Vermont Agriculture & Food System Plan 2021-2030 Vermont Food System Plan Issue Brief: Tax and Legal Services
The tax and legal issues confronting existing and new farm businesses, new farm-based food enterprises, and farms in transition to the next generation are increasingly complex. Food safety, farm labor laws, business planning for farm transfer, estate planning—even the risks of hemp production— all present novel tax and legal issues that few general tax and legal practitioners in Vermont are prepared to handle. Successful new farm formation, farm diversification, and economic sustainability all depend on access to skilled legal and tax practitioners. There is a growing need for additional farm transfer assistance providers (see Succession brief). Sixty percent of Vermont farmers over the age of 55 do not have a legal structure in place to facilitate the gradual transfer of farming assets to the next generation.1 Building a network of skilled legal, tax, and bookkeeping professionals who specialize in serving farm clients could improve overall farm viability.
Vermont Agriculture & Food System Plan 2021-2030 Vermont Food System Plan Issue Brief: Racial Equity in the Vermont Food System
Vermont must work towards racial equity in its food system in order to make the food system truly sustainable for everyone. Equity is “the condition that would be achieved when a person’s race… is no longer predictive of that person’s life outcomes.” While food and agriculture can be a source of justice and equity for Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) communities, the Vermont food system is built on hundreds of years of marginalization and inequity. As a result, BIPOC communities experience entrenched and varied challenges throughout the food system. Vermont must build racial equity into all areas of its food system, including processes, structures, initiatives, and practices. Creating a truly sustainable local food system requires more equitable solutions developed by and for BIPOC communities.
Vermont Agriculture & Food System Plan 2021-2030 Vermont Food System Plan Issue Brief: Payment for Ecosystem Services
Ecosystem services are the “ecosystem functions that are useful to humans.” Agricultural landscapes in Vermont can be managed to enhance ecosystem services such as nutrient cycling, climate regulation, biodiversity, and cultural identity. Compensating farmers for providing these additional benefits to society beyond food production via a payment for ecosystem services (PES) program would financially recognize farmers’ contributions to meeting pressing environmental goals such as the Lake Champlain Basin Total Maximum Daily Load plan, greenhouse gas emissions reductions, and flood resilience, and also enhance the viability of farms committed to environmental stewardship. However, creating a viable PES program to make transformative change will require policy and regulatory changes and new sources of capital, as well as technological, programmatic, and market developments that do not currently exist.
Over the past 20 years, the local food category evolved from an emerging to a maturing market. In a mature market, the rate of growth for the category slows, and while the overall size of the category is larger, increased competition threatens individual market share. This requires enterprises, in this case Vermont farms and food producers, to invest in more strategic, responsive marketing or be left behind. To address these challenges, local food producers must become proficient in leveraging their “marketing mix” to drive sales. A “marketing mix” is defined by marketing professionals as the seven P’s: product, price, place, promotion, people, processes, and physical evidence.
Vermont Agriculture & Food System Plan 2021-2030 Vermont Food System Plan Issue Brief: Land Use Planning
Land use planning is an important tool for aligning settlement patterns and natural resource management with Vermont residents’ values. Community-level plans and policies affect many concrete land management and development decisions in Vermont. It is difficult to support farm viability without intentional local and regional land use policies that preserve agricultural land, and without a culture that values the services and economic opportunities provided by the natural resource. Land use policies are living documents, and economic, demographic, and geographic shifts call for a thorough updating of existing plans and policies. Communities empowered to directly engage with the food and agriculture community, and to proactively plan for transitions happening beyond municipal borders, will both protect our existing agricultural land base and increase economic opportunity throughout the whole food system, including processing and distribution, market development, and food access.
Vermont Agriculture & Food System Plan 2021-2030 Vermont Food System Plan Issue Brief: Labor and Workforce
Vermont’s farm and food economy gained 742 net new businesses between 2010-2017, and economic output expanded 48% from $7.5 billion to $11.3 billion between 2007-2017. Despite this growth, these businesses are affected by the workforce shortage impacting all sectors in Vermont, and many report that a lack of employees with the required skills is holding back their production and planned growth. In order to sustain the expansion of Vermont’s agricultural economy, existing workforce solutions must be adapted for the unique needs of farms and food system businesses. Simultaneously, despite the overall workforce shortage in the state, individuals living in Vermont often have difficulty finding careers that provide a livable wage, and need greater access to training and employment resources. Preserving the local food system as a viable economic driver requires workforce solutions that benefit both employees and employers.
Access to physical and mental health care is directly connected to farm viability and quality of life. Health care costs and the cost of living have far outpaced gains in farm-based income (and other forms of income) in Vermont. This affects farmers, farmworkers, and consumers, with ramifications from food access to farm operations. Farm families and farmworkers have difficulties accessing health insurance and health care due to the high cost of insurance (including deductibles, copays, and policy costs), lack of (or inadequate) insurance coverage, and limited access to rural providers. Lack of access to affordable health care can impact farm productivity, hiring of farmworkers, farm risk-management strategies, farm transition, land access, and the need for off-farm income. In a national study, a majority of farmers reported that they couldn’t withstand a major health crisis without going into debt or selling off their farm assets.
Vermont Agriculture & Food System Plan 2021-2030 Vermont Food System Plan Issue Brief: Food Security
“Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”1 All Vermonters have a right to healthy, affordable food, not only today but in times of crisis, regardless of their life circumstances. The COVID-19 pandemic revealed the benefit of a thriving agricultural economy in buffering national food supply chain disruptions, particularly for those already struggling to obtain adequate food. In order to reduce climate and pandemic-related risks to our food security, and to protect the most vulnerable, we need to reorient a significant part of our food production to the regional level. Coordinated, statewide action is needed to ensure food security across Vermont, in times of crisis and times of calm, for every Vermonter.
Vermont Agriculture & Food System Plan 2021-2030 Vermont Food System Plan Issue Brief: Farmland Conservation
Over the past 40 years, Vermont made substantial investment and progress in farmland conservation, permanently conserving 15-20% of the state’s farmland. Farmers have greatly benefited from ongoing, coordinated conservation efforts, yet threats to farm viability in the state continue to loom large. At least 3,000 Vermont farms and many more acres of high-quality agricultural soils are not conserved. Over the next five years, as many as 300 Vermont farms (conserved and not-conserved) may change hands as existing farmers retire. If managed strategically, these transfers could lead to the next generation of vital farms and strengthen Vermont’s rural economies. If not, land farmed for generations could sit fallow, become less productive, or be lost to development. The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on the urgency of securing our agricultural land base in order to support a more localized food supply.
Child care is fundamental to household economics, and therefore farm economics. Farmers with children must continuously negotiate access to affordable child care as the needs of their children and families change. Planning for these adjustments is part of whole-farm business planning, yet rarely taken into account in farm business support. Even with financial assistance, Vermont families may spend almost 30% of their annual income on child care. Vermont estimates the basic wage needed for two adults with two children (ages 4 and 6) to live alone and support their children is $31.75 per hour (or $66,036 annually), often far above a farmer’s or farmworker’s hourly wage. Child care is also the best way to keep farm children safe. Addressing farm families’ and farm workers’ need for child care is necessary to support long-term, thriving, and equitable food systems in Vermont. There is further need to examine how national and state child care policies intersect with farm family well-being and farm economic development.