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Research and Education Drive Vermont’s Farm & Food Economy

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By Matt Sayre

The purpose of education is to promote social progress. Research universities, such as the University of Vermont, were founded on the belief that teaching and research must be inseparable. Research at UVM helps create new knowledge with the potential to inform action, determine what progress really looks like, and identify the best approaches to make progress.

Educational programs, including UVM’s Farmer Training Program, Food Hub Management Program, Breakthrough Leaders Program for Sustainable Food Systems, and the UVM Food Systems Summit, translate and promote this research into best practices and applied solutions.

It’s clear that this research and education about the food system is having an impact, especially in Vermont as explained in the 2014 Farm to Plate Annual Report, which was released last month. Research and education at UVM shines a light on the good work being done in Vermont and helps others learn from the efforts of Vermonters.

The 2014 Farm to Plate Annual Report reveals how Vermont’s farmers and food enterprises are increasing food production and how programs such as farm to school, farm to college and farm to hospital, as well as the charitable food system are all working to increase the amount of fresh, local food that is available to Vermonters at all income levels.

Some highlights from Vermont’s food economy:

Vermont’s farm and food economy is growing.

  • From 2007 to 2012 food system economic output expanded 24 percent, from $6.9 billion to $8.6 billion.

Food manufacturing is growing at a faster rate than overall manufacturing in Vermont, as well as food manufacturing in the other New England states.

  • There are 748 food manufacturing firms in the state, a 37 percent increase over 2009 (539 firms).
  • The number of food manufacturing jobs increased by 1,596 between 2009 and 2013. Vermont’s 34.5 percent increase grew at a faster rate than other New England states (MA-21 percent, NH-4.2 percent, CT-3.6 percent, RI-1.5 percent, ME-8.5 percent).

Crop and livestock sales are on the rise.

  • The value of agricultural sales increased to $776 million in 2012, up from $746 million in 2007, a 4 percent increase. The number of farms with $10,000 or more in sales in 2012 was 3,018, a 5 percent increase from 2007 (2,883).

Job creation is strong.

  • 4,189 new jobs (7.2 percent increase) were created in the food system from 2009 to 2013.
  • For every 1 food system job created there are 1.28 additional jobs created in Vermont.

Vermont’s entrepreneurs are creating new businesses, thus employment.

  • 665 new farms and food businesses (5.9 percent increase) were launched in the food system from 2009 to 2013.
  • Over 60,000 Vermonters are employed as farmers, waiters, cheese makers, brewers, bakers, butchers, grocery stockers, restaurateurs, manufacturers, marketers, distributors, and many other food related jobs. About 12,000 businesses are part of Vermont’s food system.

More businesses are sourcing local food.

  • Sodexo spent $3.2 million on local food in 2014 served to Vermont college and university students at 16 campuses as well as at four additional locations.
  • The UVM Medical Center purchased $1.6 million in local food in 2014, including $343,000 directly from farmers (up 35 percent over 2013). They also purchased an additional $260,000 worth of food from regional food purveyors (up 18 percent over 2013).
  • City Market, one of Vermont’s 17 consumer food cooperatives, reported $11 million in locally sourced food sales, or 31 percent of their total gross sales in 2014.
  • The Vermont Food Venture Center in Hardwick processed 40,000 lbs. of locally grown produce for schools, colleges and hospitals in Vermont.

Innovation and collaboration across Vermont’s food access community are helping food insecure Vermonters.

  • The Vermont Foodbank, state agencies, and many community food security organizations are bringing fresh local food to food insecure Vermonters and providing job training to underemployed and unemployed people.
  • In 2014, the Vermont Foodbank distributed nearly 9 million pounds of food – over 1.3 million of those pounds were produce. This is the first time the Foodbank has distributed more than 1 million pounds of produce and is a 45 percent increase over the previous year. Of that, nearly 320,000 pounds were donated or gleaned from Vermont farms (a 9 percent increase over the previous year).
  • The Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, the non-profit coordinator of Vermont’s Farm to Plate Network, is responsible for reporting Farm to Plate Strategic Plan progress annually to the Vermont Legislature. Data sources and analysis relevant to each of the 25 goals of the Farm to Plate Strategic Plan can be accessed directly at the Farm to Plate website:

Vermont is clearly a leader in local and sustainable food systems development. At UVM, we’re proud to be teaching the next generation of farmers and food producers in a state where local food truly matters.

Matt Sayre is a senior program developer at University of Vermont Continuing and Distance Education. He develops educational programs focused on sustainable food and agricultural systems, and his family is growing their own organic fruit farm and gluten free farm bakery in Hinesburg.