Reimagining our agricultural Future
We’ve all seen the headlines. Dairy farmers forced to dump milk. Massive lines forming at food box delivery sites. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed a precarious food system that is not designed to support Vermont’s farmers or our eaters in times of crisis.
The good news is that, in many ways, Vermonters were made for this moment. We are resourceful. We care for our neighbors. We pursue self-sufficiency with gleeful determination. Now we must apply these qualities not only to survive the immediate crisis, but to reimagine Vermont agriculture to shift towards a diversified, equitable, and crisis-proof food system that can sustain both people and land into the future.
It should not go unacknowledged that in addition to being unprepared for a crisis of the magnitude we are currently experiencing, our food system here in Vermont is built upon the same structures of white supremacy and racism underlying all of our social systems in the United States. A central part of our collective work to build a healthier food system going forward is dismantling the racist ideas and power structures on which it was founded and persist today.
As lawmakers debate how to spend our state’s federal CARES Act funding, Vermont has the opportunity to demonstrate to the nation how to emerge from this crisis stronger than when it began. To that end, we are calling for a stimulus plan for an agriculturally resilient, emergency ready Vermont. It is one part of the blueprint that is needed to respond to the current crisis and course correct towards a better future.
Over the past 11 months, some shining examples of what this future can look like have emerged. As people began staying home to slow the spread of the virus, farmers all around the state joined together to offer home delivery of everything from meat and vegetables to prepared meals and pantry staples. Interest in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares has spiked exponentially, with many farmers expanding production in order to feed their communities. Dairy farmers who sell their milk directly from their farms have begun sourcing from other farmers in their area to provide an array of food to meet their neighbors’ needs. Thousands of Vermonters have planted gardens for the first time, to grow more of their own food and share with their communities.
If we want a food system that can serve us both in good times and in times of crisis, we need to to pay attention to these examples and expand on them exponentially.
Here’s what we can do right now:
- Provide direct payments to Vermont farms of all types and scales suffering from lost markets, and resilience grants to allow them to expand and adapt to meet the changing needs of our communities.
- Administer direct payments to all Vermonters who have been excluded from the federal stimulus and other benefits because of immigration status.
- Invest in programs that keep Vermonters fed while supporting Vermont farmers, including funding school meal programs’ ability to purchase local food.
We need a thoughtful and comprehensive plan to take us from where we are now to a food system focused first and foremost on ensuring that all Vermonters are fed and all farmers are thriving. We should invest in the farmers who are currently stepping up to feed their communities, and enact policies that ensure fair compensation and dignified livelihoods for everyone working to get food from these farms to our plates. If we want continued access to sustainably produced local food, we – both individuals and institutions – need to step up and support these farmers with our food dollars long after this crisis subsides.
I believe Vermonters know what a better future looks like – we just need a roadmap to get there. And we need everyone to get on the bus.
My hope is that, in the coming weeks and months, our stimulus plan for Vermont agriculture will become one of many other such roadmaps from all sectors that together, will help guide our state through this crisis and deliver us collectively into a more resilient, thriving society on the other side.
I can’t wait to see you there.
Are you a farmer, gardener, homesteader or a lover of organic farms and food? Have questions or want to weigh in on NOFA-VT's advocacy work? Email Maddie Kempner.