2017 Year In Review

2017 was full of large projects, farm specific planning, and a general concern about the future of farming in New England. Large projects included a Regional and National Cold Hardy Crop Market Assessment for the North Country Farmers Co-op, a Kiwiberry Local Market Assessment, Production Manual and Enterprise Viability Guide with UNH, a market update on Grass Fed Beef for Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, Grass Fed Beef Value Chain Research, an implementation guide with Northshire Grows to assist Low-Income Local Food Access in Bennington, Vermont and the development of transportation and logistics tools for producers and distributors through the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets. Interspersed with the big projects was a good amount of individual farm and food producer business planning, marketing and grant writing. This year kicked off a two year project providing business planning technical assistance to 20 businesses through Health Care Without Harm’s Faces Of New England Program, as well as serving businesses through Center for an Agricultural Economy, USDA Farm Service Agency, Intervale Center, NH Community Loan Fund, NOFA-VT, Northern Community Investment Corporation, UVM Extension, Vermont Housing and Conservation Board’s Farm Viability Program, and business’ contracting out of pocket. 2017 was a difficult year in the local food world. While overall demand is growing, ability to access that demand and service it at a profitable price point has become increasingly challenging. I addressed this topic at the National Farm Viability Conference, Vermont’s Annual Farm to Plate Gathering and as a forward in NOFA VT’s 2017 Trends and Models Influencing VT’s Direct Markets study. In this market environment the need for strategic thinking, business planning and financial analysis is crucial, and the need for us as advocates of our working landscape to help communicate to consumers and buyers that yes, it costs more to farm in New England, it costs more to farm on a smaller scale that suits our landscape, that supports our environment, that enables us to care for our animals and our people without compromise. It is up to all of us to communicate and convey this value proposition, that if food is always reduced to cost, then other aspects of what consumers value and enjoy in life are put in jeopardy. If you like seeing the diverse landscape of small farms dotting the hillsides, if you appreciate knowing the farmers care for their land and animals and staff the way you would like them to, then you need to vote with your food dollars. You need to make the effort to seek out local food, not just at your grocery store, but at the farm stand, at the farmers market, online. Few farms will have the ability to participate in market opportunities in the grocery store, yes, support those you see there, but also take the time to seek out your smaller local producers, or those not represented in the store. Every dollar you spend directly with your local farmers increases the likelihood that you will still have a diverse landscape of local farms to enjoy in the future. As national and regional brands hone in on consumers’ desire to eat more locally, healthily and with an increased environmental awareness, the time to support your individual local farms is now.

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