By Chris Howell
Vermont’s Farm to Plate Network encompasses agricultural production and processing businesses, government entities, educational institutions, distributors, retailers, funding bodies, and dozens of nonprofits from food justice to technical assistance providers.
Together, the 300+ members of the Network are working to implement the Farm to Plate Strategic Plan, a 10-year initiative to strengthen Vermont’s food system and double local food production and consumption by 2020. Six working groups, six crosscutting teams, a steering committee, and seventeen task forces represent a regional collaboration ready to tackle Farm to Plate’s lofty goals. Not least of all, a capable backbone organization—Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund—provides key support and organization for the Network.
Over two days at the Annual Network Gathering, the Farm to Plate Network reviewed progress, addressed difficult questions, and made and renewed connections throughout the food system. Vermonters were joined by policymakers and change makers from Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. Attendees included a broad range of food system stakeholders, ranging from Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross to farmers, researchers, and students from Vermont Youth Conservation Corps. ”Deep Dive” discussion sessions spanned a range of issues, including topics such as food and farmland access, agricultural literacy, food and agriculture workforce needs, food supply and demand at varying scales, food and farm policy, and preparing for the challenges of climate change.
The event featured three “Blue Ribbon” stories about food system development in Vermont, including how the Meat Processing Task Force worked with Black River Produce to invest in a new meat processing facility. The group also heard from Brian Donahue of Brandeis University, who shared research from the New England Food Vision on Vermont’s role in getting New England to 50% regional food by 2060. Between presentations and deep dive sessions, participants shared meals, stories, and a beer or two.
Ultimately, the Farm to Plate Annual Network Gathering creates a space for asking big-picture questions—a seasonal cross pollination informing each individual’s work and generating opportunities for meaningful collaboration.
It is this kind of forward-thinking cooperation that will produce a thriving regional food system. Here’s to working together, and here’s to joining colleagues and friends at the table to enjoy the fruits of our work. Feel free to contact Farm to Plate’s Network leaders for more information.
Chris Howell runs Vermont Farm Tours and serves as vice president of Slow Food Vermont. In the Farm to Plate Network, he sits on the Consumer Education and Marketing Working Group as well as the Agritourism Task Force.