Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Farm to Plate Initiative

being a report/review of the recent Farm to Plate Statewide Food Summit held in Rutland. Thank you to India Burnett Farmer for allowing me to publish it.
Below, Greg Cox is about to nibble on one of his luscious greens. Greg and India are a big part of RAFFL (Rutland Area Farm and Food Link), which sponsored the summit.

From Farmers' Market Farmers

The auditorium of the Rutland Middle School was packed with at least 300 people this Saturday to hear Kenneth Meter’s keynote address at the Farm to Plate Statewide Food Summit. Meter, an experienced food system analyst, presented the findings of his study of the farm and food economy of Southeast Minnesota, Finding Food in Farm Country. Meter’s study identified disturbing trends that mimic the Vermont farm situation. Most dispiriting perhaps was the loss of independence and autonomy farms are facing – decades of diminishing farm profits directly related to commodity prices and expenses that are out of the control of farm operators, the increasing rate of money flowing out of farm communities in the form of interest payments as farmers become more dependent on non-local financial institutions and the decreasing share of the retail dollar farmers realize for their product.
Meter was quick to note that even though the economic hardships plaguing the nation’s farm families are also hitting home in Vermont, he also sees a lot of promise for farms to thrive here. Meter noted the significance of the Farm to Plate planning process to strategically guide agriculture at a statewide level. This, coupled with the grassroots groundswell of support for local food and the presence of so many innovative farmers, bodes well for our agricultural future.
The short of it: the current food system takes wealth out of local communities, while community based food systems provide a path towards economic recovery.
The Farm to Plate Initiative, and the work of the numerous farm and food organizations like the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link, supports the strengthening of community-based food systems here in Vermont.

Meter stressed that the key to strong community-based food systems is the presence of direct relationships between a wide variety of players. This is where I see Vermont excelling - we are a small state, and these relationships are already strong. Examples abound - diversified farms know their customers by name, Vermont Fresh Network introduces farmers to chefs, RAFFL mixers build community between beginning farmers and link farmers and institutions like the local hospital.
As our food systems strengthen and expand, new relationships will develop. As processing and distribution hubs come on-line, farmers will know the face of brokers, distributors and specialty food processors. Brokers and distributors, in turn, will better know the food service directors at our schools and institutions. It is these relationships that stimulate creative partnerships between producers, processors, consumers, and more that increase demand for and value of agricultural products. This web of economic activity, when focused on local, statewide and regional relationships, will capture the dollars running through Vermont’s agricultural economy and help rebuild the wealth of our rural communities.
I found the success stories that Meter shared from across the country most inspiring. Examples that I’m excited to see folks explore here in Vermont include:
• Farms that are pushing the envelope in season extension (12 month greens production), marketing prowess (hydroponic operation capturing majority market share in the Twin Cities) and exceptional sales numbers at intensive scales (CSA with $70,000 sales/acre)
• Restaurants that are truly committed to impacting the farm economy (Cafe that sources 59% of inventory locally from over 50 producers)
• Institutional sales successes (University leadership to buy locally has led to 25 stores & institutions in Northern Iowa buying $1.8 million of local food)
• Regional food processing center (involves community players, stimulates new markets like hospital, food co-op and schools)
• Producer and buyers co-op that includes farmers, hospital food service, distributors and truckers as owners.
• Co-operative marketing models (Poultry business cluster addresses scale issues - co-op allows independent small scale production with larger scale processing)

A slideshow of the Farm to Plate planning process updated us all on the effort thus far. Break out sessions throughout the day allowed for input and discussion on the many sections of the Farm 2 Plate Strategic Plan, including the proposed 20 Goals for 2020. The draft of the plan is set to be competed by the end of June (incorporating everything they’ve heard during this summit and many other focus group sessions around the state).
A fantastic lunch sourced from many local farms was served. Pulled pork from Brown Boar Farm, fresh salad greens from Vermont Herb & Salad Company, Beet Salad from Foggy Meadow Farm and more from Brown’s Farm Stand, Thomas Dairy, Boardman Hill Farm, Perry’s Potatoes, Green Mountain Coffee and Dellveneri Bakery.
by India Burnett Farmer

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