About Farm to Plate
Farm to Plate is Vermont’s food system plan being implemented statewide by the 350+ member organizations of the Farm to Plate Network to increase economic development and jobs in the farm and food sector and improve access to healthy local food for all Vermonters.
Collectively, we strive for a viable, sustainable, and resilient food system to produce and distribute our food.
Farm to Plate Intended Outcomes:
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:
· Increase jobs and economic activity in Vermont’s food system;
· Improve access to healthy, local food for all Vermonters (especially low income Vermonters);
· Improve the quality of our environment (e.g., soil, water, energy); and
· Improve the ability of the local food system to support the health of Vermonters.
Defining Farm to Plate Network Strategic Priority Areas and the Work Ahead:
The Farm to Plate Network is focusing on five strategic priority areas for the next five years to move Vermont towards reaching the intended outcomes of Vermont’s Farm to Plate Strategic Plan. The strategic priority areas emerged from Network group activities, work plans, and analysis of data trends for the 25 Farm to Plate goals. Applying a collective impact approach, the Farm to Plate Network is governed by an elected Steering Committee and coordinated by the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, a non-profit organization based in Montpelier, Vermont.
Farm to Plate Strategic Priority Areas:
1.) Protect and Expand Affordable and Environmentally Sustainable Farmland in Agricultural Production
Access to affordable and environmentally sustainable farmland is imperative to increase our local food supply and grow our agricultural economy. The Farm to Plate Network is creating strategic partnerships and tools to address a continuum of farmland access issues including farm succession planning, farmland conservation, and farmland investment, leasing, and matchmaking. The Network is also working to improve soil and water quality through research, monitoring, information sharing, and training.
- Research conducted with farmers and “values based” farmland investment companies is informing outreach to improve the understanding of how farmland investment models work to provide farmers with affordable options to acquire farmland.
- The Farmland Access Task Force is working to maintain and improve the functions and coordination of the online land access tool Vermont Land Link, which provides land seekers with a database of land listings that are either for lease or sale.
- The Soil and Water Cross-Cutting Team is assessing the research, technical assistance, and policy implications surrounding soil and water issues such as riparian grazing, tile drainage, and soil quality monitoring.
2.) Improve Viability of Farms and Food Businesses
If farms and food businesses are not profitable, Vermont’s agricultural economy cannot be sustainable. Cost and scales of production, sales in different market channels, food safety, business management, infrastructure and equipment, distribution, and environmental impacts all play roles in overall business viability. The Farm to Plate Network addresses these variables by identifying effective business models and building trust and transparency along entire supply chains (e.g. Vermont’s meat industry) to help farmers and producers profitably sell into wholesale, retail, and other markets.
- The Farm Viability Indicators Task Force is developing financial metrics that can be used by technical assistance providers to offer targeted services to help farmers assess their financial viability and make business decisions that lead to more profitable outcomes.
- The Production & Processing Working Group, building off of work completed by the Meat Processing Task Force, is developing a plan to address supply constraints and scale up the meat industry.
- A more systematic approach is being explored by the Farm to Plate Network to support producers so they can be better prepared to sell into wholesale markets.
- The energy section of the Farm to Plate Strategic Plan is informing how growing farms and food businesses can become more profitable and efficient by minimizing the use of fossil fuels and maximizing the opportunities for renewable energy, energy efficiency, and conservation.
3.) Increase Local Food Availability and Affordability in All Market Channels
In order for local food to be accessible to all Vermonters, it needs to be more readily available and affordable where most Vermonters purchase food. The Farm to Plate Network works to open new wholesale market channels at institutions and grocery stores in Vermont and New England, while supporting Vermont’s restaurant and direct market channels. The Network seeks to make local food available in these market channels more affordable to consumers through incentive programs, procurement policies, and more efficient supply chain logistics. Current efforts focus on finding ways for independent grocery stores and distributors in Vermont to increase the amount of local food sourced and to provide access to technical / business assistance to improve local product marketing.
- The Independent Grocers Task Force completed two research projects to understand the opportunities and barriers for selling local food at independent grocery stores, assess what products stores currently carry, and gauge interest in technical and marketing assistance to increase the availability and sale of local food. The findings are being used to create a new series of five minute training videos called Take Five to help independent retailers increase their local food sales. Episodes will include promotions, merchandising, signage, sampling, and procurement.
- Members of the Farm to Plate Network are advising a produce prescription program being managed by the Vermont Department of Health. The program provides fruit and vegetable coupons to at-risk patients redeemable at grocery stores, co-ops, and farmers’ markets in Rutland and Chittenden Counties.
- The Farm to Institution Task Force is working with institutions and other supply chain facilitators to help them source more local food and to track and annually report on these purchases. Their Farm to College Procurement Project worked with the University of Vermont to conduct research with Vermont higher education food system operations to identify successes and challenges to help inform the development of procurement policies at Vermont institutions of higher education.
4.) Increase Consumer Engagement and Demand for Local Food
When consumers demand more local food, it sends a signal to the marketplace for more local food to be produced, distributed, and available to Vermonters. The Farm to Plate Network is developing a statewide, grassroots marketing campaign to increase consumer education and demand for local food. As farmers and producers scale up production and additional market channels (retail, restaurants, institutions, direct sale) are opened to more Vermont food, the local food campaign will stimulate increased awareness, participation, and purchases in Vermont’s local food economy.
- The Consumer Education & Marketing Working Group is coordinating consumer education efforts across different Vermont regions to help increase awareness and engagement in the local food movement so statewide marketing and regional outreach efforts are mutually supportive and aligned.
- A local food grassroots marketing campaign is being developed to increase purchases of Vermont food by Vermonters not already committed to the local food movement by tapping into family, leisure, health, sustainable lifestyle, and independence motivations. A social media promotion has been launched to test if the concept “Rooted in Vermont” (connecting local food to community, pride, tradition, equity, trust) resonates with non-localvore Vermonters and will be used to help develop the local food campaign.
- The Agritourism Task Force is working to implement projects (e.g., Open Farm Week) that strengthen participation in culinary and agricultural tourism opportunities in the state.
5.) Meet Food System Employment Needs in Positive Work Environments
As the farm and food economy grows, more jobs are created which creates workforce opportunities and challenges for both employees and employers. Coordinated Farm to Plate Network activities are helping prepare and educate students to meet the growing workforce needs of food system employers. The Network is also working to help farm and food businesses improve their human resources management so that workers have better working conditions and wages, while the businesses have a competitive advantage to recruit the workers they need.
- The Career Pathways & Image Task Force is developing career profiles for educators and guidance counselors to improve image and awareness of food system careers.
- The Food System Educators Professional Learning Community completed its second year of sharing best practices in food system curriculum to advance Career Technical Education and middle and high school curriculum throughout the state.
- The Business-Education Partnerships Task Force launched a pilot project in Washington County to build collaboration among workforce development support systems, educators, and businesses to meet the labor needs of businesses and ensure that educational pathways link to jobs and careers. As the Workforce, Education and Business (WEB) partnerships develop through the pilot, the task force is planning to expand these relationships in other counties.
- The Labor Cross-cutting Team completed an inventory and evaluation of human resource and labor management trainings available to food systems businesses in an effort to improve overall working conditions.
Successful Ongoing or Completed Initiatives:
In the first five years of implementing Vermont’s food system plan, the Farm to Plate Network conducted multiple research, shared learning, and systems change development initiatives. Several of these activities directly informed the development of the strategic priority areas for the next five years. Below are examples of initiatives that have been completed and adopted into practice, are ongoing within the Network, or are becoming sustainable outside of the Farm to Plate Network structure.
· Food Rescue: The Food Cycle Coalition works to redirect food and organic materials that would otherwise be wasted back into the food system through food rescue, animal feed utilization, composting, and energy production. The Food Cycle Coalition helps the Agency of Natural Resources stay informed on how to connect Universal Recycling to the food system and develop outreach materials for farmers and food enterprises about the opportunities emerging as the law is implemented. The Coalition is currently piloting a food rescue community assessment tool in Franklin County to help link good quality local food to food insecure people.
· Slow Money Vermont is being incubated through the Farm to Plate Network to develop lending, investment, convening, and communication opportunities which connect farm and food enterprises with investors in their communities in order to grow sustainable food economies. Entrepreneur showcase events and investor networking events are held throughout the state to connect food producers to investment opportunities and to build the network of investors actively investing in food businesses through crowd-funding platforms.
· Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Coupons: Members of the Farm to Plate Network advised the development, implementation, and evaluation of Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Coupons—an initiative managed by Green Mountain Farm-to-School that provides Vermonters in the Northeast Kingdom participating in 3SquaresVT (SNAP-Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) with coupons for fresh and local produce at area retail stores. Green Mountain Farm-to-School, in partnership with Wholesome Wave, has been able to continue to grow the initiative and the number of households served has increased by over 100% in 2016.
· Land Use Planning: A series of agricultural land use planning modules were developed for municipal officials, local and regional planning commissions, and agriculture advocates to use as a guide in planning for farmland conservation, farm and property taxes, zoning regulations, commercial composting, agritourism, and food system planning.
· Meat Processing: Over three years, the Meat Processing Task Force facilitated collaboration between livestock slaughter and processing stakeholder organizations to coordinate technical assistance and build Vermont’s meat industry. The group successfully worked with processors to relieve existing bottlenecks and create new market opportunities for local producers—evident in the current growth of Vermont’s meat industry.
· Trade Associations: Research and outreach conducted by the Producer and Processor Association Support Task Force helped identify associations’ capacity needs, and led to the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund securing a Working Lands Enterprise Fund grant to provide a series of workshops for six producer associations in order to improve their organizational capacity and better serve their members.
· Technology: An agriculture and technology community of practiced developed out of the Farm to Plate Network to provide networking and innovation opportunities to help meet increasing local food production and consumer demand. Makers, Hackers, Farmers & Techies for Farms & Food is a Meet-up group that explores solutions needed to grow the food system while strengthening viability and profitability, such as record keeping technologies, mobile applications for crop planning, and data collection sensors for monitoring cold storage temperatures.
· Energy: A collection of energy success stories were developed and distributed to every dairy farm in Vermont, showcasing farms, businesses, vendors, installers, and technical assistance providers who have made a difference with energy efficiency savings and renewable energy production.
· Governor’s Institutes: The Education & Workforce Development Working Group held two successful food systems summer institutes for high school students through the Governors Institute of Vermont.
Farm to Plate is policy initiated by the Vermont Legislature in 2009, which tasked the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund with conducting a public engagement process, analyzing the state’s food system and creating the 10-year Farm to Plate Strategic Plan (2011-2020). All of the activities and implementation efforts through the Farm to Plate Network and how Vermont is reaching the 25 Farm to Plate goals to strengthen the food system are available for full disclosure on this website, which also hosts the Vermont Food Atlas, a comprehensive and interactive mapping directory of the food system in Vermont. Learn more about Farm to Plate background and structure.