Black Urban Growers (BUGS) is an organization committed to building networks and community support for growers in both urban and rural settings. Through education and advocacy around food and farm issues, we nurture collective Black leadership to ensure we have a seat at the table.
Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust’s Coordinator, Board of Directors, and fiscal sponsors (Soul Fire Farm Institute and their Board of Directors) bring their diverse skill sets in Cooperative Development, Climate Justice, Food and Land Sovereignty, Farming, Education, Herbalism, and Indigenous and Disaporic ways of honoring the land to build a land trust with clarity of focus, intentionality, and lived experience that centers the voices of QTBIPOC Farmers, Land Stewards, and Earth Workers.
The Clemmons Family Farm is one of the largest African-American-owned historic farms in Vermont today. The farm includes 6 historic buildings (circa later 1700s-1800s), a spacious 1990s residents, and 148 acres of prime farmland and forests, ponds and streams abundant with wildlife. The Farm is one of the 22 official landmarks on the State of Vermont's African-American Heritage Trail.
In 2020, Farm to Plate will undertake a stakeholder engagement process to further refine and prioritize strategies and recommendations to develop a shared vision for the Farm to Plate 2.0 Strategic Plan. A list of high priority recommendations identified through the stakeholder process will be completed by September 2020, with results shared at the 2020 Farm to Plate Network Annual Gathering. The final synthesized report, with high priority strategies, recommendations, and vision statement, will be delivered to the Legislature January 2021 to officially commence Farm to Plate’s next 10-year cycle.
Our challenge is to find a path forward in Vermont agriculture that allows for food production while protecting water quality. Agriculture dominates Vermont’s working landscape in many parts of the state and is also important to the state’s economy, both directly and indirectly. Similarly, our natural resources, including clean water, are why many people live in Vermont or come to visit, fueling the tax base and the tourism economy. At the present moment, agriculture is experiencing an explosion of momentum around the concept of “soil health,” a steep escalation in concerns and investments in water quality, and an intensification of the confounding effects of climate change. We will need to use common sense, the power of community, respect, sound science, and creativity to successfully navigate the dynamic intersection of these tightly interwoven factors.
Vermont is facing a dramatic shift in the agricultural sector due to economic and demographic changes. The key to the maintenance and development of the farms that form the backbone of our rural communities is to support the next generation of farmers. These new and beginning farmers face a number of challenges including shifting markets and production models, increased risk due to climate change, and barriers to accessing land. The types of support that are critical to their success include assistance in identifying and accessing suitable land, development of strong management and production capacity, supportive policies around markets, and access to capital. The new generation of farmers needs this type of support to create viable farm businesses, to keep the Vermont landscape in active agricultural use, and to preserve the character of our rural communities.
At a time when Vermont farms are facing downturns in prices and markets — and most are challenged to be profitable — farms are also set to transfer to new ownership at an unprecedented rate. The majority of Vermont farmers do not have a succession plan in place, and many do not have an identified successor. Of Vermont farmers 65 and older, 92% have no one under 45 working under them, and relatively few incoming farmers are interested in or prepared to assume responsibility for large-scale operations. This may lead to a change in the agricultural landscape that has not been seen for many generations, including a significant decrease in the amount of land in active agricultural use, land lying fallow for years or developed for other uses, and a setback in the amount of food produced in the state.
Teaching Vermont students the value of Vermont food for both their own health and their community is an investment in future generations who will support agricultural policy, buy local, consider food system careers, and invest in resources for schools and other institutions. Schools purchase Vermont foods to build relationships in their community, and understand that the relationships have to be sustainable for both the school and the producer. However, pressures to prioritize cheap and/or prepared food are increasing due to decreased student enrollment, school consolidation, and administrative personnel changes. In addition, regulatory demands and food costs have increased at a greater rate than federal and state school meal reimbursement. School nutrition personnel, teachers, and administrators are focused on the basics of teaching required subjects and federal requirements for student meals rather than being able to creatively expand their Farm to School curriculum or spend time sourcing, purchasing, and serving local foods that students will enjoy. All this means that local purchasing is at risk of decreasing.
Significant challenges are on the horizon for more than 1,000 produce farms that add diversity and innovation to Vermont’s agricultural economy, which is otherwise largely dependent on the commodity dairy industry. Though small in proportion to dairy, produce farms (excluding apple farms) generate over $50 million in annual sales, employ thousands of (mostly seasonal) workers, and supply key components of a healthy diet.
The Vermont maple sector is experiencing rapid growth in production and product innovation while holding a leadership role in maple distribution, research, and manufacturing for the United States. The expanding national demand for natural sweeteners, paired with improved production practices, creates an opportunity for continued expansion that will bolster job opportunities at all levels of the maple industry. Research estimates that 12% of the current maple resources are being used for syrup production, leaving a large amount of untapped forest available for expansion.1 Maple leaders are optimistic about sustained growth but recognize the need to adapt to new policy, climate, land use, and market forces to maintain Vermont’s role as the premier maple state in the United States.