MONTPELIER, VT- On Wednesday, dozens of small-scale farmers again took time away from the frenzy of Spring planting and pasture season to travel to Montpelier for the third and final Small Farm Action Day of the 2016 legislative session. Travelling from as far as Bennington and Essex counties, farmers spent the day off their farms for the event organized by grassroots advocacy group, Rural Vermont, which included private meetings with legislators, testimony before the House Committee on Agriculture & Forest Products, and an “Eat Like a Farmer” reception, which provided farmers an opportunity to share their work and food with legislators.
Across the three events, Small Farm Action Days brought nearly a hundred Vermonters to the State House to engage in the public process and advocate for policies that support their livelihoods and strengthen their rural communities. That direct advocacy had a clear impact this session. As participants on Wednesday called on legislators to incentivize regenerative farming practices and promote scale-appropriate regulation, they also thanked lawmakers for their work this session, including passing bills to preserve Vermont’s on-farm slaughter law, improve pollinator health in the state, and strengthen regulation of pesticides.
“I want to thank you so much,” Kate Bowen, of Meadowdale Farm in Putney, told the House Committee on Agriculture and Forest Products, “for supporting on-farm slaughter, and for all you’ve done to help farming develop and evolve in Vermont.”
Lisa McCrory of Earthwise Farm and Forest in Bethel and Board Member of Rural Vermont, urged the Committee to help promote regenerative farming practices. “Farms like ours and a lot of small farms across the state are coming into agriculture employing regenerative practices that are proven to keep nutrients from going into our waterways, that build organic matter in the soil, and that create a more productive landscape over time. These are the practices that we should be encouraging, and that will ultimately make farms more profitable into the future.
Alisha Utter, a farmer and student at UVM, added, “In creating a political framework that encourages producers to employ traditional and innovative practices towards sustainability, you can help set the foundation for the future resiliency of our food system.”
Peter Burmeister of Burelli farm in Berlin and Board Member of Rural Vermont, found inspiration by the large number of young farmers who attended the three Small Farm Action Days, and whose numbers are growing throughout the state. “When you look around this room,” he said during testimony before the Committee, “and look at the farmers that are here, you’re looking at the best and brightest of our young people in Vermont. We’ve got an amazing group of energetic, intelligent, and dedicated young farmers, and we need to support and keep them here.” Rural Vermont co-hosted its March 30th Small Farm Action Day with the Vermont Young Farmers Coalition.
To help make it possible for farmers to take time away from their farms and travel to Montpelier during the busy Spring season, Rural Vermont offered stipends for farmers attending Small Farm Action Day. The stipends, made possible by a “Small and Inspiring Grant” from the Vermont Community Foundation with funds from the Neibling Family Fund, helped cover costs associated with child care, temporary farm labor, and transportation.