Near the end of last year, I wrote about my experience at the dedication ceremony for the new statue of Ceres—the goddess of agriculture—on top of Vermont’s State House. I talked about being moved by the size of the crowd and the songs we sang together as the statue was lifted to its home on the State House dome. I also wondered what it meant to be celebrating Ceres, and by extension Vermont’s agricultural heritage and culture, in a time of transition and upheaval for Vermont’s farm economy.
Since then, my conviction has grown: the future of agriculture in Vermont matters to every person who lives here, and now is the time to get together and talk about it.
At the High Meadows Fund, we hear a lot from our partners and grantees about the forces impacting Vermont’s working landscapes: market consolidation, transitions in generational ownership, and climate change are just a few of the dynamics at play. Reliant on the working landscape are Vermont’s rural communities, tourism, and recreation industries. If we want to close Vermont’s opportunity gap, we can’t ignore any of this.
Our partners emphasize that there is no single strategy to address these challenges. They are talking about many solutions to answer many different demands. In our grantmaking and investments, High Meadows has focused on exploring new markets for Vermont farm products, supporting farmland transfers, improving climate change resilience, and growing farm and food businesses. We are seeking funding partners for a collaborative initiative to scale up and strengthen food hubs. We’ve also begun to appreciate the potential of pulling together coalitions that align the interests and voices of farmers, recreation and tourism businesses, and environmental advocates.
The Vermont Farm to Plate Network, organized around a statewide food system plan that started in 2011, is right now figuring out what its next 10 years might look like. The network’s myriad members are assessing the progress of the past eight years and the challenges that remain. They know the work of the next decade of Farm to Plate will look a lot different than how it began.
Over the next few months, we plan to write a series of blog posts about what we’re observing, what needs to be done to heal and strengthen Vermont’s agricultural economy, and why that matters to Vermont’s rural communities and to clean water and climate resilience for all of us. We invite you to join us: subscribe to our Meadows Muffins blog, and follow us on Twitter to stay updated.
This piece was originally published as a guest blog post by Gaye Symington on the Vermont Community Foundation’s website.