Notes from Montpelier: Gearing up for Town Meeting

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It is hard to believe that it is Town Meeting time already! Perhaps, because of the strange weather and lack of snow it just seems like it's way too early.

Once again, Rep. Matt Trieber and I will be visiting our six Town Meetings. Westminster will be on Saturday morning where we will visit with people and enjoy some of the wonderful baked goods and fruit cups for sale in the high school cafeteria sponsored by Westminster Cares. From 12:30 – 2 p.m. on Saturday we will have "office" hours at the MKT restaurant in Grafton. Grafton's Town Meetings have been so efficient these last few years that by the time we get there on Tuesday, they have been adjourned! If this "office hours" experiment is successful and people join us, we might make it a regular occurrence.

Monday evening, we will attend the Rockingham Town Meeting at the Bellows Falls Opera House. On Tuesday, we will be making our usual pilgrimage starting in Brookline at 9:30 a.m. where we visit with folks and then give a report promptly at 10 a.m.. We appreciate all of our towns interrupting the orders of the day to let us speak Then it's on to Athens, Grafton (if they are still there), and Windham where we have lunch and give a report. Later it's off to the polls in Rockingham to visit with candidates and constituents alike.

It is wonderful to take a break from the routine of Montpelier and visit with folks at home. People generally know how to contact us but might be more likely to speak up if we are right there. We pass out Town Meeting Reports that give constituents brief snapshots of what we have been working on, as well as our complete contact information.

This week in Montpelier we had a report on the status of farmers' markets around the state. We are so fortunate to have several thriving markets nearby including Brattleboro, Bellows Falls, West Townshend, and Londonderry, to name just a few. Some are even lucky enough to have a winter market.

West Townshend is in conjunction with pizza night on Fridays at the West River Community Project (the old West Townshend Country Store). Pizza night continues through the winter, much to our delight. It's great fun to spend time chatting with friends while our pizzas bake in the wood-fired brick oven. Beer and wine are available and most weeks there is a concert inside the building.

It is interesting to note that in 2001, there were 34 farmers' markets in Vermont. In 2010, the number had grown to 87 but decreased to 78 in 2015. There is recognition that there needs to be some distance between markets or they will not thrive and that may be a partial reason for the decrease between 2010 and 2015.

The Vermont Farmers' Market Association (VTFMA) was formed several years ago with a purpose as stated on their website "to encourage and establish successful farmers markets in Vermont that enhance direct marketing opportunities for market vendors while building direct connections between vendors and local consumers."

Several years ago, the Legislature laid out criteria for what constitutes a farmers' market. Markets that meet those criteria may join the VTFMA for a very reasonable fee, which gives benefits like a presence on their website, as well as a listing on the DigInVermont website (www.diginvt.com). The slogan at DigInVermont is "Experience the Authentic Taste of Vermont."

The Vermont Farmers' Market Association's 2014-2015 Annual Report indicates that a gross sales total of nearly $8 million was reported by 39 markets. Direct sales to customers offers a better return for our farmers and producers of specialty items. This improves their financial situation and the overall economy of Vermont. If you are interested in starting a farmers' market, the website – www.vtfma.org – is an invaluable resource.

One of the goals of the Farm to Plate Initiative is to get more healthy, local produce onto Vermonters', tables. The reality is, however, that local produce is sometimes a little more expensive, despite the fact that it hasn't traveled 3,000 miles or more to get to our supermarket. Food produced with organic methods is more labor intensive, which adds cost. Over the last few years, there have been strategies employed to make locally-grown produce more affordable for low-income folks.

People who receive 3SquaresVT benefits are issued Electronic Benefit Transfer cards. They may use those cards at farmers' markets to purchase all types of unheated food, including meats, bread, eggs, produce, and even vegetable plant seedlings. The farmers' market, however, needs an EBT card reader to make it work.

Over the years, the Legislature has made money available to purchase and maintain these machines but none was included in the budget this year. It is a relatively small amount - $7,500 – so the House Agriculture and Forest Products Committee has recommended to House Appropriations that if there is any money on the bottom line that some be appropriated for this worthy cause.

This year, people who receive 3SquaresVT benefits are eligible for the Crop Cash program at their farmers' markets. You can turn up to $10 in 3SquaresVT benefits into $20 of Crop Cash, which can be spent on fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs. The Crop Cash program is sponsored by Wholesome Wave; the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets; and Newman's Own. For more information about Crop Cash, please go to www.nofavt.org/CROPCASH.

State Rep. Carolyn Partridge , D-Windham, welcomes emails at cpartridge@leg.state.vt.us.


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