Author Archives: Mollie

Raw Milk Victory!

Rep John Bartholomew reports to the House on the raw milk provisions in the H.484. Photo by Rep Teo Zagar.

Rep John Bartholomew reports to the House on the raw milk provisions in the H.484. Photo by Rep Teo Zagar.

5/15/15: Late today the Senate passed H.484, the Ag Housekeeping Bill! This means that meaningful and significant raw milk improvements are on the way!

THANK YOU to everyone who made a call to their legislator, showed up at the Statehouse, sent a note of thanks, talked to a neighbor … this is YOUR victory!

Visit this page for more information on the raw milk provisions in H.484.

Rural Vermont Co-hosts Hemp History Storytelling Event

Adam Vorsteveld in CO hemp field-2

Adam Vorsteveld in CO hemp field-2

Hemp Storytelling on Wed, June 3rd in White River Junction:
Rural Vermont & the Upper Valley Food Co-op Host “Hemp History Week” Event

The sixth annual Hemp History Week is planned for June 1-7 of this year, and Rural Vermont and the Upper Valley Food Co-op are partnering to host a Hemp Storytelling event on Wednesday, June 3rd at 6:30 pm at the Upper Valley Food Co-op in White River Junction. Join us for hemp-themed snacks, stories, and discussion about hemp legislation, cultivation, and production in Vermont and beyond. This event is free and will offer something for everyone from the curious hemp novice to the serious hemp advocate.

It’s an exciting time for hemp! It’s growing in popularity as the benefits it can offer to our farmers, our economy, and our planet are becoming more widely known. This event will both celebrate hemp’s progress at the state and national level, and expose the barriers that are preventing farmers from getting seeds in the ground (and even in their hands!).

Eric Linebeck of Vote Hemp will join us to share the story of the 2014 Farm Bill and the additional work that’s needed at the federal level to fully and truly reap the benefits of hemp production in Vermont and across the country.

Rural Vermont will share the slice of hemp history that is unique to Vermont – since 2008, Rural Vermont has been advocating, with a good deal of success, to get Vermont well-positioned to take advantage of hemp production just as soon as the federal policy changes, in addition to supporting several institutions in their recent efforts to source hemp seeds for research purposes.

And Robin Alberti and Ken Manfreddi of the recently-formed Vermont chapter of the Hemp Industries Association will share their story about what prompted them to create a Vermont chapter of the Hemp Industries Association and how they envision the hemp industry changing and growing as Vermont-based production becomes a reality.

If you’ve got your own hemp story to share, please bring it along! Following the stories, there will be lively discussion about this nutritious, versatile, and eco-friendly crop, and the opportunity to learn more about the outdated federal policies that are standing in the way of hemp’s rebirth in Vermont and beyond. Find out what you can do and how you can support efforts to change these policies to more accurately reflect today’s reality and bring hemp back to American soils.

Since 1985, Rural Vermont has been amplifying the voices of farmers and advocating for a fair food system. Through education, organizing, and advocacy, they 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. For more info, visit or call (802) 223-7222.

The Upper Valley Food Co-op is an independent, cooperatively-owned grocery store dedicated to healthy and sustainable practices and supporting the local economy. They foster community resilience through informational and reskilling workshops and classes offered for both kids and adults. Find out more at or call (802) 295-5804.

Hemp History Week, June 1-7, 2015, is an industry-wide initiative of the Hemp Industries Association (HIA) and Vote Hemp. The HIA is a non-profit trade group representing hemp companies, researchers, farmers, and supporters. Vote Hemp is a national, single-issue, non-profit advocacy group founded in 2000 by members of the hemp industry to remove barriers to industrial hemp farming in the U.S. through education, legislation, and advocacy. For further information, please visit and

VT Digger: Slow growing: Hemp cultivation stymied by federal rules

CB Hall Apr. 5 2015
Full Article

A number of Vermont farmers would like to grow hemp, which has uses ranging from cosmetics to biofuel. There’s a catch, however: The federal government could arrest them for growing the plant because it is a variety of the marijuana plant.

The Vermont Legislature endorsed the production of industrial hemp in 2013 when it passed Act 84. The law cites the low-THC strain of Cannabis sativa, or hemp, as useful in producing “high-strength fiber, textiles, clothing, biofuel, paper products, protein-rich foods, biodegradable plastics, resins, nontoxic medicinal and cosmetic products, construction materials, rope, value-added crafts, livestock feed and bedding, stream buffering, erosion control, water and soil purification and weed control.”

It’s a question of opportunity for farmers like Ken Manfredi and his partner, Robin Alberti, who grew a quarter-acre of hemp last year on leased land in the town of Chittenden.

“Hemp has great potential for economic revival here in Vermont,” Manfredi said.

And it’s hardly a new idea – George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, both of whom were farmers, grew hemp because of its utility.

Marijuana and industrial hemp are two varieties of the same species, Cannabis sativa. By definition, however, industrial hemp contains no more than 0.3 percent of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive ingredient in the plant, and cannot produce a high unless consumed in large quantities.

Act 84 legalized the growing of industrial hemp in Vermont, with the caveat that producers register with the state and be notified that cultivation of the plant remains a violation of the federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970. In 2014, however, President Barack Obama signed a farm bill under which higher education institutions and state agriculture agencies could grow industrial cannabis “for purposes of research conducted under an agricultural pilot program” notwithstanding the act, which treats all cultivars of the species as illegal.

The 357 pages of the farm bill made no mention of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), which enforces the Controlled Substances Act. Federal narcotics officials have, however, long required that anyone importing cannabis seeds obtain a permit; and importing seeds from places where hemp cultivation is fully legal is the recourse for research institutions, since there are no U.S. suppliers of certified hemp seed – that is, seed certified to have the characteristics sought, such as high oil or fiber content.

University of Vermont field crops expert Heather Darby said that some of her faculty colleagues have taken an interest in working with hemp.

“Initial research, if we receive proper permits, will focus on basic production and agronomy,” she said in an email. She noted that companies as diverse as cosmetics manufacturer Nivea and automaker Ford “have been in contact with us here in Vermont, looking for opportunities.” The latter, she elaborated, “would use the fiber in a number of interior parts of the vehicle — dashboards would be one.”

But having to start with seeds that the DEA treats as marijuana puts the university in what she termed “an interesting situation. Do you move forward with research and put yourself at risk of prosecution?”

“The DOJ and the DEA aren’t part of the farm bill – they don’t follow the same rules,” she said, referring to the Department of Justice, which includes the DEA. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

Government Catch-22

The Controlled Substances Act “creates a closed system,” DEA spokesperson Barbara Carreno said. To track materials in that system, it requires registration of the substances’ handlers.

In theory at least, the act tasks the DEA “with tracking the flow of all controlled substances in the United States. Collectively, that would include all the seeds,” Carreno elaborated in a follow-up email. Monitoring every cannabis seed once it enters the country may seem as hopeless a task as following a BB pellet as it rolls around in a boxcar, and as legalization of cannabis gains momentum across the country, but the DEA is not abandoning what it perceives as its duty.

In the tug of war over cannabis, the agency has yielded some ground. In May 2014, three months after the farm bill’s enactment, the state of Kentucky imported 130 kilograms of hemp seeds from Italy, only to have the DEA seize the shipment on its way to several Kentucky universities and farmers contracted for a pilot growing program overseen by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. Two lawsuits ensued. The DEA backed off and allowed the program to proceed.

“At this point, we don’t see importation as being a limiting factor on the program, because we have a process that is satisfactory to both DEA and the [Kentucky] Department of Agriculture,” said the department’s industrial hemp program coordinator, Adam Watson.

Vermont’s industry

Some Vermonters are eager to test industrial hemp’s potential here. Last year, 17 parties registered to grow the crop. Tim Schmalz, who manages the registry at the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, said the registrants expected to grow 190.41 acres all told, but only about an acre was actually planted. The shortfall, he said, was because of difficulties in getting seed and the tendency of would-be farmers not to realize the amount of work involved.

As of March, only five parties have registered with the state to grow the crop this year. They include Joel Bedard of Huntington, who said he hoped to get through the DEA red tape and import as much as 3,000 pounds of seed, which would yield up to 100 acres to be cultivated by farmers contracting with him as a broker. He sees hemp as a jack-of-all-trades crop and identified two Vermont breweries that might make hemp beer. The crop’s uses, he said, include remediation of polluted waterways, since very dense plantings filter runoff, preventing it from entering the water.

Hemp is also “capable of fixing heavy metals [and even] radioactive isotopes,” he said. “It was utilized at Chernobyl.”

Some cultivars’ seeds, he said, contain up to 30 percent oil, a percentage he termed “off the charts. And the hearts are more nutritious than flax seed. And it’s gluten-free.”

For processing, his crops would go to Full Sun Company in Middlebury.

Netaka White, a co-founder of Full Sun, grew a garden plot of industrial hemp using low-THC seed ordered online from Europe last year – enough to yield a pound of seeds. This year, he intends to plant that seed, which he hopes will produce 60 pounds. In 2016, a 60 pound planting could yield a two-ton seed crop, enough by his calculation to plant 260 acres in 2017. That season’s yield would be enough to begin commercial processing for feed meal as well as food oil, which UVM’s Darby characterized as “the low hanging fruit” for Vermont’s nascent hemp industry, since processing facilities such as Full Sun already exist.

Too small to bust?

White did not obtain a DEA permit to import his seed. The DEA hasn’t come after him, he said, because “I really have to believe that the DEA doesn’t have a lot of interest in pursuing small endeavors.” An August 2013 policy memorandum issued to U.S. attorneys by Deputy Attorney General James Cole, outlined eight priority areas for enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act. Cultivation of industrial hemp was not one of them.

For their 2014 crop, Manfredi and Alberti, who like White have signed on to the state registry, ordered food-grade hemp seeds from abroad, since hemp as food can be imported legally, although the growing characteristics of the noncertified seed are unknown. They viewed the effort as experimental.

But, even with their quarter-acre – a thousand plants — “we still had the biggest legal plot in the Northeast,” Manfredi said.

Manfredi and Alberti are using the yield from those plants solely for seed.

She and Manfredi would like ultimately to concentrate on growing a high-oil variety for pressing. They are not growing the seed on their own land, however, and that could put the farmers hosting the crop at risk of an uninvited visit from the DEA.

“The Farm Bill does not exempt farmers in general from federal law that prohibits the growing of hemp,” the DEA’s Carreno said. Such farmers “could be at risk of DEA action. That said, in allocating its enforcement resources, DEA applies the guidance” in the Cole memo.

All of which answers the crucial question of possible busts with a definite maybe. In an interview, Schmalz expressed the uncertainty hovering over growers: “DEA reserves authority to come in and intervene if they feel someone is growing cannabis that might be more than 0.3% THC.”

Against that backdrop, Manfredi, Alberti, Bedard and White are supporting legislation in Congress that would remove barriers to the commercial production of industrial hemp by simply excluding low-THC cannabis from the federal definition of marijuana.

Sponsors include majority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the Senate and Peter Welch, D-Vt., in the House. In a noncommittal statement, the office of Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said he looked forward to “consideration of the bill on its merits” in the chamber’s Judiciary Committee, of which he is the ranking member. Jeff Frank, a spokesman for Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said only that Sanders had sponsored similar legislation in the past.

With Kentucky — and cannabis-friendly Colorado — already making strides in hemp production, Vermont’s challenge may be to leverage its advantages before hemp’s potential finds a home in other states.

“If farmers are growing hemp for human consumption, for example, or the production of cosmetics, the Vermont label has a certain value,” Schmalz noted, alluding to the marketing factors that give “pure Vermont maple syrup” an aura that “pure Wisconsin maple syrup” hasn’t matched.

“We’re breaking new ground, and there are going to be some hiccups, but once they’re ironed out, hemp is … a good addition to the crops that Vermont farmers can grow,” Schmalz said.

“I imagine it is just a matter of time,” UVM’s Darby said, “before all this [legal wrangling] seems ridiculous and people look back and wonder how this happened.”

VT Digger: Senate OKs water quality bill that includes surcharge on property transfer tax

John Herrick May. 11 2015
Full Article

The Vermont Senate gave preliminary approval to an $8 million water quality bill on a voice vote Monday.

The money would be raised through a 0.2 percent surcharge on the property transfer tax, the same funding mechanism that was approved by the House. The property transfer tax is paid by real estate purchasers at closing.

The Senate’s version sunsets the tax in 2018 with the expectation that it would be replaced with a more equitable tax policy in which polluters pay more to clean up the state’s waterways.

The bill, H.35, aims to slow pollution into the state’s waterways, including Lake Champlain. It creates new permits to reduce runoff from developed areas and sets a timeline for the creation of pollution control measures on farms, among other measures.

The debate on the Senate floor Monday was more about about funding than policy. Three Senate committees have passed some form of a per parcel fee in which landowners pay a surcharge on their property tax bill.

But when Gov. Peter Shumlin, who originally proposed a tax on commercial and industrial properties in the Lake Champlain watershed, described the per parcel fee as a “property tax fee” last week, the Senate got cold feet.

Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell, D-Windsor, said that could have stalled the bill.

“The only thing that tripped people up was the financing. The governor has been calling it a property tax repeatedly, and that kind of poisoned the well,” Campbell said. “The most important thing for me was to get the bill through.”

Others say it’s not fair that future property buyers, including young people seeking to establish roots in the state, be asked to pay for water pollution problems that were caused by past development and farming practices.

“We have legacy costs and we’re making the future pay for it instead of all of us,” said Sen. David Zuckerman, P/D-Chittenden.

Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, was also concerned about tax fairness. One variation of the fee would have charged a constituent who lives in a trailer and another who lives in a mansion the same amount.

“That doesn’t seem fair to me,” he said. “That’s not what I call a progressive tax.”

The per parcel fee would have set the stage for a more complicated tax policy in the future in which polluters pay more. Both the Senate and the House version included a study on how to collect a tiered tax based on the amount of pollution a property generates.

David Mears, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, said the state should be looking at ways to tax based on pollution.

“It should be fair and tied to the source of the pollution. The so-called ‘polluter pays’ concept is an important one,” Mears said.

Despite the arguments over fairness, even supporters of the per parcel fee agreed to the property transfer tax because they wanted to see the bill move forward.

“It’s a balance that’s workable, and we know we have more work to do in the years to come,” said Sen. Chris Bray, D-Addison, chairman of the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee, whose committee supported a per parcel fee. “I think it’s important to be able to move the bill forward.”

“If we can’t pass any ‘all-in’ measure today after four months of talking water quality as the top policy question, do you think we’re going to do it in three years?” Zuckerman said. “This is the time to do it when the whole state says we are ‘all in.’”

In 2008, the Conservation Law Foundation sued the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to implement the Clean Water Act when it approved the state’s water quality plan for Lake Champlain. Now the EPA is seeking a commitment from the state that it can fund its new plan or the EPA will issue what are expected to be more costly regulations on stormwater and wastewater. A decision is expected early summer.

The EPA modeled the state’s plan last year and found that it did not achieve the phosphorus reductions necessary to comply with state standards. The state is still working with the EPA and the agency has not indicated whether it will approve the state’s plan, according to Mears.

“There is no guarantee. They are in charge of running the models. They may ask us to do more,” he said. “But all the signals from EPA are very positive.”

06/03 Hemp History Week Storytelling Event

Sow-the-Seed-300x3006:30 pm
Upper Valley Co-op in White River Junction
Free and open to the public

The sixth annual Hemp History Week is planned for June 1-7 of this year, and Rural Vermont and the Upper Valley Food Co-op are partnering to host a Hemp Storytelling event. Join us for hemp-themed snacks, stories, and discussion about hemp legislation, cultivation, and production in Vermont and beyond.

Hemp StorytellingIt’s an exciting time for hemp! It’s growing in popularity as the benefits it can offer to our farmers, our economy, and our planet are becoming more widely known. This event will both celebrate hemp’s progress at the state and national level, and expose the barriers that are preventing farmers from getting seeds in the ground (and even in their hands!).

Join Rural Vermont and representatives from Vote Hemp and the Vermont Chapter of the Hemp Industries Association for interesting stories and lively discussion about this nutritious, versatile, and eco-friendly crop, and learn more about the outdated federal policies that are standing in the way of hemp’s rebirth in Vermont and beyond. Find out what you can do and how you can support efforts to change these policies to more accurately reflect today’s reality and bring hemp back to American soils.

Lots more information here.

(<– Adam Vorsteveld of Bridport VT in a Colorado hemp field.)

Food-Navigator USA: GMA et al file appeal vs Vermont GMO ruling, but they are running out of time, say attorneys

By Elaine Watson+
Full Article

As widely predicted, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) is appealing a federal court ruling denying its bid to halt implementation of Vermont’s GMO labeling law (Act 120) until a lawsuit over the Act is resolved.

Food Safety News: Judge: Vermont’s GMO-Labeling Law and Industry Lawsuit Can Both Proceed

U.S. District Court Judge Christina Reiss decided Monday to let Vermont go ahead with its plans to become the first state to require labeling of food containing genetically modified ingredients on July 1, 2016, and to let the Grocery Manufacturers of America-led litigation to stop it from happening proceed.

Both sides were left going through the trial judge’s 84-page decision to see where she agrees and disagrees with both sides. Reiss, who was appointed to the federal bench in 2009 by President Barack Obama, has definitely left both sides with plenty to chew on.

Although the state wanted the lawsuit dismissed, Attorney General William Sorrell told local media there is much in the judge’s decision that goes the state’s way for the “heart and soul” of the labeling law. But the Vermont AG acknowledged it may be a reach for the state in other areas, including its desire to ban food companies using genetically modified ingredients from using the word “natural.”

Like Sorrell, the grocery industry is going through the decision looking for where its case was helped or hurt.

“While we are pleased that the District Court found us likely to succeed on several of our claims, we are nevertheless  disappointed by the court’s ultimate decision to deny our Motion for Preliminary Injunction to block the implementation of the Vermont GMO labeling law — Act 120 — on grounds that the manufacturers had not yet shown a sufficient degree of harm. We are reviewing this decision and considering our legal options,” GMA said in a post-decision statement.

The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) applauded the court’s decision, suggesting that it has positive implications for other states looking to pass GMO-labeling legislation.

“This landmark ruling not only paves the way for Vermont’s GMO labeling law to take effect on schedule, July 1, 2016, but more importantly it signals that the courts agree that states have a constitutional right to pass GMO labeling laws,” said Ronnie Cummins, OCA’s international director.

“This ruling also bodes well for GMO labeling bills that are moving through other state legislatures, including Maine, where a public hearing on Maine’s LD 991 is scheduled for April 30,” Cummins added.

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin signed Act 120 into a law a year ago, and rules to implement it next year were released earlier this month.

Agency of Ag Raw Milk Guidelines 2015

Read the guidelines here.




NewGrassRoots is a web-based civic engagement tool for contacting legislators. Created by Vermont activists, it promotes a more responsive democracy by confirming delivery of voice messages from constituents to legislators, notifying constituents when their message has been heard, and providing real-time statistics from each district on every bill to provide effective, personalized communication and accountability with legislators.

Rural Vermont is teaming up with the creators of NewGrassRoots to make it easier for constituents to contact legislators, and then hold them accountable! We can create an account for you if you give us your permission, just email with “New GrassRoots” in the subject line. Please note that you have to be on our mailing list for us to be able to create an account for you. Alternatively, include your full contact information in the body of the email and we will create your account.

You can also create an account on your own and link it to Rural Vermont’s organizational account:

To create your own account, go to and click “Get Started” in the middle of the home page (or “Sign Up” in the top right corner). Click “Individual Signup.” After you complete the sign up form, legislators will be automatically assigned based on your physical address. You will then receive a verification email. Clicking the link in the email to verify your account will bring you right into your account dashboard. At that point, all you’ll have to do is go the “Organizations” tab in your account. Find Rural Vermont, and click the “Join” button.

Once you’re joined with Rural Vermont and we are ready to have you take action, you should go to the “Record Message” page. Enter the bill #, select a position, and choose which legislator to send the voice message to. When you have your phone nearby, click the “Call Me Now” button that displays the phone number that will be called. Follow the simple instructions to record your one-minute voice message.

*Don’t forget to press # when done recording, then press 1 to send.

Please join NewGrassRoots or have Rural Vermont set up an account for you so that we can be more effective in having your voice heard!


05/04 Update & ALERT!

5/7 Small Farm Day at the Statehouse – Join us!
Issue updates and ACTION on raw milk, water quality, and GMOs
We met our match – thank YOU!

Read the full alert here.