By Ellen Kahler
On October 23-24, 2014, approximately 300 members attended the Farm to Plate Network Annual Gathering held at the Killington Grand Conference Center to review the progress towards implementing Vermont’s Farm to Plate Strategic Plan and learn about the next set of challenges facing Vermont’s evolving food system.
Attendees speak about food system issues at the Farm to Plate Annual Gathering
Since the launch of Farm to Plate, University of Vermont professors, instructors, researchers, and personnel have provided more contributions, participation, and leadership than any other single organization within the Farm to Plate Network. Approximately 34 individuals attend statewide meetings and contribute knowledge, expertise, and efforts to a wide variety of projects, forging important relationships and collaborations with food system leaders and stakeholders outside of UVM all across the state.
As we enter year four of ten of the Farm to Plate Strategic Plan, we are digging deeper into food system issues facing Vermont. This year’s Gathering gave special consideration to the issues of food equity and justice. One in seven Vermonters are food insecure and struggle to meet one of their most basic needs. A plenary session with the entire Gathering and a breakout session attended by 65 participants focused on both the moral imperative to ensure that all Vermonters can benefit from the local food movement and the fact that overcoming food access barriers is good for food and farm businesses because it expands the market of consumers.
UVM faculty and staff helped us better understand the situation behind these numbers:
Linda Berlin, Director of the UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Assistant Professor with UVM Extension, conducts food access research that is an integral part of the work taking place to reach Vermont’s Farm to Plate goals. Linda helped paint the picture of food insecurity in VT by grounding us in hard data about who is food insecure what the trends are indicating. Within the Farm to Plate Network, she is the Co-Chair of the Food Access Cross-cutting Team and also serves on the Consumer Education & Marketing Working Group. Both her work and perspective were an important part of shaping the Equity and Access in Our Food System Plenary at the Gathering.
Ben Waterman coordinates the Land Access Program at the UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture and provides development support for the UVM Extension New Farmer Project. He participated in the Food System Justice and Equity deep dive session and provided ways that organizations can be more inclusive when working with new Americans. Waterman is a member and past Co-Chair of the Farm to Plate Farmland Access & Stewardship Working Group and member of the Farmland Access Task Force.
Food System Justice and Equity Deep Dive (Ben Waterman on right)
Over the course of the 2-day Gathering, speakers and participants explored many other topics in Vermont’s food system, including getting local food into retail stores, marketing the Vermont brand, financing the food system, the need to get more farmland under production, understanding Vermont’s food consumer, farm viability, food system education, and how public health relates to the local food movement. During these sessions, Network members shared, learned from one another, and identified gaps and potential next steps for action. Here’s a sampling of UVM’s involvement in those discussions:
Joe Emenheiser, UVM Extension Assistant Professor, is a livestock specialist and member of the Farm to Plate Production & Processing Working Group. He participated in the “fishbowl” session centered on marketing the Vermont brand to which he offered insights surrounding efficiency, product quality and marketing of products from diversified livestock farms.
Panel members of the Marketing the Vermont Brand Deep Dive (Joe Emenheiser on right)
Mark Cannella, UVM Extension Assistant Professor, is a Farm Business Management Specialist and member of the Farm to Plate Production & Processing Working Group. He provided expertise in the areas of scale, business management, debt load, and goal setting as a presenter and “fishbowl” participant in a session that explored the complexities of farm viability.
As a Professor and Chair of UVM department of Community Development and Applied Economics, and Director of the UVM Center for Rural Studies, Jane Kolodinsky supports the Farm to Plate Consumer Education & Marketing Working Group as a Consultant to the Vermont Food Consumer Profile project. She also served as a Lead Researcher for the Farm to Plate Aggregation & Distribution Working Group’s Independent Grocers Assessment. Both of these projects will help to inform collaborative work to get more local food into Vermont stores and consumed by more Vermonters. At the Annual Gathering, Dr. Kolodinsky co-facilitated a session designed to help the Vermont Farm to Plate Network better understand the Vermont food consumer.
Liz Kenton, UVM Extension Youth Agriculture Project Coordinator, is a member of the Farm to Plate Education & Workforce Development Working Group and is helping to develop a series of agricultural career profiles as a resource for Vermont schools—a project of the Career Pathways & Image Task Force. Kenton facilitated a session focused on the Vermont Agency of Education’s work with Farm to Plate to develop a Vermont Food System Education Professional Learning Community.
As Vermont moves into the fourth year of implementing the Farm to Plate Strategic Plan, it is clear that our Network is made stronger by the leadership and participation from all sectors of the Vermont food system. As Vermont’s Land Grant institution, it is fitting that UVM is taking such an active leadership role in supporting the direction we collectively take.
Ellen Kahler is Executive Director of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, the coordinating organization of the Farm to Plate Network. Learn more about Vermont’s Farm to Plate Initiative at www.VTFarmtoPlate.com.