Sustaining Farms and Food in Your Community

With the Strong and Diverse Economy element approved by the commission, regional plan staff are starting to work on the goals, policies and strategies outlined in it. One way we’re accomplishing that is through our involvement with the Central Vermont Food Systems Council. The CVFSC gives us an opportunity to start working on Policy 18 in the element, which charges CVRPC with “Foster[ing] collaborative partnerships among regional food system stakeholders.”

On Thursday, February 12, the CVFSC hosted an event at Montpelier High School, which was attended by more than 30 farmers, food processors, educators, nutritionists, planners, advocates, home gardeners, and consumers. They shared a delicious meal of local foods prepared by the New England Culinary Institute and identified possible next steps for creating a stronger local food system.

The evening began with a warm welcome from Joseph Kiefer, Chair of the Central Vermont Food Systems Council. Joseph gave a brief history of the last seven years of the Council’s work to rebuild a local food system that will provide food security for all residents of Central Vermont and set the stage for the panelists of the evening. Each panelists gave a presentation focused on ways that towns can create stronger and more resilient food systems that support farmers in local communities. Peg Elmer spoke about the tools available from Farm to Plate, including the new Vermont Agricultural Land Use Planning Guide, which can help farmers identify resources for future growth. Sjon Welters told the audience about the history of the Cabot Agricultural Network, a small but dedicated group of Cabot residents who seek to educate their neighbors about local food. Joseph Kiefer explained the benefits of Town Food Plans, documents that can be used to help ensure a town’s food security in the long term by preserving agricultural lands for local food production. And finally, Rick Sharf outlined the successes and challenges faced by Waterbury and Duxbury when they conducted a food systems assessments and included food security in their town plan.

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Rick Sharf teaches the audience about the Waterbury-Duxbury Food System Assessment

The audience then had a chance to offer answers to a few questions posed by the presenters:

  1. What assets exist in your community that contribute to a strong food system?
  2. What have you identified that your community needs to strengthen the food system?
  3. What’s a first step you can take in your community to work towards strengthening the food system?

The answers to the questions were varied and thought provoking. The group identified assets ranging from passionate individuals within their towns to institutions like the Mad River Food Hub. They also saw many needs that must be met for a strong food system, such as better connections and communications between farmers and buyers. Attendees also considered steps that they could take as individuals, such as hosting dinners showcasing local foods from their favorite farmers.

The Central Vermont Food System Council is a volunteer community-based group that works to cultivate Central Vermont’s emerging sustainable food system, to ensure that everyone has access to affordable, quality, locally grown food. The Central Vermont Food System Council is administered by the Central Vermont Regional Planning Commission, with support from the Vermont Health Department, Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, the City of Montpelier, Farm to Plate, and the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund.

You can learn more about the work of the Central Vermont Food Systems Council by vising their website, where you will find blog posts, local food news and information about upcoming events.

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Audience members offer answers to discussion questions, both by talking to each other and by writing their answers on sticky notes.

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