Author Archives: Mollie

Poulty Bill Feedback

As we reported previously, a bill H.52, has been introduced and referred to the House Ag Cmte that proposes to expand opportunities for on-farm processing and sales of  poultry. The bill is undergoing some revisions and we hope it will taken up by the House Ag Cmte soon.  

In the meantime, Rural Vermont needs your feedback to help inform our advocacy efforts on this bill.

ALL INFORMATION WILL BE KEPT STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL. If you would like additional information about the bill or want to get involved, please be sure to provide you name and email address so we can follow up.

Please note the separate questions for farmers who are currently raising poultry or interested in raising in poultry in the future, and consumers who wish to access farm fresh poultry. If both apply to you, please answer all of the questions.

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Tenth Amendment Center: Unanimous Vote Moves Industrial Hemp Bill Forward in New Hampshire

By  Shane Trejo
March 9, 2015
Full Article

CONCORD, N.H. (Mar. 11, 2015) The New Hampshire state House approved a bill today that would remove the ban on industrial hemp in the state, effectively nullifying the federal prohibition on the same. 

Introduced by Elizabeth Edwards (D-Hillsborough), Laura Jones (R-Strafford), Robert Cushing (D-Rockingham), and Michael Sylvia (R-Belknap) on Jan. 8, House Bill 494 (HB494) opens the door for a full-scale commercial hemp market in the state by treating it as any other crop for farming. The bill reads, in part, that “industrial hemp shall not be designated as a controlled substance.”

After passing out of committee unanimously last week, the House approved it today by a voice vote.

In short, industrial hemp would essentially be treated similar to tomatoes by government officials in New Hampshire. By removing the state prohibition on the plant, residents of New Hampshire would have an open door to start industrial farming should they be willing to risk violating the ongoing federal prohibition. This is exactly what has already happened in both Vermont and Colorado.

Farmers in SE Colorado started harvesting the plant in 2013, and farmers in Vermont began harvesting in 2014, effectively nullifying federal restrictions on such agricultural activities. On Feb. 2, the Oregon hemp industry officially opened for business and one week later, the first license went to a small non-profit group who hopes to plant 25 acres this spring. The Tennessee Agricultural department recently put out a call for licensing, signaling that hemp farming will start soon there too. And a law passed in South Carolina in 2014 authorizes the same.

“What this gets down to is the power of the people,” said Mike Maharrey of the Tenth Amendment Center. “When enough people tell the feds to pound sand, there’s not much D.C. can do to continue their unconstitutional prohibition on this productive plant.”

Experts suggest that the U.S. market for hemp is around $500 million per year. They count as many as 25,000 uses for industrial hemp, including food, cosmetics, plastics and bio-fuel. The U.S. is currently the world’s #1 importer of hemp fiber for various products, with China and Canada acting as the top two exporters in the world.

During World War II, the United States military relied heavily on hemp products, which resulted in the famous campaign and government-produced film, “Hemp for Victory!”.

But, since the enactment of the unconstitutional federal controlled-substances act in 1970, the Drug Enforcement Agency has prevented the production of hemp within the United States. Many hemp supporters feel that the DEA has been used as an “attack dog” of sorts to prevent competition with major industries where American-grown hemp products would create serious market competition: Cotton, Paper/Lumber, Oil, and others.

Early in 2014, President Barack Obama signed a new farm bill into law, which included a provision allowing a handful of states to begin limited research programs growing hemp. The new “hemp amendment”

…allows State Agriculture Departments, colleges and universities to grow hemp, defined as the non-drug oilseed and fiber varieties of Cannabis, for academic or agricultural research purposes, but it applies only to states where industrial hemp farming is already legal under state law.

HB494 an essential first step forward, and will likely need to be followed by additional legislation implementing the program, unless – like in Colorado, Oregon and Vermont – courageous farmers in New Hampshire start growing industrial hemp without further authorization.  It now moves to the state Senate for further consideration.


10/03-10/04 27th Annual Vermont Sheep & Wool Festival

Tunbridge Fairgrounds
Tunbridge, VT

www.vtsheepandwoolfest.org

The Vermont Sheep & Wool Festival celebrates small farms and natural fiber with over 70 vendors offering fleece and yarn, fiber animals, handspinning and fiber crafting equipment and supplies, handcrafted wool items, small ruminant equipment and supplies, fencing materials, meat and cheese. The Festival includes contests, fiber arts classes, shepherd workshops, herding dog demos, fleece sale and more set against a backdrop of rolling hills during the peak of Vermont fall foliage.


Burlington Free Press: Bill would encourage Vermont farm-grown beer

April Burbank
February 16, 2015
Full Article

Vermont farmers could tap into the state’s burgeoning craft beer scene under a new proposal in the House of Representatives.

Rep. Bill Botzow, D-Bennington, recently introduced a bill that would create a new farm brewer’s license for Vermont farmers who want to brew beer with at least one ingredient grown on their property.

The bill marries Vermont alcohol with Vermont agriculture.

Farm beer would need to include at least 20 percent local hops and at least 30 percent other local ingredients — not including water — to be considered “Vermont beer” under a new legal definition. Those requirements would rise to 80 percent within a decade.

The bill would also create licenses for farm vintners, with accompanying definitions of “Vermont wine” and “Vermont cider” that use local ingredients. Farmers could host special events, offer tastings and obtain retail and restaurant permits to sell and serve their products.

A farm brewer’s or farm vintner’s license would cost $60, discounted from the current $285 manufacturer’s license fee.

The plan has picked up initial support from the Vermont Farm Bureau, said the organization’s Legislative Director Bill Moore.

But some Vermont brewers are cautious about the bill’s strict definition of Vermont beer.

“It’s very early,” said Kurt Stauder, president of the Vermont Brewers Association. “I understand the aims and I find them to be admirable, but I do have some concerns. … I think that the big point that is sticking with some of the brewers is the definition of Vermont beer.”

Peter Hopkins, who grows hops in Pownal, said he believes the bill would boost Vermonters’ efforts to grow hops, grain and malt.

“It should bring the farmers and the brewers much closer together. Each will depend upon the other,” said Hopkins, whose farm is called Hoppy Valley Organics. “If all of a sudden there’s increased demand, there’ll be more hops in the ground,” he added.

But Vermont-grown hops can be significantly more expensive, said Todd Haire, operations manager for Switchback Brewing Company in Burlington.

Switchback has brewed with local hops through University of Vermont Extension, Haire said. He said brewers are willing to try Vermont hops but need a consistent supply.

Botzow said he modeled the farm brewer’s bill after a similar law in New York that took effect in 2013. The Bennington County Industrial Corporation suggested that New York had a competitive advantage in recruiting breweries, Botzow said.

“I don’t want us to not be able to compete on our home court,” Botzow said. He called the bill “proactive” and said it would stimulate an emerging part of Vermont’s economy and promote diversified agriculture and agrotourism.

Seventeen other legislators have joined Botzow in sponsoring the bill, which has been sent to the House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs.


Jeffrey “Frey” Ellis Biography

Jeffrey "Free" EllisJeffrey “Frey” Ellis has been involved with agriculture and food security in Vermont for the past 15 years. He currently farms with his wife, Rebecca Beidler, on Peace of Earth Farm in Albany, VT. They are a small permaculture based, no-till, diversified farm. They grow a wide variety of veggies, fruits, and rotational grazed animals. He and Rebecca got involved with Rural Vermont in early 2000 when the GMO-moratorium was being pushed in Vermont, and then also helped lobby for the Farmer Protection Act. He has also been involved with a few food cooperatives as a member, produce manager, and board member around Vermont. He is currently at the Buffalo Mountain Food Coop in Hardwick, VT co-managing the produce department. Encouraging people to eat a more seasonal diet is his focus and he offers cooking classes through all the seasons with local ingredients. He organizes an all-ages, substance free, spoken word/hip hop open mic called WORD!CRAFT. He is also the creator of All Good Things which is an open source performance project to express the importance of protecting the basic sustenance for all creatures’ existence on Earth through poetry and artistic expression.


Zach Brandau Biography

Zach BrandauZach recently returned to his home state of Vermont, where he and his
sweetheart, Julie Matranga, bought a house in the heart of Franklin
county’s vibrant farm community. Zach has many identities, a
veritable zach-of-all-trades. He has recently signed on as crop and
production manager for the Flack Family Farm’s fermented vegetables.
His passion for the performing arts started early in elementary school
and his skills for call-to-action theater were honed during the large
street protests of the late 1990’s. If he is not painting sets or
paper macheing a larger-than-life puppet for the next theater piece,
it’s a safe bet he is out enjoying the wonder of Vermont’s forests,
rivers and mountains.


FARMERS TELL THEIR STORIES!

Rural Vermont Launches 30th Anniversary Series of Events on April 8th in Montpelier

FTS Poster Rural VermontTo honor a rich and gutsy thirty year history and to connect the dots between good public policy and good food, Rural Vermont is launching a year-long “Farmers Tell Their Stories” series. The first event is on Wednesday, April 8th at the Capital City Grange, located at 6612 Route 12 South on the Montpelier/Berlin line. Farmers and friends will take the stage and present a variety show featuring their personal and collective experiences through story, poetry, song, and skits!

Preceding the storytelling will be a potluck at 5:30 and Rural Vermont’s Annual Meeting at 6:30. The storytelling program begins at 7:30 and there is a $5 admission for this portion of the event. Whether you’ve been a Rural Vermont member since the beginning or you’re hearing about the organization for the very first time, we look forward to sharing this special event with you! Everyone is welcome.

The storytelling will honor some of the people and accomplishments that make up Rural Vermont’s long history, as well as expose the dark underside of the local food movement and offer solutions for creating a fair food system that truly represents and supports the needs and interests of all Vermonters.The program will provide plenty of food for thought, along with humor, hope, inspiration, and an invitation for everyone to play a role in defining Rural Vermont’s next thirty years.

The audience will learn about Rural Vermont’s earliest days from the organization’s founder and current day Senator Anthony Pollina, and then be transported back to 2006 with Board Member Emeritus Dexter Randall and previous director Amy Shollenberger for a high-stakes vote during one of Rural Vermont’s most contentious campaigns. Someday Farm’s Mara Hearst & Maria Reade will talk turkey (and chicken) about the challenges their farm faces as a result of Vermont’s poultry law, and how this experience is inspiring them to take action. Folks can expect to be both entertained and shocked when some of the current-day issues stifling our farmers and our food system are highlighted in an original song composed by farmer-musician Jonathan Falby and a skit written and performed by farmer-puppeteer Zach Brandau. And we’ll be reminded of the triumphs and struggles that have defined Rural Vermont through a poem performed by farmer-lyrical artist Jeffrey “Frey” Ellis and based on content provided by the Rural Vermont community.

To RSVP, visit this page.

Since 1985, Rural Vermont has been amplifying the voices of farmers and advocating for a fair food system. Through education, organizing, and advocacy, we work to create scale-appropriate, commonsense public policy that helps rather than hurts our family farms and preserves Vermont’s cultural heritage of neighbors feeding neighbors. Share this vision? Stay informed and get active by signing up for Rural Vermont’s mailing list. Better yet, build our people power and join Rural Vermont today!


30 Years of Rural Vermont

Help us celebrate!

Lyrical artist Jeffrey “Frey” Ellis will be composing a poem that spans Rural Vermont’s 30 year history – and we want this to be a Rural Vermont community effort! If you’ve been involved with, or just following, Rural Vermont for a long time, please take a couple minutes to answer some questions about Rural Vermont’s accomplishments and impact.

30 Years of Rural Vermont

 

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04/08 Rural Vermont Events RSVP

Farmers Tell Their Stories & Rural Vermont's 30th Annual Celebration RSVP

 

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Valley News: The Chicken Count — Small Farmers Could Use Flexibility in Slaughter Rules

Chuck Wooster
Sunday, March 1, 2015
Full Op-Ed

This past year, we raised and sold 1,000 chickens on our farm outside White River Junction. We have a strong market for chicken, and every year we can sell this many birds with a reasonable return on time and financial investment. Why, you might ask, if the market is there, don’t we sell more birds? It’s simple. The 1,001st bird would set me back tens of thousands of dollars. Here’s why.

The state of Vermont and the U.S. Department of Agriculture regulate the production and sale of meat in Vermont. (New Hampshire’s approach is similar.) This oversight has been, by and large, wildly successful in improving human health. Nasty stuff like listeria, trichinosis and botulism, which used to lay our ancestors low by the bushel, have been largely eliminated from the food supply. We’ve accomplished this success through what might be called a “facilities” approach to meat production: We require animals to be slaughtered and processed inside facilities that can be cleaned and inspected and, in most cases, overseen by inspectors during their hours of operation.

All the larger livestock animals sold in this country today, like cattle, sheep and swine, have to be slaughtered inside such facilities. There is no exception to this — if cash is going to trade hands, animals have to be slaughtered inside under inspection. That’s true whether you’re a hobbyist selling one pig or a corporation slaughtering a pig a minute.

With chickens, you can avoid the facilities route if you meet certain criteria: you clearly label your birds as uninspected, you sell whole birds directly to the customer who is going to cook them, and you sell no more than 1,000 birds per year.

This so-called “chicken exemption” is widely used by farmers in the Twin States, with more than a dozen farms in the Upper Valley making use of it. But more and more, we’re coming up against the facilities limitation, both with chickens and with larger mammals.

The main problem with facilities is that they are expensive to build and maintain. If you’re a huge producer of meat, no big deal — you build your own slaughterhouse in your vertically integrated company. But if you’re a small player (and every farm in New England is small by virtue of our tight landforms and small holdings), you’re left competing for limited slaughterhouse space, usually in the fall, when the grass runs out and every other farmer is jostling with you for appointments.

The facilities approach has a second problem, besides hurting the little guy: It tends to centralize problems and make them difficult to sort out. We’ve all read the stories about an outbreak of, say, e coli in beef, which unfold over the course of years as inspectors try to figure out which farm brought which animals to which slaughterhouses and then sold them under which labels to which supermarkets. After the recalls are finished, the lawyers move in.

The meat slaughter issue is coming to a head right now in Vermont because the number of farms, the number of farmers and the acreage devoted to agriculture are all increasing. Due to our rolling hills, however, our farms are small. Due to the limited flat land, our growth potential is primarily in raising meat. And due to the facilities approach to meat safety, we’re having a tough time making the economics work out.

To its everlasting credit, the Vermont Legislature is taking the problem seriously and proposing potential solutions. For example, thanks to a two-year experiment set up by the Legislature last year, we were able to slaughter 25 lambs on our farm last fall and sell them to our customers. Of course, we had to meet some relatively strict conditions: We had to pre-sell the animals to our customers; we required that each of them purchase a whole animal; we hired a third-party professional to help us with the slaughter; and we filled out some paperwork for the state. I was happy to do all this because it meant that I could keep the lambs at home on the farm, where they were born and raised and felt comfortable, and I was able to avoid the expense and scheduling and transportation problems associated with finding a slaughterhouse.

From my perspective as a farmer, it’s time to build on the success of the chicken exemption, and on the success of this trial program, by creating a formal certification or licensing system for farmers who are selling directly to their customers.

Many farmers lack the capital or space to build fancy facilities on our farms, and many of us don’t want to inflict the stress of transportation on our animals. Yet we all have the time, especially when it’s below zero and there’s snow on the ground, to attend classes in food safety, proper livestock handling, appropriate equipment and tools, and disease epidemiology. Give small farmers the option of achieving food safety goals through education as opposed to construction. Animals can be processed safely, cleanly and respectfully on their home farms — without expensive facilities — if the farmer knows what he or she is doing.

What we need is a three-tiered approach to regulating meat.

At the high-volume “meat producer” level, the state should continue to require inspectors and inspected facilities. At the small-farm “direct sales” level, the state should require training and expertise as opposed to facilities. And at the tiny “subsistence” level, the state should allow people to, for example, raise and slaughter a limited number of animals without inspection or certification — two pigs, for example — so someone can sell the second one to a neighbor to cover the cost of raising the first. This is a time-honored tradition that has persisted for generations despite being nominally illegal and, as long as we’re fixing the meat regulatory system, should be acknowledged with more than just a wink and a nod.

The rub, of course, is figuring out where to draw the lines between the three tiers. The “subsistence” level is pretty easy, since the goal is to legalize the backyard hobbyist: something like one beef cow, two pigs, three sheep or goats, and maybe a dozen chickens or so.

For the small-farm “direct sales” level, the 25-lamb limit that’s part of the current experiment feels about right, though it would be nice if farmers could raise 25 lambs and 10 pigs per year instead of having to choose one or the other (as the law currently provides.) For chickens, the current 1,000-bird limit is too low because building facilities doesn’t make financial sense for bird number 1,001. With proper training and certification, that limit could be raised to 2,000 or 3,000 birds, at which point facilities start to make financial sense.

Right now, small farmers in both states are working backward — looking at what the regulations allow and then deciding how many animals to raise. What we should instead be doing is figuring out how many animals our farms can support in an ecologically appropriate way, and then, if we find we have a market for those animals, turning to the state to find a regulatory framework that works at that scale.

The market for local meat is here and growing. The Vermont Legislature is trying to help local farmers meet the demand. Adding an educational and licensing approach for direct-sales farmers would be a big step in the right direction.

Chuck Wooster is a farmer and writer who lives in White River Junction.