Food System Labor and Workforce Development

A wide variety of businesses make up Vermont's food system: about 60,000 Vermonters are employed as farmers, cheese makers, brewers, bakers, butchers, grocery stockers, restaurateurs, chocolatiers, manufacturers, distribution drivers, vintners, and in other food related jobs. The size and diversity of Vermont's food system means that many kinds of people are employed it, including multi-generation farmers, young people working their first jobs at restaurants, teachers, migrant farmworkers, advocates, and regulators.

The complexity of Vermont’s food system means that workers experience a wide variety of wages, safety risks, and working conditions. For example, farming is one of the most dangerous occupations in the nation, and other food systems occupations, including meat cutting and livestock slaughter, are also higher-risk jobs. The high cost of workers’ compensation insurance was identified as a barrier to farms and businesses interviewed during the F2P planning process.

Many farms, especially dairy farms and larger-scale fruit and vegetable farms, depend on guest and migrant workers from Mexico, other Latin American countries, and the Caribbean. Both farmers and undocumented workers they hire face significant risks because of the workers’ status. Comprehensive immigration reform on a national level has been stalled for many years, though seasonal and temporary workers may be hired through the H-2A program. Because the H-2A visa program allows for the hiring of only seasonal or temporary laborers, it does not help farms that require dependable year-round labor, such as Vermont’s dairy and livestock farms.

Growing interest in local foods has increased the number of people looking to build a career in Vermont’s food system. New farmers and entrepreneurs—as well as existing farmers and businesses looking to expand—will likely require assistance with business planning, marketing, and navigating regulations for operating safe and legal businesses.