By Tara Kelly
When RAFFL formed in 2004 to address key concerns about the future of agriculture in our region, we were responding to the prevalent feeling that farming was declining and there wasn’t much that could be done about it. The early partnership that formed RAFFL included the Rutland Regional Planning Commission, Green Mountain College, Poultney-Mettowee Natural Resource Conservation District, Vermont Land Trust and individual farmers. Together, we envisioned a different outcome. Since then, so much has changed it is astonishing.
We focused our energy on influencing the economic health of farms by spurring direct action: urging people to “vote” for the future they wanted by buying locally produced products whenever they could. And, people responded. The individual actions of lots of individual people created a strong demand; and entrepreneurs responded by putting their own creativity, capital, hard work and future into new farms and new food businesses. The stark difference between 2004 and 2016 is represented in the profusion of energy, ideas and products that without perspective could be taken for granted. But, take a moment to look around or think about the business growth from chocolate truffles to hot sauces to granola, breads, cheeses, as well as the wider variety and availability of vegetables, eggs and meats and even the strength of our maple industry and our local milk bottler: Thomas Dairy. All of these individual businesses, whether found at a farmers market, an on-line shopping cart, a downtown storefront, a truck heading to Boston or New York, or on the shelves of local markets and grocery stores all around the state are indications of economic activity that is good for our region and for our future.
So much has changed since RAFFL’s inception and our local scene continues to evolve. New organizations and efforts have formed in the past few years to address specific issues within our region. All of these new efforts are positive signs that our local farm economy is evolving.
- Green Mountain College continues to adapt its offerings to meet new needs while other local colleges have begun to offer classes on food systems and local agriculture;
- Vermont Farmers Food Center’s has created a new home for Rutland’s Winter Farmers Market and now Vermont Maple Siracha;
- Marble Valley Grows has emerged as a program to link College of St Joseph students with school gardens around the county;
- SAGE in Shrewsbury is providing land and resources to emerging farm businesses;
- Towns are revamping their local land use regulations to embrace the evolving needs of this new wave of agricultural activity and its changing needs for infrastructure; and
- Organizations such as Rutland Economic Development Corporation, Rutland Regional Planning Commission and the downtown/village organizations (such as the Downtown Rutland Partnership) are all embracing the future of farms as a priority aspect of their own work.
In the end, the core reasons for our work (all of our work) remain the same. Local farms matter.
- Local farms are integral to the identity of our region and state. Ask any chamber of commerce representative or local tourist hot spot and they will tell you, agritourism is a key to the experience their visitors are seeking.
- Local farms contribute toward solutions for complex issues such as diet-related health conditions by offering up nutritious, fresh foods.
- Local farms and food businesses are a hotbed for new entrepreneurial activity in a region and state that relies on small businesses, especially those built upon the assets of our community.
All of this change is good. But, we can’t take it for granted. It is all based on the choices we each make when we are purchasing our food. We invite you to consider the following as spring emerges and blossoms into summer:
- VALUE the food our farmers grow, appreciating the crops grown with care and purpose, the animals raised with dignity and integrity.
- RECOGNIZE our farmers’ commitment to the health and viability of the land and their hard work to bring forth its bounty.
- RESPECT the beauty of our rural landscape and be long in vision so it will thrive after we are gone.
- DEMONSTRATE, in word and deed, our appreciation for the nourishment our farmers provide to our families and our communities.
- AFFIRM our gratitude to our local farmers - everyday, three times a day.
As the quote from Brenda Schoepp says, “My grandfather used to say that once in your life you need a doctor, a lawyer, a police(officer), and a preacher. But, everyday, three times a day, you need a farmer.”
Tara Kelly is the Executive Director of RAFFL, the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link. Find out more about our work at rutlandfarmandfood.org. You can sign up to show support for the above pledge here and on our Facebook page or by contacting us at RAFFL via firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-417-1528.
Originally published in the Rutland Herald on March 29, 2016.