterans home will be sourced entirely from local, veteran-owned farms.

"This is just a special edition that we're trying to add into our regular dietary menu," said Al Faxon, deputy administrator and chief operating officer of the veterans' home. "This is just another way to give back."

The next meal will be in July.

The idea grew out of a community garden built for veterans and their families at the veterans' home, Faxon said.

Through discussions with Liz Ruffa of Northshire Grows Inc., a local nonprofit focused on issues around food and agribusiness development, the idea came up to have meals from veteran-owned farms.

"It dawned on me that perhaps what the veterans' home should do was source this food from local farmers," said Ruffa, executive director of Northshire Grows.

The veterans' home and Northshire Grows had spent a few years discussing local food options; the idea for sourcing food from veteran-owned farms was the idea that stuck, she said.

Ruffa helps locate farmers to supply food for the meal.

"It's a great model for how community embraces food, and food embraces community," she said.

The decision to have the monthly meal offers the opportunity to support veterans, as many of them are trying to get their farms up and running, Faxon said.

The monthly meal may also expand; staff are considering having all the holiday meals at the veterans' home sourced from veteran-owned farms, he said.

Harwood Homestead provided 50 chickens for the first veteran-owned farm meal at the veterans' home in May.

Ashley Harwood, a Marine Corps veteran, and his family own the farm, which is in Pownal.

They started out providing food for themselves back in North Carolina, where they previously lived. 

"It kind of snowballed, and just grew bigger and bigger," Harwood said of the farm's development. "We discovered there was a need."

They're looking for more ways to provide food to the Veterans' Home, he said.

Surprisingly, a lot of the veterans at the veterans' home were farmers, Faxon said.

"They're thoroughly excited about this," he said of the veterans that live at the home.

The veterans' home initially was a farm, he said.

"If you lived here in the past, in the 1800s, early 1900s, you also worked the farm that provided the meals at the home," he said.

Farming can be particularly appealing to veterans, especially combat veterans, Faxon said.

"It's hard to explain combat to folks that haven't been there — it's even better not to, I guess," he said. "They've been through some pretty tough stuff, and they realize, life can be simpler. There's nothing like getting back to basics, when you're really working with the soil."

Faxon was in the Marine Corps for 30 years.

"This is veterans helping veterans, and Vermonters helping Vermonters," he said.

Ruffa Joins Vermont Community Development Board

Liz Ruffa has been appointed by Governor Phil Scott to the Vermont Community Development Board, to serve a three year term. This statewide Board is located in the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development and works to improve and maintain the economic and physical environment in Vermont's municipalities, so as to enhance the quality of life for all Vermonters, particularly those of lower incomes. The Board’s objectives are to conserve, expand, and improve housing; to create and retain employment; and to improve public facilities in support of housing or economic development activities, or where there is a threat to the public’s health and safety.

Helping Vermonters integrate growth, environmental protections and economic opportunities into their regional and local framework matches Ruffa’s commitment to the educational, workforce and business development opportunities in regional and local food and working lands economies through her work with Northshire Grows Inc.


“I am delighted to serve the state in this capacity and to bring my experience using agriculture and food systems as a lever for community growth to this Board.” A member of the Town of Dorset’s Select Board and a Board member of the Vermont Foodbank, Ruffa is a recent graduate of the Snelling Government Center’s Vermont Leadership Institute and looks forward to applying her civic and VLI experience to this work.


Pownal Farms Put out the Welcome Mat - Bennington Banner

Posted Wednesday, May 16, 2018 7:21 pm


Wildstone Farm's owners Joy and John Primmer      

Wildstone Farm's owners Joy and John Primmer



Many of us have our own customer base, and a lot of people sell at farmers markets, but we're hoping to market them together to be more connected as a community and get more people coming to Pownal.

Shannon Barsotti, of Longview Farm

By Cherise Madigan, Banner correspondent

POWNAL — Are you ready to discover Pownal?

With a slew of events planned for this summer — including farm tours and workshops, an Independence Day picnic, and a fall harvest festival — a Pownal initiative is working to make the town's farms and food producers more accessible than ever before. 

That initiative, known as "Empower Pownal," began in 2017 through the Vermont Council on Rural Development's Climate Economy Model Community Program (CEMCP). A number of community working groups were formed, focusing on topics like agriculture, recreation, small business, and conservation with a larger goal of strengthening the Pownal community and promoting economic development. 

This summer's events are the result of a joint effort between the town's agricultural and small business groups, as well as the regional non-profit organization Northshire Grows, funded largely by a "Small and Inspiring" grant from the Vermont Community Foundation. Throughout the season the series, which organizers hope will become an annual tradition, will work to introduce visitors and locals alike to Pownal's agricultural heritage, landscape, and economy. 

"We're working across the board to promote our local farms, and so far our focus has been on collaboration and cross-marketing," said Shannon Barsotti of Longview Farm, a leader within the Empower Pownal initiative. "Many of us have our own customer base, and a lot of people sell at farmers markets, but we're hoping to market them together to be more connected as a community and get more people coming to Pownal."

Barsotti hopes that the effort will work symbiotically with economic development initiatives in both Williamstown, Mass. and Bennington while also allowing farmers — many with heavy workloads — to benefit from collective marketing efforts. 

"This is a great way to support local farms and learn about ways to buy local," Barsotti said. "We'd really like to showcase Pownal's beauty, and educate people about our farms and how you can buy fresh produce from them."

The series will kick off at Barsotti's Longview Farm on Saturday, May 19 with a pasture walk from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. During the event visitors will have the opportunity to learn about rotational grazing, cuddle with baby lambs and chicks, plant seeds, and enjoy a walk with afternoon snacks. A rain date is set for the same time on May 20. 

"We have these little lambs, and it's just beautiful in the springtime for a pasture walk," Barsotti said. "There's not much better than bringing your kids and cuddling a baby lamb in the beautiful spring weather." 

A Fourth of July celebration, featuring a community picnic at the Pownal American Legion, will follow on July 4 from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. At the picnic participants will learn about the Vermont Veteran Farmers Coalition as well as local food initiatives at the Vermont Veterans' Home in Bennington, enjoy a homemade lunch featuring products from Pownal farms, and participate in some old fashioned fun and games. 

"We're planning to serve local food to highlight our farms, as well as playing some games outside for kids and families," Barsotti said. "Northshire Grows is our fiscal sponsor, and they are doing so much great work to get fresh food — and even food grown by veterans — into the veterans' home."

Hoppy Valley Farm will then host a tour of their hops yard on Aug. 4 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., to educate visitors about the many varieties of hops grown onsite. Samples from Bright Ideas Brewery, which utilize the farm's hops, and Hoppy Valley condiments will also be available. 

"Hoppy Valley is such an eye-catching sight with their tepees, and Peter [Hopkins] makes some great condiments that will be available to taste," Barsotti added. 

Organic vegetable production will be the next lesson on the agenda, with a farm tour and dinner at Wildstone Farm on Aug. 9 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. 

"John and Joy [Primmer] have been organic vegetable farming for a long time, so they're well versed in organic growing and how to extend the season," Barsotti said. "It will be peak vegetable season, and I think this would be interesting not just for people who want to support farms, but also for people who garden or homestead."

Finally, the series will conclude on Sept. 22 with a Harvest Festival to be held at the Harwood Homestead from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. 

"Harwood Homestead is at a beautiful spot on Cedar Hill Road with all of these old barns that are great for a festival," Barsotti said. "We'd like to combine that with a farm market, so local craft and food producers can sell as well. We'd also like to do a dinner or pig roast if possible."

Barsotti hopes that the series is the first of many, and notes that the events represent only a small sample of Pownal's agricultural landscape. 

"Our main goal is just to get people onto these farms so they can learn about what's happening locally," Barsotti explained. "We hope to make this an annual way to highlight our farms, which is why we're charging a small admission fee. This first year we have money from the Vermont Community Foundation, so whatever we make will work towards keeping this going."

Each event is family friendly, and costs $5 per person though children under 12 are free. For more information, contact Shannon Barsotti at or 413-346-7166.



Hoppy Valley's Hop Yards are easily seen from Route 7

Hoppy Valley's Hop Yards are easily seen from Route 7

Currier Memorial School and Smokey House Center partnership in Danby

Currier Memorial School (CMS), a K-6 school serving Danby and Mt. Tabor, VT visits Smokey House Center several times a school year. During those visits they seed, transplant, cultivate, harvest and learn about vegetable and fruit crops on the Community Farm.  This growing Farm to School partnership is widely supported by the administration and teachers of Currier Memorial School, who offer a range of in-school curriculum and project-based learning efforts that complement their farm experience at Smokey House. The students take pride and ownership over the plants they tend during their visits. Though not all crops are equal when it comes to the students’ interests. The great big pumpkin patch and annual ‘weigh in’ is among the favorite visits to Smokey House Center each fall.

The Community Farm project at Smokey House Center is “growing food with and for the community.” Smokey House Center’s Farm to School partnership with CMS is a key component of the Community Farm project. Students work on the Community Farm on field trips, and some continue that work during summer camp or during public community work days. In exchange, CMS families who sign up receive eight weekly “Currier Supported Agriculture,” CSA shares of root and storage vegetable crops in the fall.  3,227.5 pounds of food were distributed through the school at no cost to the families and forty-three families participated in 2017. 

This partnership is just one of many Farm to School Initiatives Currier Memorial School engages in to support healthy eating and lifestyle options in the school. Currier participates in the Universal Meals program, The Fresh Fruits and Vegetable program, and they follow statewide Vermont Harvest of the Month, which promotes the use of local, seasonal Vermont foods in the classroom, cafeteria, and curriculum. This past fall, Currier’s open house was even harvest themed, another great testament to their on-going Farm to School programming.  The open house featured samples of swiss chard mac ‘n cheese, local apple juice and cider, and a taste-test station comparing store bought carrots to farm fresh carrots.  The sixth-grade class, taught by Carrie Mauhs-Pugh, has even built a food dehydrator as part of a learning lab for healthy eating. Students experiment and practice food dehydration and preservation. Amongst the students a favorite dehydrated item this past year was strawberries. 

Farm to School offers many benefits to schools. Currier Memorial School principal, Carolyn Parillo, has been a leading force, supporter, and encourager of these efforts in the Danby-Mt. Tabor community. With her unwavering focus on student wellness and healthy lifestyles, CMS has embraced Farm to School for student health, community engagement, and meaningful learning. 

turnip and currier students .JPG
onion seedlings and currier students .JPG
pumpkins and currier students.JPG

Sunderland Elementary School's Taste Test Program



Sunderland Elementary School educators Hilary French (K) and Charlene Lehmer (3) participated in a VT FEED Farm to School course in Bennington last fall. 25 teachers and staff took advantage of this 18 hour foundational training about the three Cs (classrooms, cafeterias and communities) of Farm to School.

With the help and encouragement of Liz Ruffa at Northshire Grows and Ryan Morra at Shelburne Farms and Vermont FEED (Food Education Every Day), Sunderland Elementary School initiated a Farm to School initiative this year.  Students in Mrs. Lehmer’s third and fourth grades classes as well as Mrs. French’s kindergarten class prepared foods for the entire school to sample during lunch this school year using  Vermont’s Harvest of the Month as a guide.  The students graphed the results of those lunchtime taste tests.  One of our most popular taste test took place in March.  As Vermonters might guess, the harvest of the month for March was maple!  We observed the effect of sunlight on the maples trees and especially on the temperatures needed for the sap to run in order to make maple syrup.  We also noted the connection maple has to jobs and tourism in Vermont.  The kindergartners prepared  a large quantity of maple granola for students to rate.  Here are the results: thirty-eight kids loved the maple granola, eighteen kids liked it, seven weren’t sure;  and three didn’t like our granola recipe.  The kindergartners were happy that their maple treat was so well received. Sunderland students enjoyed preparing and tasting their efforts tremendously this school year..  We definitely will be cooking again next year! 

Making Granola with Maple Syrup on a wintry March day!      

Making Granola with Maple Syrup on a wintry March day!



The students surveyed their peers and came to a conclusion: They loved the Maple Granola!

The students surveyed their peers and came to a conclusion: They loved the Maple Granola!

Celebrate Pownal's Agricultural Assets this Summer!

Discover Pownal’s Farms! From May through September, a community-led celebration of Pownal farms and food producers will be happening throughout Pownal, a town in Southern Vermont with a rich agricultural heritage and a vibrant local food economy.  This year’s inaugural series will include farm tours and workshops, a July 4th town picnic and a fall harvest festival. Each event is family friendly and costs $5 per person. Children under 12 are free. All proceeds will support future farm and food events in Pownal. 

Discover Pownal  developed out of the Empower Pownal Community Visit process, conducted by Vermont Center for Rural Development in 2017. Other DP initiatives include recreation, small business and conservation efforts, all intended to strengthen community and economic development for the area.

Nestled in the Hoosick River Valley in the southeastern most part of Vermont, Pownal is a gateway to all of the state lying to the north and the east. It is home to a beautiful river valley, lush agricultural lands and rolling hills populated with the great recreational opportunities that come with a diverse and scenic rural landscape. In addition to a favorable town infrastructure, Pownal is also rich in human resources, with an active and engaged citizenry who care deeply about the town and its future.

Celebrate spring with a pasture walk at Longview Farm on Saturday, May 19 from 1:00 - 3:00 p.m. Learn about rotational grazing, cuddle with baby lambs and baby chicks, plant seeds, and enjoy a walk and afternoon snacks. Longview Farm is located at 141 Roizin Road. Rain date is at the same time on May 20.

Commemorate the Fourth of July at a picnic a Pownal American Legion Town Picnic from 12:00 noon-2:00 p.m on Wednesday, July 4. Learn about the Vermont Veteran Farmer’s Coalition and local food initiatives at the Vermont Veterans Home in Bennington, enjoy a homemade lunch featuring Pownal farm products and bring the kids for some old fashioned fun and games. The Pownal American Legion is located at 5970 Route 7.

Tour the hops yard at Hoppy Valley Farm on Saturday, August 4 from 2:00-4:00 p.m. Learn about the many varieties of hops growing onsite and enjoy samples from Bright Ideas Brewery and Hoppy Valley condiments. Hoppy Valley Farm is located on Route 7 across from the Pownal View Barn. Rain date is at the same time on August 5.

Learn about organic vegetable production at a farm tour and dinner at   Wildstone Farm on Thursday, August 9 from 6:00-8:00 p.m. Walk the farm while summer vegetables are at their peak in abundance and flavor. Wildstone Farm is located at 536 Schenkar Road. Rain date is at the same time on August 16. 

Savor the autumn season at a Harvest Festival at Harwood Homestead on Saturday, September 22 from 4:00-7:00 p.m.  Bring the whole family to meet the animals, walk the farm and enjoy a fall feast. Harwood Homestead is located at 549 Cedar Hill Road. Rain date is at the same time on September 23. 

The Discover Pownal Farms and Food Series is supported by a Small and Inspiring grant from the Vermont Community Foundation and assistance from Northshire Grows Inc. For more information, contact Shannon Barsotti at or 413-346-7166.



Commentary: Vermont forest products an industry in transition


Posted Sunday, January 28, 2018 

By Christine McGowan

Vermont prides itself as the Green Mountain State, with nearly 80 percent of its land mass covered in forest. Healthy and productive forests are inherent to Vermont's culture and heritage. 

Yet, the industry responsible for bringing us countless valuable forest products: high-quality furniture, specialty wood crafts, lumber and firewood, as well as services such as clean water, fresh air and a home for wildlife — is in decline due to myriad challenges. 

Rapidly changing commodity markets, overseas competition and an aging workforce all are contributing to an industry in transition. 

And yet, both the environmental and economic viability of Vermont's forested landscape depends on a healthy forest products industry to responsibly manage, harvest, and use Vermont's forests.

Vermont's forest products industry generates an annual economic output of

$1.5 billion and supports 10,000 jobs in forestry, logging, processing, specialty woodworking, construction and wood heating. In addition, Vermont's forest recreation economy generates another $1.9 billion in economic output, and supports 10,000 additional jobs. 

While Vermont's forests supply high quality saw logs used in construction or by specialty woodworkers, the majority of wood presently in our forests is considered "low grade," typically used for pulp to make paper or chipped for heat or electricity. 

And due to a sharp decline in the region's pulp industry, combined with the low price of oil and a move away from expanding electric-only biomass in the region, the market for low-grade wood has substantially dried up. 

So, while markets for high quality wood are healthy, they cannot singularly sustain Vermont's forest products industry. Without healthy markets for low-grade wood, Vermont is likely to see continued decline in the industry's in-state infrastructure, such as logging operations, sawmills and kilns, as well as the local jobs they sustained and the forest management service they provide.

Hope for the Future

Despite what sometimes sounds like a gloomy forecast for this industry in transition, I see hope for the future. Within the forest products industry are entrepreneurs developing new and innovative wood products and business models, logging and forestry professionals with impressive knowledge of and dedication to Vermont's forest health and productivity, and talented woodworkers whose craftsmanship bolsters Vermont's reputation for fostering creativity.

According to the 2016 Forest Sector Systems Analysis, commissioned by the Vermont Working Lands Enterprise Board, both protecting our forests and strengthening the entire industry are equally crucial for Vermont's economic and ecological future. 

Finding markets for low-grade wood, product innovation, workforce development, technical and business assistance, and financing were identified as major issues impacting the forest products sector. 

The analysis identified the need for network development and value chain facilitation to sustainably develop Vermont's forest economy. 

This led to the creation of the Vermont Forest Products Program, coordinated by the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund in collaboration with the Vermont Working Lands Enterprise Initiative and the Northern Forest Center.

Network development accelerates industry growth by bringing together diverse stakeholders to tackle systems level change no one business or organization can do alone. 

Modeled after the successful Farm to Plate Network, a new Forest Industry Network will create the space for industry professionals from across the entire supply chain and trade association partners throughout the state to build stronger relationships and collaboration throughout the industry, including helping to promote new and existing markets for Vermont wood products, from high-quality furniture to construction material to thermal biomass products such as chips and pellets.

Creating and retaining quality jobs for Vermonters, opening additional markets for locally produced wood products, and improving economic development in the forest products industry, all while benefiting the environment, is achievable and the work has begun. Learn more or join the Vermont Forest Industry Network at

Christine McGowan of Stowe is forest products program director for the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund.

Farm to Plate: The True Cost of Local Food

Vermonters find purchasing seasonal products directly from farm stands is a good value.

Written by Rachel Carter, Director of Communications at VT Sustainable Jobs Fund

When choosing to purchase food, cost is often a deciding factor for consumers. Why buy a 12-ounce package of localbacon for $7.99 when you can get it for $4.98?

Purchasing local food means you know where your food comes from, you’re buying food that is generally healthier, and you’re helping drive the local economy to keep more jobsand dollars circulating in the state. Still, price can be a sticking point for many Vermonters. While it’s true that the cost of local food at the grocery store is often higher than mass-produced commodity food, the reasons why might surprise you.

Largescale farms that manufacture crops like corn and soy receive government subsidies to mass produce animal feed which leads to overproduction of these crops. This creates a surplus of corn and soy, which industrial food manufacturers use to produce cheap ingredients—like high fructose corn syrup and soybean oil—for highly processed foods. Vermont farmers operate on a smaller scale with lower net incomes than large industrial sized farms, and most do not receive the same level of government assistance, yet are faced with the same or even higher breadth of costs to produce food. Purchasing equipment, packaging costs, tax payments, and wages all factor into the financial equation, with many local farmers and producers wanting to pay fair wages to their workers that are representative of the cost of living. Many Vermont farmers also go to great lengths to care for the environment without compensation, which is not a significant priority for many industrial-scale crop manufacturing farms (a contributing factor to climate change—look no further than dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico). When it comes time for a local farmer or food business to sell their food, many products are priced below the cost to actually produce it, leaving farmers and producers struggling to turn a profit. The closer local products are priced to cover production costs and for the farmer to make a profit, the more consumers balk at the cost—and who can blame us when there are mouths to feed and bills to pay?  

Even more challenging is that local farmers are trying to sell to consumers who are used to cheap food prices and are likely unaware they’re actually footing the bill at tax time for the government subsidies which industrial agriculture receives. Consumer tax dollars help keep corn and soy prices low which allows corporations to create highly processed foods on the cheap, leading to rising food-related public health crises, such as rising obesity rates. When environmental stewardship is not a priority in the corporate food system, hidden costs include pollution and climate change.

When you think about comparing prices between local food and mass-marketed, highly processed commodity food, consider the following:

  • Farm subsidies, authorized by the federal government’s Farm Bill, are costly to taxpayers. According to the Congressional Budget Office, total government aid to farmers is estimated to reach $23.9 billion in 2017. Additionally, from 1995-2014, the federal government spent $322.7 billion in farm subsidies, with $183.7 billion going to commodity programs that support corn and soy production.
  • Subsidized payments mainly go toward the largest farms producing staple commodities such as corn and soybeans in the Midwest. The top 20 percent of subsidy recipients received 91 percent of all subsidy payments from 1995-2014. Some larger Vermont farms receive federal subsidies, but not at the magnitude of farms in other parts of the country, ranking 40 out of 50 in subsidy payments received.

How Did We Get Here?

Farm subsidies began back in the 1930s as a short-term fix to the farm crisis during the Great Depression. Back then, 25 percent of the population was living on farms, agricultural production was becoming more efficient through industrialization and new technologies, and there was extended overproduction of staple crops like corn, wheat, and legumes (e.g. beans and peas) because of decreased demand caused by the Great Depression. The increased supply and lack of demand had depressed crop prices to the point where prices fell below the cost of production. Farm subsidies offered a solution to supply management by originally paying farmers to leave land idle when overproduction occurred to help increase prices the following year. The Federal Government would also purchase excess production in bumper crop years and release it in times of scarcity to further stabilize prices for both farmers and consumers.

However, rather than being a short-term fix, the subsidies became enshrined in agricultural policy. Over time, US Farm Bills—which previously had focused on supply side management—started to incentivize increased commodity production through artificial price supports (e.g., yearly direct payments to farms based on land use and payments to farms when prices went below the cost of production). Farm Bills also built up additional demand through new markets, including foreign export markets, biofuel development, and processed foods.

The Local Food Economy

Here in Vermont, local food is becoming a key driver to our local economy. Vermont generates the highest sales ($776 million) from agricultural production in New England, and Vermont maple syrup, cheese, ice cream, and beer are in high demand nationally.

Local food purchasing increased in Vermont from 2010-2014, with 6.9 percent of food purchases going to local products in 2014 ($189 million) compared to 5 percent in 2010. The Vermont Farm to Plate Network is working to increase local food purchases by another 3 percent over the next four years as a part of implementing Vermont’s statewide Farm to Plate food system plan (per legislation originally passed in 2009). Additionally, the New England states are looking at how the region could produce 50 percent of our own food over the next 50 years.

While the local food economy is growing, the barriers of access and price experienced by consumers in the marketplace are very real. When small farmers and food producers set a price for food, they must analyze the cost of production and find a price in order to be profitable and competitive. Here are some of the many costs they need to take into account when determining market price, all without significant federal subsidies:

  • Labor: livable wages, payroll taxes, housing needs
  • Equipment: machinery, tractors, tools
  • Inputs: seeds, compost, packaging, fertilizers
  • Capital expenses: farmland, infrastructure, property taxes
  • Overhead: maintaining buildings, professional services, administrative duties, advertising, marketing, wholesale costs
  • Hidden costs: managing labor, accounting, working overtime/not getting paid
  • Water quality issues: planting riparian buffers to help control non-point pollution and improve water quality
  • Food safety upgrades
  • Certifications

Demanding the end to subsidies isn’t necessarily the answer here, but making a commitment to buy local food (anything produced or processed in Vermont plus 30 miles from the border including milk and dairy products, meat, vegetables, fruit, maple syrup, honey, coffee, beer, baked goods, etc.) will certainly go a long way in making a difference. Even if it’s just a few dollars more a week, the numbers add up and could bring about change. Purchasing local food can ultimately increase demand, which will help adjust the price of local food at the supermarket.

The next time you go food shopping, remember that purchasing cheaper, mass-produced commodity food comes at a cost—to your wallet, the local economy, and our planet. If we increase demand of local food, supply will rise, prices will come down, our economy will thrive, and all Vermonters can enjoy what they deserve—access to affordable, healthy, local food.

Learn more about ways to celebrate everyone’s unique entry points to local food by connecting with Rooted in Vermont on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram. #RootedinVermont.