Northeast Kingdom Summit Looks for Opportunities to Grow Local Food Economy

By Taylar Foster

Farms in the Northeast Kingdom are seeing more opportunities to diversify, to expand what they grow or raise, and to stay financially viable. This means freezing produce, raising a new breed of livestock, or hosting weddings or dinners on the farm.

As production increases, so does the need for people power for this part of the food system. Since 2001, food-manufacturing jobs in the Northeast Kingdom surpassed similar numbers for the state of Vermont, increasing 127%, from 132 jobs to 299 by 2014.


One goal from the 2011 Northeast Kingdom Food System Plan was to double the number of food manufacturing jobs between 2010 and 2020. As a region, the Northeast Kingdom is halfway there. Can the region see another 250 jobs in the food-manufacturing sector in the next five years? How? And how do we create and keep these jobs and grow the food economy? How do family farms stay in business? What are the new opportunities for these farms to diversify? Who needs to be involved for this to happen? What are the skills, inputs, and financing that are missing?

These are just a few of the questions we’ll be asking at the Northeast Kingdom Food System Plan Summit on March 26 at Sterling College in Craftsbury.

The 2011 NEK Plan outlined a set of goals and strategies to grow the food economy in this part of the state and is currently being updated. Ideas and strategies gathered at the Summit will be incorporated into the Plan. Space is limited, so advance registration is encouraged at

Organized by the Center for an Agricultural Economy and the Northeastern Vermont Development Association, the free, daylong Summit will bring together producers, distributors, retailers, and service providers across the Northeast Kingdom for a day of networking and discussion.

The Summit will feature two special presentations and two blocks of breakout sessions. Ellen Kahler of the Vermont Farm-to-Plate Network will offer the morning keynote address. Rosalie Wilson, an independent food systems consultant, will present preliminary findings from the recent Northeast Kingdom distribution study “Getting Local Products to Market: Finding Gaps and Opportunities” and lead a panel discussion from local distributors.

The eight breakout sessions cover a variety of food-system aspects, including land availability, food access and food justice, system-wide infrastructure investments, aggregation and processing needs, workforce development, and increasing demand for and marketing of local food.

Finding ways to continue increasing the region’s value-added food production is also critical: farms in the Northeast Kingdom grew faster in value-added manufacturing than Vermont, from 7% of farms in 2007, to 13% of farms in 2012 producing and/or selling value-added products.

Turning raw products, like soybeans, milk, and fresh produce, into “value-added products” like tofu, cheese, or ketchup is important for increasing the profitability of local farms. Working together, the Northeast Kingdom food economy can continue to grow. The Food System Plan is a key to coordinating and strengthening priorities for investments, resources, and organization needed to make that growth sustainable.

If you have questions about the Summit or the Plan update, please contact Taylar Foster, Program Manager, at or 802-635-2620.

-Taylar Foster is a land use and food systems planner in northern Vermont currently working as the Program Manager for the Northeast Kingdom Food System Plan.

Founded in 2005, the Center for an Agricultural Economy is dedicated to the advancement of a local, healthy food system and to providing the services needed for working lands enterprises to grow. They are the recipients of a USDA Rural Development Rural Business Opportunity Grant to develop a strategic fiveyear update to the regional food system plan. Northeastern Vermont Development Association, the regional planning commission and the economic development organization serving Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, is a partner in the development of the plan.

Posted in: Economic, Environmental
Tags: , , , .