MONTPELIER >> Farmers of all ages traveled to the Vermont State House Wednesday to participate in Small Farm Action Day, an event organized by grass-roots advocacy group Rural Vermont and co-hosted by the Vermont Young Farmers Coalition.
Travelling from as far as Bennington and Caledonia counties, small-scale farmers spent the day away from their farms for private meetings with legislators and providing testimony before the House and Senate Committees on Agriculture. More than 40 participating farmers shared the unique challenges they face, and called on legislators to prevent the repeal of Vermont's on-farm slaughter law.
Vermont's on-farm slaughter law is set to expire on July 1st this year unless the legislature acts to preserve it. Act 83, passed in 2013, allows farmers to sell a small number of live animals each year to be slaughtered on the farm where they were raised. Vermonters have relied on local farm-raised, farm-slaughtered meat for generations, and farmers view the law as an important codification of this traditional community-based practice.
"The issue is entirely about authenticity for me," said Carl Russell of Earthwise Farm and Forest in Bethel, during testimony to the Senate Committee on Agriculture. "Many people want to have a relationship to their food as I do to my food as a farmer. This law provides me with a means to meet the needs of my customer," Russell said as he referred to the growing consumer demand in Vermont for small-scale, farm-fresh meat.
Taylor Hutchison, who operates Footprint Farm in Starksboro and is a Lead Organizer with the Vermont Young Farmers Coalition, told lawmakers that the on-farm slaughter law is key to the state's increasing number of young farmers.
"This law is a great starting point for young farmers to get into livestock farming on a small-scale without having to invest in expensive infrastructure, and we need it to continue," she said. "We take great care raising our pigs, right up until their final moments, and that's what our customers want."
Earlier this month, the House passed H.860, which extends the law for another three years, and that bill is now being taken up by the Senate Committee on Agriculture. As farmers called on Senators to pass H.860 and preserve the law, they also suggested improvements, including making the law permanent and increasing the number of animals allowed to be slaughtered annually. According to the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, there have been no reported problems with meat sold under the on-farm slaughter law since its enactment in 2013.
For many small-scale farmers, having the animals slaughtered on the farm--and sparing their animals the stress of being loaded onto a truck and driven to a slaughter facility — is more humane.
"The very worst days on my farm are those that require us to transport to a USDA inspected slaughterhouse the beef cattle and hogs that we have nurtured and raised from infancy," said Peter Burmeister of Burelli Farm in Berlin. "The sadness I experience has to do with the need to 'round up' the animals, lure them into a livestock trailer, and then transport them many miles to the slaughter facility. At the end of that process, when they reach their destination, the animals are stressed and exhausted. After months or years of careful animal husbandry, a miserable day or two wipes out much of the loving concern that made those creatures' lives pleasant," he said. Farmers also cited the difficulty of scheduling slaughter dates with the facilities, as well as their lack of control over how the slaughter is ultimately conducted.
Rural Vermont will continue its farmer-led advocacy to preserve the law and pass H.860. The next and final Small Farm Action Day planned for April 26.
Rural Vermont is a non-profit organization representing Vermont's community of family farmers, neighbors and citizens committed to supporting and cultivating a vital and healthy rural economy and community. Rural Vermont believes family farms and the food that they provide are at the heart of thriving communities and environmental sustainability. Towards this end, Rural Vermont strives for fair regulation for farmers and works to counter corporate consolidation of agriculture and our food system.