The auditorium of the Rutland Middle School was packed with at least 300 people this Saturday to hear Kenneth Meter's keynote address at the Farm2Plate Statewide Food Summit. Meter, an experienced food system analysts, presented the findings of his study of the farm and food economy of Southeast Minnesota, Finding Food in Farm Country and linked this study with trends he's tracked in Vermont.The study identified disturbing trends that mimic the Vermont farm situation. Most dispiriting perhaps was the loss of independence and autonomy farms are facing - decades of diminishing farm profits directly related to commodity prices and expenses that are out of the control of farm operators, the increasing rate of money flowing out of farm communities in the form of interest payments as farmers become more dependent on non-local financial institutions and the decreasing share of the retail dollar farmers are realizing for their product. Meter was quick to note that even though the economic hardships plaguing the nation's farm families are also hitting home in Vermont, he also sees a lot of promise for farms to thrive here. Meter noted the significance of the Farm 2 Plate planning process to strategically guide agriculture at a statewide level. This, coupled with the grassroots groundswell of support for local food and the presence of so many innovative farmers, bodes well for our agricultural future.
I found the success stories that Meter shared from across the country most inspiring. Examples that I'm excited to see folks explore here in Vermont include:
- Farms that are pushing the envelope in season extension (12 month greens production), marketing prowess (hydroponic operation capturing majority market share in the Twin Cities) and exceptional sales numbers at intensive scales (CSA with $70,000 sales/acre)
- Restaurants that are truly committed to impacting the farm economy (Cafe that sources 59% of inventory locally from over 50 producers)
- Institutional sales successes (University leadership to buy locally has led to 25 stores & institutions in Northern Iowa buying $1.8 million of local food)
- Co-operative marketing models (independent poultry producers have come together to market collectively, construct processing infrastructure and better compete in the regional marketplace)
- Lots of ideas for commercial kitchens, distribution centers, processing, freezing and more.
A slideshow of the planning process updated us all on the effort thus far. Break out sessions throughout the day allowed for input and discussion on the many sections of the Farm 2 Plate Strategic Plan. The draft of the plan is set to be competed by the end of June (incorporating everything they've heard during this summit and many other focus group sessions around the state).
A fantastic lunch sourced from many local farms was served. Pulled pork from Brown Boar Farm, fresh salad greens from Vermont Herb & Salad Company, Beet Salad from Foggy Meadow Farm and more from Brown's Farm Stand, Thomas Dairy, Boardman Hill Farm, Perry's Potatoes, Green Mountain Coffee and Dellveneri Bakery.
What are your thoughts from the day?? Are you excited, overwhelmed, interested??