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Vermont Agency of Agriculture Announces Listening Tour Response Plan

Input Gathered at Statewide Tour will help Shape 2017 Agenda

Throughout February and March, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets held a Listening Tour to gather feedback and ideas about farming in our state. Over the course of six weeks, the Agency hosted meetings in Lyndonville, Brattleboro, Middlebury, St. Albans, and Montpelier. More than 300 farmers and community members attended. Today, the Agency is announcing a plan to address the Listening Tour feedback.

“The suggestions and ideas shared by participants were insightful, and covered a wide range of topics,” said Ag Secretary, Anson Tebbetts. “The feedback was diverse, but four main themes emerged.”

On the whole, here’s what was shared, and how the Agency of Agriculture plans to address it:

The Next Generation:
What we heard: Vermonters want to ensure the next generation has opportunities to work in agriculture, and has access to land. They want young people to feel excited and optimistic about careers in agriculture.
What we’ll do: We will work with UVM, Extension, Vermont Technical College, Vermont Student Assistance Corporation, and the career centers to promote educational programs that get future farmers ready to take the reins. There are many existing programs, like 4-H, that do great work to get young people engaged – we’ll work hard to promote these opportunities and build awareness, to get more kids involved. We’ll also continue to partner with the Vermont Housing Conservation Board and Land Trust to improve access to land.

Rules and Regulations:
What we heard: Many of the folks who spoke up at the Listening Session told us they feel burdened and overwhelmed by regulations.
What we’ll do: The current administration has made a commitment to limit new regulations. The Required Ag Practices (RAPs) were adopted in December of 2016. We are committed to working with farmers to implement them in a way that is fair. We have recently formed the RAP Advisory Committee, which includes farmer representatives and stakeholders involved in water quality issues. The role of this board will be to advise the Agency on the roll-out of the RAPs, to ensure they are effective, attainable, and take into account real-farm practices.

Customer Service & Relationships:
What we heard: Some folks told us they find it difficult to get in touch with key Agency of Agriculture staff, and that the Agency needs to do a better job with customer service. They also felt we need to work harder to build positive relationships across the entire farming community.
What we’ll do: We have begun an Agency-wide audit of our customer service practices. Over the next three months, we will be working closely with managers, inspectors, and technical assistance providers to identify the ways in which we can improve customer service across the Agency, and improve relationships. As a first step, this week, we published a contact list for all Agency personnel on our website. You can find it at http://agriculture.vermont.gov/contact_us .This will help ensure you are able to contact the right person to help address your need. We are committed to improvement.

Communications:
What we heard: There’s a lot going on, and sometimes farmers find it hard to get the information they need. The Agency needs to do a better job communicating.
What we’ll do: In order to ensure farmers have timely access to the information they need, we are now mailing complimentary copies of our Agency newspaper, Agriview, to all Vermont farmers on a monthly basis. Over the course of the next year, we will also redesign our website, so that it is more user-friendly. The Agency is also encouraging people to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, to get instant access to daily news, resources, and agricultural information.

“This is just the beginning. Each comment shared with us at these meetings helps inform the decisions we, as a new administration, make each day on the job here in Montpelier,” said Alyson Eastman, Deputy Secretary.

“We are committed to working with our farming community, to grow the economy, make Vermont affordable, and enrich our communities,” added Secretary Tebbetts. “Thanks to all who came out to share their thoughts.”

Spotlight On: Farming Systems & Approaches

Sustainable Forestry

Sustainable Forestry

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After 70 plus years of industrial logging, the world’s forests are as degraded and diminished as its farmlands, or by some estimates even more so. And this is a big problem for all of us, because the forests of the world do much more than supply lumber, Brazil nuts, and maple syrup. Farmlands produce food, a basic need to be sure, but forests are responsible for protecting and purifying the air, water and soil which are even more basic.

Wild Potatoes and Calcium

Wild potatoes bring increased calcium for better tubers.Have you ever cut into a potato to find a dark spot or hollow part? Early research shows that these defects are likely the result of calcium deficiencies in the potato — and that tuber calcium is genetically linked to tuber quality.

Such a One Horse Outfit

Such a One Horse Outfit

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One day my stepfather brought over a magazine he had recently subscribed to. It was called Small Farmer’s Journal published by a guy named Lynn Miller. That issue had a short story about an old man that used a single small mule to garden and skid firewood with. I was totally fascinated with the prospect of having a horse and him earning his keep. It sorta seemed like having your cake and eating it too.

The Shallow Insistence

…a life of melody, poetry and farming?

Cultivating Questions

Cultivating Questions: Follow-Up On Phosphorus

We like to think that the bio-extensive approach to market gardening minimizes the risk of overloading the soil with nutrients because the fallow lands make it possible to grow lots of cover crops to maintain soil structure and organic matter rather than relying on large quantities of manure and compost. However, we are now seeing the consequences of ignoring our own farm philosophy when we resorted to off-farm inputs to correct a phosphate deficiency.

Cuban Agriculture

Cuban Agriculture

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In December of 1979, Mary Jo and I spent two weeks traveling in Cuba on a “Farmer’s Tour of Cuba”. The tour was a first of its kind. It was organized in the U.S. by farmers, was made up of U.S. farmers and agriculturally oriented folks, and was sponsored in Cuba by A.N.A.P., the National Association of Independent Farmers. As we learned about farming we also learned how the individuals, farms, and communities we visited fit into the greater social and economic structure of Cuba.

Fjord Horses at Work in the Green Mountains of Vermont

Fjord Horses at Work in the Green Mountains of Vermont

We own a 40 jersey cow herd and sell most of their milk to Cobb Hill Cheese, who makes farmstead cheeses. We have a four-acre market garden, which we cultivate with our team of Fjord horses and which supplies produce to a CSA program, farm stand and whole sale markets. Other members of the community add to the diversity of our farm by raising hay, sheep, chickens, pigs, bees, and berries, and tending the forest and the maple sugar-bush.

Sustainable

Sustainable

Sustainable is a documentary film that weaves together expert analysis of America’s food system with a powerful narrative of one extraordinary farmer who is determined to create a sustainable future for his community. In a region dominated by commodity crops, Marty Travis has managed to maintain a farming model that is both economically viable and environmentally safe.

How To Get Into Farming With No Money

How To Get Into Farming With No Money

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Let’s assume the beginning ‘farmer’ has absolutely nothing. Nothing but a will to farm and a reasonably normal body. The very first thing you must do is search out a farmer, preferably a farmer who farms close to the way that you want to farm. You must watch him, ask questions, do as you are told and learn everything you can. Very shortly you will be on your own and you will find that the more you learn now, the better you will be when you have only yourself to rely on.

A Year of Contract Grazing

A Year of Contract Grazing

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Contract grazing involves the use of livestock to control specific undesirable plants, primarily for ecological restoration and wildfire prevention purposes. The landowners we worked for saw grazing as an ecologically friendly alternative to mowing, mechanical brush removal, and herbicide application.

English Sheaf Knots

English Sheaf Knots

Long ago when grain was handled mostly by hand, the crop was cut slightly green so seed did not shatter or shake loose too easily. That crop was then gathered into ‘bundles’ or ‘sheafs’ and tied sometimes using a handful of the same grain for the cording. These sheafs were then gathered together, heads up, and leaned upon one another to form drying shocks inviting warm breezes to pass through. In old England, the field workers took great pride in their work and distinctive sheaf knots were designed and employed.

Swallow

Rotation As A Means Of Blight Control

Every farmer knows that when a crop is grown on the same field year after year, it becomes inferior in quality and the yield steadily diminishes.

Starting Seeds

From Dusty Shelves: A WWII era article from Farming For Security

Mayfield Farm

Mayfield Farm, New South Wales, Australia

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Mayfield Farm is a small family owned and operated mixed farm situated at 1150 m above sea level on the eastern edge of the Great Dividing Range in northern New South Wales, Australia. Siblings, Sandra and Ian Bannerman, purchased the 350 acre property in October, 2013, and have converted it from a conventionally operated farm to one that is run on organic principles. Additional workers on the farm include Janette, Ian’s wife, and Jessica, Ian’s daughter.

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 4

Assuming that you’ve found a farm you want to buy, next you’ll need to determine if you can buy it. If you have sold your property, and/or saved your money, and have the means to buy the farm you are sitting pretty. If you do not have the full price of a considered farm, in cash or any other form, you will likely have to look for financing.

The Farmer and the Horse

The Farmer & The Horse

In New Jersey — land of The Sopranos, Jersey Shore, and the Turnpike — farmland is more expensive than anywhere else. It’s not an easy place to try to start a career as a farmer. But for a new generation of farmers inspired by sustainability, everything seems possible. Even a farm powered by draft horses.

Journal Guide