Public policy is generally described as a system of laws, regulatory measures, courses of action, and funding priorities concerning a given topic, promulgated by a government entity or its representatives. Existing agriculture and food policy in Vermont seeks to strike a balance between farm viability, maintaining the working landscape, and protecting environmental and public health. It is critical that Vermont’s food and agriculture policies continually evolve to best support food and farming systems that benefit the public at large, while allowing Vermont agricultural and food producers to live healthy lives, produce high-quality food, and operate thriving businesses in their communities.
Agriculture and food policies govern a wide range of issues, opportunities, and conflicts. These include public health and private land use considerations, and myriad environmental concerns such as decreasing erosion and preserving water quality, reducing the use of harmful chemicals in agricultural systems, and improving agricultural practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Policy can also foster transparency in supply chains, promote equitable food access, impact subsidy allocations and food labeling, and resolve labor and trade disputes.
The federal farm bill governs policies and programs related to farming, food and nutrition, and rural communities. Over the past several decades federal policy has led to massive consolidation within agricultural industries, loss of farmland, and the hollowing out of rural communities in Vermont and across the country. During the same period, the public’s interest in food and agriculture policy has risen as the organic and local food movements have successfully shifted public preferences in favor of local food production, transparency, and quality over convenience, quantity, and shelf life.
While Vermont producers’ values have been in general alignment with these public preferences for decades, Vermont state agencies are challenged to apply federal policies, designed to address large-scale industrialized agriculture models, to the scale and diversity of Vermont’s producers.