The Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Region is fortunate to have a good diversity of farming despite the decline in the number of farms statewide. The RPC’s role in agriculture is to continue to support farming in our communities. We recognize the need to balance growth in our communities with the need to produce local and sustainable foods.
An analysis of the United States Census of Agriculture data between 2002 and 2012 (2012 being the most recent period of data collected) shows that farming in Vermont is slowly shifting away from the larger scale farm that developed as a result of trends towards consolidation. Between 2002 and 2007, the number of farms in Vermont increased by 6%. The average size of farms decreased from 189 acres to 171 acres between ag censuses. This is most likely due to the fact that 35% of Vermont’s farms in 2012 were considered “hobby farms” – farms that sell under $2500 in agricultural products per year.
While the number of “hobby farms” continues to grow, these farms only produce slightly less than 3% of Vermont’s agricultural income. In Vermont, dairy remains king of agriculture. In 2012, Dairy Farms constituted 12.7% of farms in Vermont, but generated 65.1% of Vermont’s agricultural income. Dairy’s role as one of stronger elements of the state’s economy can be measured by its contribution to the state’s gross domestic product. In only 13 states does dairying make up more than 1% of the state’s GDP. Dairying in Vermont is responsible for 7% of the state’s economy, second only to the fast-growing dairy industry in Idaho with 11.5%.
Although most farmers produce a mix of products on their farm, the 1970’s-1990’s showed a trend toward a single source of production; in the case of Vermont, that source is dairy. The challenge with utilizing a single source of production, is that farms are subject to dairying’s perennial problems: The uncertainties of weather and harvests; a shortage of people willing to work the long hours, federal and state programs that have rarely been able to control the oversupply of milk or fully stabilize wildly fluctuating milk prices; and (specific to Vermont), the challenges of competing with the Midwest and West with their lower costs of production.
Since the 1990’s the trend toward a monoculture has begun to reverse. More farms are choosing to diversify their production to include meats, grains, vegetables and value added products. Vermont’s growing “buy local” culture is benefitting local farmers to some extent, providing them with new markets in which to sell their products. Direct sales (e.g., via farmers markets, CSAs, farm stands, online markets) are booming. The popularity of locally produced foods is catching on in local and regional grocery stores, restaurants and institutions—where the majority of food purchases are made. Despite the resurgence of local agricultural production and consumption, there is still substantial room to grow.
Center for Sustainable Agriculture – The Center for Sustainable Agriculture advances sustainable food and farming systems in Vermont and beyond. We cultivate partnership, support innovative research and practices, and inform policy to benefit Vermont communities and the UVM campus.
Center for an Agricultural Economy – A Hardwick, Vermont-based non-profit organization committed to supporting and advancing a healthy regional food system.
The Farm to Plate (F2P) Initiative – F2P resulted in the development of a 10-year strategic plan to strengthen Vermont’s food system.. The collaborative project was approved by the Vermont State legislature at the end of the 2009 Vermont legislative session, and was directed the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund in consultation with the Sustainable Agriculture Council and other stakeholders.
Vermont Food Education Every Day (VT FEED) – A collaboration of Two Rivers Center, NOFA-VT, and Shelburne Farms. Together, they work with schools and communities to raise awareness about healthy food, the role of Vermont farms and farmers, and good nutrition.
Vermont Fresh Network – The VFN encourages farmers, food producers and chefs to work directly with each other to build partnerships.
Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund – The VSJF provides early stage grant funding, technical assistance, and loans to entrepreneurs, businesses, farmers, networks and others interested in developing jobs and markets in the green economy. They also have an extensive list of sustainable agriculture links and resources.
Rural Vermont – Rural Vermont is an organization that supports the resurgence of community-scale agriculture through education, advocacy, and organizing in support of Vermonters living in deep connection to one another and to the land that nourishes us all.