Local food consumption, job numbers surpass 2020 targets

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MONTPELIER — More than 250 members of the Vermont Farm to Plate Network convened Nov. 1-2 at the eighth annual Farm to Plate Gathering in Killington where it was announced that local food and beverage consumption in 2017 by Vermonters increased to 12.9 percent, surpassing a 2020 target of 10 percent.

The 2020 target of 10 percent was created with the thought that doubling the 2010 estimate of 5 percent local food and beverage consumption would create economic growth in the state, including 1,500 net new jobs, new business creation and investment in infrastructure. In fact, this greater than anticipated increase in consumption resulted in 6,559 net new jobs and 742 net new businesses created from 2010-2017, according to a compilation of data sourced from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Census Bureau's nonemployer statistics and the USDA's Census of Agriculture. The research on local food and beverage consumption in Vermont was conducted by David Conner, University of Vermont associate professor with expertise in the economics of sustainable food systems.

"When the Farm to Plate Network first created the targets, the thinking was that if you increase consumption and demand of local food, production would need to increase to meet this new demand," said Jake Claro, Farm to Plate Network director. "Increased production would then lead to more jobs for Vermonters and a stronger economy in our rural communities. From the most recent data collected, we see that this has indeed been the case."

Claro said that while the latest results are a reason to celebrate, there is still more work that needs to be done to strengthen Vermont's food system. Vermonters and visitors spend $2.24 billion on food and beverages, which includes groceries and eating out. Of that, $289 million was spent on local food and beverages in 2017. Every Vermonter can help Vermont farmers and businesses by choosing to purchase local products on a day-to-day basis. Every purchase matters in order to maintain and improve upon the latest results, according to Claro.

"We need to continue investing in our local food system because our collective investment is making an impact for Vermont farmers, food businesses and our rural communities," he said. "We are still too reliant on food grown and distributed from outside our region if only $289 million of $2.24 billion is spent on local food and beverages in our state. If we want to make Vermont's working landscape and rural communities more resilient in the face of climate change and food insecurity, we need to continue the work we've started."

This year's Farm to Plate Gathering addressed resiliency in the state's changing food system landscape. Comprised of farmers, food producers, food system businesses, nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, capital providers, food system funders and government officials, the Farm to Plate Network is responsible for implementing Vermont's statewide food system plan to increase jobs and economic development in the farm and food economy, and improving access to healthy local food for all Vermonters.

Attendees examined how Vermont's food system can create a greater capacity to learn and adapt, and maintain core purpose and integrity in the face of dramatically changing circumstances such as climate change and consolidation in the national food system.

"The Northeast has always been on the cutting edge of food systems," said Laura Lengnick, keynote speaker and author of Resilient Agriculture: Cultivating Food Systems for a Changing Climate. "If we are ready to step forward, there's no way we can't come up with the solutions that we need."

During the event, attendees agreed that the major challenges they see ahead for the resiliency of Vermont's food system is climate change, improving the natural resource base rather than depleting it, an aging farmer population, and a disconnect for consumers on where their food comes from and the impact their purchases have on the local economy and the environment.

"A locally based food system helps us to mitigate the worst damages, like food scarcity, that could come from a rapidly changing climate," said Ellen Kahler, executive director of Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund. "We need to have a vibrant local food system that is economically viable."

Additional topics that address the food system were explored at the Farm to Plate Gathering. Addressing food access through the town and regional planning process; using business resources, financing and funding to support Vermont farm and food businesses; the current state of the wholesale marketplace in the region; building connectivity for tomorrow's food system workforce; how states are supporting the next generation of farmers; what is the real potential of food tourism; reducing and recovering food loss and recycling food waste; building infrastructure and supporting producers; planning for Vermont's working farm future; and new approaches to address water quality on Vermont farms were all sessions where Network members shared, learned from one another, and identified gaps and potential next steps for action.

Farm to Plate is Vermont's food system plan being implemented statewide to increase economic development and jobs in Vermont's farm and food sector and improve access to healthy local food for all Vermonters. The 10-year Farm to Plate Strategic Plan (2011-2020) to create a viable, sustainable, and resilient food system to produce and distribute our food is being implemented by the Farm to Plate Network — more than 350 farm and food sector businesses, non-profits, institutions, and government agencies from across the state. Farm to Plate is a program of the Vermont Legislature, administered by the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, a non-profit organization based in Montpelier. www.VTFarmtoPlate.com


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