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Thinking about the Future of Vermont Farms

Farmer Standing with White Cows

What do you think of when you think of Vermont? For me, it’s our green mountains, kind and thoughtful residents, cooperative culture, amazing lakes and rivers, and our working landscape (Vermont farms). As a matter of fact, the Council on the Future of Vermont found that 97.2% of all Vermonters rank the working landscape and its heritage as one of their top values when they think of Vermont.

We are blessed with an active farm and food scene in Vermont. It’s well known and regularly seen as a leader in today’s good food movement, but it’s no secret that making a living from farming has its challenges. Plus, the average age of a Vermont farmer is now 57 years old, and farmers at or above retirement age manage a significant portion of all land in production. That means that a lot of farmland in Vermont will change hands soon and we need to have our future farmers prepared to lead Vermont’s agricultural sector.

If you or someone you know is interested in starting a farm, improving an existing farm business, or getting more involved to keep Vermont’s food and farming economy thriving, we have a few ideas for you!

 

Resources for farmers:

Intervale Center

The Intervale Center provides a suite of services for farms, whether they are beginning farms, or are very well established and looking to transition the farm to another owner. We also operate a farm incubator where we provide farms affordable access to land, equipment, and knowledge to build their dream farm. There are also dozens of other community-based farm and food organizations leading the movement across Vermont.

Vermont Land Trust

The Vermont Land Trust’s Farmland Access Program connects entrepreneurial farmers with affordable, conserved farmland. If you have three years of farming experience and a solid business plan, you may be a great candidate for their program. Over 40 farms have gotten their start on new land through this program since 2004.

Vermont Land Link
Vermont Land Link connects farmers looking for land with landowners looking to sell or lease their property. It’s a free service managed by the Intervale Center in partnership with the Vermont Farmland Access Taskforce. There are currently 60 postings with available land, so start searching!

Vermont Farm & Forest Viability Program

Running a farm business requires a breadth of skills in addition to production techniques, including but not limited to: financial management, human resources, and marketing. Luckily, Vermont has the VHCB Farm & Forest Viability Program (FFVP) that provides one-on-one business planning and coaching to both beginning and established farmers and land owners. FFVP will match you up with one of a handful of service providers based on your business model and location.

UVM Farmer Training Program

Are you interested in farming but not sure how to get started? UVM’s Farmer Training Program offers a six-month certificate program of hands-on, experiential education in sustainable farming that’s great for beginning farmers, community gardeners and students!

 

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Not Interested in Farming? You Can Still Get Involved

If you’re not a farmer, but want to support Vermont’s farm economy, there are a number of ways you can get involved.

 

First, pay attention to where your food comes from and who grows it. Choose to purchase from farmers whose farm operations you support. Do they manage their land, animals, businesses and employees in a way that is consistent with your values?

Then, share a meal! Connect with your neighbors over freshly-picked blueberries or take a home-cooked meal with fresh veggies from your farmers’ market to someone in need. Food brings people together and it’s even better when it’s food grown by a local farmer, because it means you’re supporting their livelihood as well!

Next, get involved. Keep your eyes peeled for opportunities to visit local farms and celebrate your local farmers, like Vermont’s Open Farm Week in August! Get involved through a local food and farming organization, or look for opportunities to volunteer with area farms for a “crop mob”. There is always more work to be done!

Lastly, start a conversation. Talk to a local farmer about their experiences or to a young person about their dream to start a farm. Bring up the importance of food and farming in Vermont in discussions with family and friends, and get them thinking about where their food comes from.

 

In thirty years, I hope I still think of rolling hills, working farms, vibrant communities and delicious food when I think of Vermont. Every day, I’m inspired by the farmers we work with and the vision that they have – for their lives, their farms, and Vermont. I hope you’ll join us in preserving and growing Vermont’s farm economy!

Have you thought about what Vermont would be like without farms? It’s a scary thought. That’s why, here at the Intervale Center in Burlington, VT, we’re working with our partners across Vermont to secure the future of Vermont’s working landscape. We want Vermont to continue to be a green, open, active landscape that produces good food for everyone to enjoy!

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