2021 POLICY PLATFORM
As we enter a new legislative biennium, NOFA-VT continues to seek policy change that brings us closer to our vision of an economically viable, ecologically sound, and socially just Vermont agricultural system. The COVID-19 pandemic has both clarified and exacerbated inequities in our food and farming system nationally and here in Vermont, while at the same time Vermont's diverse farmers and food producers have demonstrated their incredible resilience, creativity, skill, and commitment to keeping our communities fed. Both in our advocacy and elsewhere in our work, we are carrying these lessons forward with renewed clarity about what is needed now to build a food and farming system where farmers can thrive, natural systems are healthy and functioning, and everyone has enough nourishing food to eat.
With those goals in mind, the following are our current policy priorities for the 2021 legislative session.
FOOD SECURITY & SCHOOL NUTRITION
VT Food for VT Kids
During the last biennium, NOFA-VT worked with partners to support S.273, a bill that would provide a tiered per plate incentive to schools that purchase 15-25% of their food locally. We expect a similar or identical bill to be introduced in both the House and Senate soon, and look forward to working with our partners in the Farm to School Network and beyond, as well as legislators, to move this bill across the finish line during the 2021-2022 biennium.
- Farm Share Program
NOFA-VT is seeking an allocation of $75,000 to support and expand our successful Farm Share Program, which provides subsidized CSA shares to limited income Vermonters while ensuring farmers receive the full cost of the share. Establishing a state allocation to support Farm Share year after year would provide a more stable funding source for the program, while allowing us to scale up the program's reach in recognition of both heightened food insecurity and demand for CSA shares. Thanks to a subgrant from Vermont Foodbank in 2020, we were able to increase the number of fall and winter shares by 86% and the number of individuals served by 85%. The additional funds allowed us to eliminate the farm match for our fall season and increase participation by 200% compared to the fall season in 2019.
- Farm to School & Early Childhood Grants Program
NOFA-VT is a partner in the Vermont Farm to School Network's campaign to secure $500,000 in funding for the Vermont Farm to School & Early Childhood grants program. Learn more about this campaign and how you can show your support here!
- Universal School Meals
Learn more about Universal School Meals from our partners at Hunger Free VT.
- Composting as a Farming Practice
During the 2021 session, NOFA-VT looks forward to working closely with our partners at Rural Vermont to support and pass a bill that defines poultry foraging on food residuals as a farming practice and allows farmers to import up to 2,000 cubic yards annually as chicken feed. This practice is one that we understand as having multiple benefits of redirecting food waste from landfills, supporting poultry farmers' viability by reducing feed costs, and building healthy soils. Last year, S.265 was introduced but set aside as the legislature shifted its focus to COVID-19 response and relief. We expect a similar bill will be introduced in the Senate Agriculture Committee imminently, and look forward to advocating in support of it.
Beyond poultry foraging in particular, NOFA-VT seeks acknowledgment and understanding of composting as a foundational agricultural practice, particularly within organic farming systems that strive for a "closed loop" approach. It is important that this practice is understood as agricultural in nature, while also providing specific support for different scales and styles of composting, from poultry foraging to larger scale food waste management.
- Alternative Manure Management
NOFA-VT is seeking to establish a program, modeled after California's Alternative Manure Management Program, that would incentivize on-farm composting of dairy manure as well as other "alternative" manure management strategies such as bedded pack systems, and transition to or expansion of pasture-based livestock management systems. These alternative manure management strategies are ones that organic dairy farmers in particular have innovated, and that have substantial benefits to our state in terms of climate change mitigation, food waste management, soil health, and water quality.
- Maintain strong funding for the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB), and particularly the Farm & Forest Viability Program.
NOFA-VT is one of eight partners in VHCB's Farm & Forest Viability Program. Together, VHCB and the Farm Viability partners offer business advising to eligible farmers, agriculturally-related businesses, forest products enterprises, and forest landowners. VHCB and the Viability Program provide critical services and technical assistance to farmers at all stages of their businesses, and NOFA-VT strongly supports maintaining funding for VHCB at a level that allows continued and over time, increased critical farmer support services.
- Adequate Shelter Law Revisions
Last year, a bill (H.254/Act 116) was passed that made amendments to the existing statutory language regarding shelter for livestock and domestic animals primarily maintained outdoors. NOFA-VT is concerned that the changes made to this language create conditions that are excessively restrictive especially for graziers practicing management intensive rotational grazing.
SOCIAL JUSTICE & EQUITY
- Act 164 Reforms
Throughout 2020, NOFA-VT worked with a coalition of partners including Rural Vermont, Justice for All, and the Vermont Growers Association to advocate for a just and equitable cannabis marketplace in Vermont. Now that S.54 (Act 164) has been passed into law and is in various stages of implementation, we are continuing to advocate both on the local level and for legislative reforms that would help realize our vision of a cannabis marketplace that supports farmers and growers, and provides meaningful opportunities for communities of color and others harmed by cannabis prohibition to thrive in this market.
- BIPOC Land Access & Opportunity Act
NOFA-VT acknowledges that as a result of systemic racism, Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) in Vermont as elsewhere in our nation have been largely and disproportionately excluded from access to land, housing, and other necessary resources that allow human beings to thrive. We believe it is past time to rectify these wrongs, and that our ability to ensure equitable access to land, wealth, food, and other resources is only limited by our political imagination and commitment to social justice. We look forward to supporting BIPOC community leaders in support of the BIPOC Land Access & Opportunity Act during the 2021-2022 biennium.
ORGANIC AGRICULTURE IS A CRITICAL PART OF THE SOLUTION TO CLIMATE CHANGE
The global climate crisis requires us to develop and carry out bold, effective, multisector solutions. With the potential to mitigate the impacts of climate change, reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, and support more ecologically and economically resilient communities, organic agriculture must be included as a cornerstone of our response to the climate crisis.
ORGANIC FARMING PRACTICES CAN MITIGATE CLIMATE CHANGE
By using techniques to build healthy, biologically active soils, organic agriculture has the potential to increase global soil carbon sequestration, mitigating the impacts of climate change.
Organic regulations (§205.203) require crop nutrient management practices that maintain and improve soil. These include crop rotations, cover cropping, and the application of plant and animal manures. Research has shown that if these standard practices were implemented globally, soil organic carbon pools would increase by an estimated 2 billion tons per year – the equivalent of 12% of the total annual GHG emissions worldwide.1
Organic regulations also prohibit the use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, which contribute to nitrous oxide emissions from soils. These emissions comprise 50.4% of all domestic agricultural emissions and have 310 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.1 Accelerated adoption of organic practices would eliminate a significant source of nitrous oxide emissions globally.
ORGANIC AGRICULTURE IMPROVES ECOLOGICAL RESILIENCE
Organic farmers use techniques like cover cropping, crop rotations, and plant and animal manures to build soil fertility and boost soil organic matter. Soils with a 1% increase in soil organic matter have been shown to have an increased water holding capacity of 20,000 gallons per acre. This increased water holding capacity improves resilience to flooding and drought, both of which Vermont is projected to experience more frequently as a result of climate change.
While conventional no-till systems build up soil organic carbon levels at rates comparable to organic production systems, providing similar benefits in terms of soil structure, carbon sequestration, and water retention, organic agriculture does not use herbicides or synthetic pesticides.2 As each of these can compromise soil biology,1 organic agriculture provides the same benefits as conventional no-till agriculture with fewer ecological harms.
ORGANIC AGRICULTURE increases the number of skilled farmers on the land
Rather than relying on costly chemical inputs, organic agriculture relies on the management, experience, and wisdom of farmers in partnership with biological processes. Organic farms also tend to be smaller and more intensively managed. By multiplying organic acreage, we diversify our production systems and multiply the number of skilled farmers on the land, making for a more resilient agricultural landscape and viable employment for more Vermonters.
Adding hundreds of organic farmers to Vermont’s working landscape means adding hundreds of knowledgeable individuals who are used to thinking carefully about the interface between farming and biology, expert in solving agronomic problems without purchased inputs, and are open to experimenting with new techniques.3
ORGANIC FARMING SUPPORTS COMMUNITY RESILIENCE AND BOOSTS RURAL ECONOMIES
Research has shown that counties in the United States with high levels of organic agricultural activity (“organic hotspots”) have higher household incomes and reduced poverty levels. One 2016 study by Penn State found that organic agriculture boosts economic development and reduces poverty at greater rates than general agricultural activity, and even more than major anti-poverty programs.4 In the study, counties that were organic hotspots had poverty rates drop on average by 1.3 percentage points and median income rise by over $2,000. 5 This demonstrates the potential for organic agriculture to support rural economies by improving livelihoods and increasing economic resilience.
- National Organic Coalition. (2017) Important Role of Organic Agriculture in Addressing Climate Change.
- Bryant, L. (2015) Organic Matter Can Improve Your Soil's Water Holding Capacity. NRDC. https://www.nrdc.org/experts/lara-bryant/organic-matter-can-improve-your....
- National Farmers Union. (2019) Tackling the Farm Crisis and the Climate Crisis: A Transformative Strategy for Canadian Farms and Food Systems. nfu.ca/publications/tackling-the-farm-crisis-and-the-climate-crisis.
- Organic Trade Association. (2016). U.S. Organic Hotspots and Their Benefit to Local Economies. ota.com/sites/default/files/Organic%20Hotspots.pdf.
- Jaenicke, E. C. (2016) U.S. Organic Hotspots and their Benefit to Local Economies: Hotspot Identification, Formation, Impacts, and Policy Recommendations. ota.com/sites/default/files/indexed_files/OTA-HotSpotsWhitePaper-OnlineVersion.pdf.