Author Archives: Mollie

VT Digger Op-Ed: A right to know what’s in our food

By Timothy Gillis Sheble-Hall
Full Article

Editor’s note: This op-ed is by Timothy Gillis Sheble-Hall, a senior at the University of Vermont who is studying food systems. He grew up on a sheep farm in Dover, Mass.

Labeling GMOs is a policy rooted in power. Power for consumers to know what is in their food that they buy, power for families to know what they are putting in their bodies, and the power of a nation to democratically make decisions about its food system.

Right now the large food corporations disproportionately hold that power. For this reason Vermont legislators have shied away from passing a GMO labeling policy. There are countless reasons why we should organize around the issue of GMOs and continue to push for effective legislation.

Genetically modified seed disempowers farmers. Monsanto is a powerful GMO seed producer that owns a large portion of the market. The company gives many terms to farmers, such as the decree that no farmer may save Monsanto seed and reuse it the next year. I do not want to romanticize the idea that all farmers save their seed annually. I know that here in the U.S., much of the food we eat comes from farmers who buy new seed. Globally, however, many small farmers who cannot afford to buy new seed each year rely on saving seed. These small farmers are in trouble as the gospel of GM seed is spread to developing countries. I also think it is a threat to our seed supply when one company can have so much power over such a large portion of the market. I have so much trust and admiration in the farmers that I know in my life. When I envision my ideal food system, I want as much power and decision making ability as possible in the hands of farmers rather than Monsanto, DuPont and PepsiCo.

Genetically modified seed disempowers consumers. There is so much we do not know about the health repercussions of this food. Studies have been hushed, blocked and discouraged by food industry giants. Author and Cornell professor Philip McMichael states, “Genetically-improved food is only sustainable through the complicity of governments, scientists, and agro-chemical corporations in concealing ingredients from consumers and biological hazards from citizens.” Labeling is such a simple, direct way to give consumers the power of information. Why does Monsanto wish to deny consumers the knowledge of whether or not our corn tortilla chips were produced with products from their seeds? Shouldn’t they be proud of the seeds they produce?

It seems that money, not political will, is the foremost barrier to passing legislation in order to label GMOs in food. Money has given food corporations an inordinate amount of power in how we structure our food system. This imbalance was made clear in the latest election when the opposition to California’s labeling bill, led by Monsanto, DuPont and PepsiCo, outspent proponents $46 million to $9.2 million.

Gov. Shumlin recently made clear that he wishes to pass GMO labeling legislation, but is apprehensive of the legal costs involved when Monsanto inevitably takes the state to court. While we may not have the funds to outspend these large corporations, Vermont has the undeniable force of people power. Whether it was working to recover from Irene, or pass universal health care, Vermont has shown that when we come together, we are truly strong.

Labeling GMOs will not accomplish all the change needed in our food system, but it will certainly be a step in the right direction. What do you want your food system to look like?

I want a more local, organic system that is focused on communities working together. Healthy food should be accessible to everyone. Our food system should be structured around meeting everyone’s basic needs without destroying our ecosystems for future generations. We deserve to know what’s in our food.

Let’s come together to continue to build a movement that accomplishes these goals. Talk to your neighbors, talk to your friends, talk to your enemies, talk to your legislators, and get involved with VT Right to Know GMO.

What Ceres Might Say: The Vermont Story: History of Farmer Cooperatives and how they have Impacted Vermont Agriculture

December 20th, 2012
Full Article
The farmer cooperative movement has a long and varied history in Vermont. Over the years farmer cooperatives have come and gone, influenced by the need for better pricing through joint marketing, collective buying of supplies, changing demographics, and challenges brought about by the ever changing market environment. At the state, regional, and national levels, the politics behind this cooperative movement has always been significant.  This blog reviews, very briefly, the history of the farmer cooperative movement, and its status in Vermont today. An entire book could be written on this rich history.
Why the European Model was Appealing to U.S. Agriculture and Rural America:
It is said that the model for the cooperative movement in the United States came primarily from Europe, and the heritage that many of the original settlers brought with them.  Often cited is the Rochdele Cooperative (weavers) and the resulting Rochdele cooperative principles, the primarily ones being “member owned, member controlled, and for member benefit.”  These principles, and the development of U.S. cooperatives are rooted in the upheavals that characterized the Industrial Revolution in England during 1750-1850 (see Univ. Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives, Cooperatives in the U.S.). Accordingly it is stated that dairy cooperatives were among the first type of agricultural cooperatives organized in the U.S. with the first creamery being built in Goshen, Connecticut in 1810 (see Cropp and Graf, History and Role of Dairy Cooperatives).
In the United States a very extensive infrastructure has been developed at the federal level around the cooperative model for farmers and rural America.  Under the American and U.S. Commission of 1913 (see Senate Doc. No 214, Parts I, II, III, 63rd Congress) several U.S and Canadian representatives made an extensive trip throughout all of Europe in the spring and summer of 1913 to investigate the cooperative structure for rural credit. The Federal Loan Act of 1916 resulted, creating the Federal Land Bank (part of the Federal Farm Credit System) for farm mortgage lending. Other federal laws were also enacted.  These included the Clayton Act of 1914, and the Capper-Volstead Act of 1922 (giving limited anti-trust immunity to farmer marketing and bargaining cooperatives).  The Cooperative Marketing Act of 1926 created a division within USDA to promote cooperatives. The Agricultural Marketing Act of 1929 was created to deal with the supply and demand imbalance that existed in the United States at that time. It was seen as a way to increase farmer prices during the depression period.  It did this by creating a Federal Farm Board, which saw cooperative marketing as being essential to bring about economic relief to agriculture.  One quote from that time stated “at the present time nearly everyone from President Coolidge down is talking of Co-operative marketing as a cure for the ills which American agriculture faces.” (See: Fourteenth Biennial Report of the Vermont Commissioner of Agriculture, 1926-1928.)  Other laws soon followed to further aid rural America and cooperative development.  Some of these such as the Rural Electric Administration and the Rural Telephone Act are easily recognized. Both helped to bring electricity and communications to rural parts of the United States that were not well served by privately owned utilities, and thus encouraged further development in these regions.  Others, such as the Farm Loan Act of 1933, created a structure, through the Farm Credit System, to provide immediate short-term credit to farmers and a process for lending to farmer cooperatives (Bank for Cooperatives were established in the twelve Farm Credit Districts in the United States).
Support and Advocacy Structure:
Besides the infrastructure created through federal laws, a strong trade organization structure still exists that embraces the cooperative model as a way to transact business.  For example, the dairy cooperatives across the United States organized the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) in 1916. Diary cooperatives are said to be among the first type of agricultural cooperatives organized in the U.S. (see Cropp and Graff, History and Role of Dairy Cooperatives)).  The National Grange and the Farm Bureau Federation have been strong advocates for farmer cooperatives from the beginning of these two organizations.  The National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, and the National Cooperative Business Association are likewise strong advocates for their member cooperatives, as is the National Rural Electric and National Rural Telephone Association, and the National Farm Credit Council, and the National Credit Union Association. In the Northeast region, Cornell University has established a Cooperative Enterprise Program; there still exists the Northeast Cooperative Council that grew out of the N.Y. State Council of Farmer Cooperatives that was organized in 1940. The dairy cooperatives have the Council of Northeast Farmer Cooperatives that primarily represents its members on national dairy policy issues. In Vermont the Green Mountain Dairy Cooperative Federation represents the dairy cooperatives on legislative issues within the state.  This list is not meant to be exclusive as there are other support organizations at the national and regional levels such as state and regional cooperative councils that also support the cooperative model.
Brief History of the Farmer Cooperative Model in Vermont:
The first cooperative market statute or state law was passed in Michigan in 1865 (see Univ. WI Zeuli and Cropp), and other states soon followed. The twenty-Sixth Annual Report of the then Vermont State Board of Agriculture in 1906 (before the establishment of the State Department of Agriculture) states that “unity of action ought or should be the watchword all along the line of farmers today.  Is it not possible for farmers of Vermont to unite to such an extent as to establish a market under their own supervision and in their own New England markets? The State Grange and State Farm Bureau were strong advocates behind the farmer cooperatives, as were Commissioners of Agriculture during this early period. “ For example, E.S. Brigham, Vermont Commissioner of Agriculture in 1914, stated in Sixth Annual Report of Agriculture for that year that “…it is good business for the state to assist in the formation of producer associations of permanent character, and to assist the associations in finding a market which will pay the highest price for good produced. The first step should be the enactment of a law similar to laws of Massachusetts, New York, and Wisconsin defining how cooperatives shall be organized.”  In 1915, the Vermont legislature enacted a law authorizing cooperative market association of farmers. Numerous local cooperative creameries (many towns had one or more) were formed in Vermont from 1915-1923. Cooperatives around other non-dairy products were created as well, such as the Vermont Maple Products Co-Operative Exchange, and the Shoreham Apple Cooperative. As cities reached out further for their milk and other farm-produced products, farmers joined together to leverage higher pricing for their products.
There has been an attempt over a long period of time to build better cooperation among farmer cooperatives.  Cooperative organizations that existed in the past to provide joint marketing for price enhancement and market stabilization included the New England Milk Producers Association in 1922, Vermont Cooperative Creameries from 1920-1924. The New England Governors and many dairy leaders in the past worked to establish New England Dairies Inc. in 1932 as a way to eliminate destructive competition that deprived milk producers in the region of their “rightful share of the profit.”  The Boston Chamber of Commerce, in a study of the New England Dairy Industry during this time, recommended joint cooperative marketing as a way to assure better farmer prices.  Some of these challenges for the Vermont dairy industry have been discussed in past Whatceresmightsay blog postings (see May and August of 2012).
Cooperation among farmer cooperatives has often remained a challenge.  Commissioner of Agriculture E. H. Jones stated (see Thirteenth Biennial Report of the Commissioner of Agriculture, 1924-26) “…Vermont producers must cooperate in delivering products of high quality if we expect to receive good prices.”  He went on to say, a few years later (see Nineteenth Biennial Report of the Commissioner of Agriculture, 1937-38) “with eighty percent of dairy products exported from the state, the most important issue at stake is a system of marketing that is both equitable and workable.  This is a matter which has confronted Vermont dairymen for two or more decades and is still far from being settled.” (At that time there were twenty-two cooperative creameries in Vermont operating fifty-three plants).
Today’s Vermont Dairy Farmer Cooperatives and the Challenges Ahead:  Cooperatives have been an essential part of the marketing of milk and further processed dairy products in Vermont and the region for many years.  Consolidation has continued within the cooperative community at the state, regional, and national levels as the number of dairy farms have continued to decline.  Examples include the formation of Dairy Farmers of America and its affiliated DMS (dairy marketing services, and its relationship with St. Albans Cooperative), the acquisition of Cabot by AgriMark Cooperative in the 1990’s, and the growth of the organic dairy cooperative, Organic Valley.  Serving both large and small producers continues to be a challenge for the remaining cooperatives (treating members equally or equitably based upon size and milk volume), as does the need for additional capital beyond what is available from member equity.
There have been many studies and reports on agricultural cooperatives throughout the years. Some of the more recent studies have dealt with those cooperatives that still exist today.  (See USDA Cooperative Information Report 60).   For example, these and other reports state “consolidation of firms at the processing, wholesale, and retail levels of the U.S. food marketing system continues unabated and the market influence and bargaining strength of even the largest cooperatives are limited as a consequence.”  Other studies have reached similar conclusions relative to the challenges.  “The ability of cooperatives to access sufficient capital for their operations is of course, one of the most discussed issues among co-op leaders and researchers.  As agriculture becomes more industrialized, the need for capital at the processing and marketing levels increases.  The question by case studies is whether cooperatives are able to access sufficient capital from their members to be able to compete in these markets.”(See Centre for the Study of Cooperatives Report).
Vermont and regional cooperatives are not immune to these and other challenges.  Cooperatives continue to provide an essential role in marketing their member-owner’s milk (all size farms in all locations, and 86 percent of all milk marketed to plants and dealers in U.S. was by cooperatives in 2002). Nevertheless, securing milk while providing member benefits as envisioned by cooperative principals, especially in a more deregulated marketing structure, continues to be a major challenge.  Other forces are in play as well.  The larger producers who supply the majority of the milk, may seek other outlets to include longer term contracts with processors, bypassing their cooperative all together thus reducing the pricing advantage of the cooperatives. Larger producers may also feel that they are unfairly subsidizing the transportation costs of the smaller producers.  Some smaller producers may elect to further diversify into value added.  This has been a growth sector in Vermont with eighty-six plants now processing less than five hundred pounds of milk per day.  Cooperatives, however, continue to provide an important marketing and balancing function in the market that cannot be easily over looked or ignored.
Much is expected from dairy cooperatives today, as in the past, but shielding dairy farmers from pricing risks in a more deregulated market is not easily achieved as has been noted by many studies.  The trends are not new, especially in a more deregulated market, and as milk production has been moving westward for many years, and the Northeast continues to be a milk deficit area.  Cooperatives continue to be challenged to demonstrate to ALL their members that the benefits of cooperatives membership and thus producer returns, outweighs alternative marketing structures or strategies and financial returns to the members themselves.
The June 14th, 2011 whatceresmightsay blog addressed many of these challenges.  As stated in that posting, markets and consumer needs are constantly changing. “In a future driven by technology, cooperatives face many challenges to include the need for more research and development, more aggressive product development and marketing, new manufacturing processing and technology, and equity financing to fuel these changes.”  While Vermont dairy cooperatives are critical in the marketing and balancing of milk, they too lack the necessary capital for research and development of new products and their marketing. Entities such as O-AT-KA dairy cooperative in New York are often looked at as examples of the type of facility and the type of research and development in new products that should be coming from Vermont, with its brand recognition.  Some suggest that the current marketing approach by Vermont based dairy cooperatives may possibly lead to more fracturing of the milk supply within the dairy industry in the state as producers seek other outlets or alternatives to include direct long term contracts with processors, more on the farm value added production, and further movement to organic production.  Others may elect to discontinue operation due to costs and market volatility. To overcome these ever present challenges, many have suggested that the cooperatives need aggressive strategies that address an equitable balance between member and cooperative financial needs, as well as new forms of equity capital that does not take away from the farmer member control (these forms of equity ownership are now possible under new farm cooperative laws in many states). An extensive review of the literature and other studies and reports available, and cited in the reference section of this blog, raise many questions around the future role of dairy cooperatives in Vermont and the Northeast region, particularity around member financial benefits longer-term.  Cooperative members and others are asking many of the following questions today.
* Do the Cooperatives have a strategic plan or vision for the longer-term profitability of the cooperative that financially benefits their member owners? What is the strategic plan that addresses these issues in the next 5-10 years?
* How does the cooperative model, going forward, best benefit all sized producers in light of changing consumer demographics, changing consumption patterns and product demand as well as the impact of more open markets internationally?
* If dairy trade were opened between the U.S. and Canada, how would this impact dairy production and manufacturing in Vermont and the region?
* Do the cooperatives have sufficient capital to do the research, development, and marketing around value added products that can best financially benefit member owners going forward, and how does strategic partnerships with others work to the financial benefit of member owners?   If not what plans do they each have to secure such capital?
* What new initiatives are warranted to best assist in establishing and maintaining a viable dairy industry in Vermont going forward and are these advocated and supported by the dairy cooperatives?
*  Are the dairy cooperatives capable of reacting to market and other economic changes and reinventing their business strategies for financial success that benefits both their members and the cooperative?  What are these strategies?
* How does the continued consolidation within the dairy industry nationally, regionally, and within the State impact the current cooperative processing and marketing structure in Vermont and the region and how do these changes hinder or help, financially, their farmer members in the state and region?
*How can the cooperatives help their members as well as potentially new farmers to grow the region out of being a milk deficit area?
*  What role if any does or can the Land Grant System and Vermont Technical College provide in supporting dairy farmers and their cooperatives relative to new product research as well as related work around dairy farm and cooperative economic viability?
* What are other sources of equity besides member capital that a cooperative might access to achieve longer-term economic viability; and are these being considered?
Note: it has been stated in the USDA Report Agricultural Cooperatives in the 21st Century “perhaps the most important challenge facing cooperatives is accumulating equity capital.  Without sufficient equity, cooperatives cannot meet the external challenges they face or continue to grow and offer services members and consumers need.”
* Are there joint ventures and other forms of business structures that should be considered by cooperatives going forward in order to financially benefit their member owners in the future? (O-AT-KA model, for example).
The Vermont dairy sector is an essential part of our farm economy and, by references, its working landscape.  While there is no silver bullet, there are some encouraging signs to include the fact that many consumers today are interested in knowing where their food comes from and how it is grown, hence the interest in local and regional food systems.  An example of this is the growth that has occurred in farmstead cheese production over the last few years.
The Vermont farm leaders of the past recognized these challenges and concluded in the late 1800’s that the future was not in competing with the West, but in developing those products for the growing markets of the East…. but it would take continued study and work…and today other sources of capital.  The solutions are not ultimately in Washington, D.C. or in competition with the West.  It will continue to take bold and visionary leadership to address these issues going forward.  The majority of dairy farms in Vermont are dependent upon their cooperatives for supply chain management and the cooperatives on their members for product. New and invigorated approaches are needed around the cooperative Rockdele principles, as the landscape is full of those industries to include farmer cooperatives that ignored or failed to embrace change or to reinvent themselves as viable business entities. One international study addresses these challenges (see Cooperative Conversions, Failures and Restructuring).
“As agriculture becomes more industrialized, the need for capital at the processing and marketing levels increases.  The question by case studies is whether cooperatives are able to access sufficient capital from members to be able to compete in these markets.”
Blogger’s Comments: 
Farmer cooperatives have been a large part of my professional life.  My grandfather shipped his milk and bought his feed grain through a nearby cooperative, as did other neighboring dairy farmers.  My wife’s grandfather, a respected Vermont vet in the 1930’s and early 1940’s, managed the Granite City Cooperative Creamery in Barre, Vermont.  He was also the President of New England Dairies, an organization that strived to coordinate joint marketing of milk in the Northeast in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s “…through one centrally controlled channel and with the elimination of destructive competition that deprived milk producers of rightful share of profits”.  I saw the changes and challenges to the cooperatives when I was a member of the senior staff of the former Farm Credit and Farmer Cooperative Banks for the Northeast, and again when I was Secretary of Agriculture, Food and Markets for the State of Vermont.  The challenges are not new in one sense (need for better farm milk pricing), but more complicated in other ways (consolidation at retail and wholesale levels and inability to leverage for higher farmer pricing). There has been greater deregulation in the dairy industry (parity concept was eliminated in 1982), and the federal price support level has been significantly reduced moving the dairy industry to more unregulated marketing.  Consolidation within the dairy industry continues both nationally and within Vermont. One research report states “as the dairy industry moves into the next decade, growth in milk production will come from large-scale agricultural enterprises located predominately between the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi River.  Expanding operations in the Northeast and Upper Midwest may not be able to make-up for the number of exits of smaller operations.” (See Outlook of the U.S. Dairy Sector The Next Decade).
Dairy cooperatives provide an important function for their members, as farmers do not have to concern themselves with the marketing function or supply chain management and the costs and knowledge associated with gaining access to markets today. However, the expectations today, as in the past (see the Milk Problem), by members for fair and adequate pricing still exist.  Larger dairy farmers desire to be treated equitably based on size and volume, and not equally with all members regardless of volume or size. Cooperatives in a more deregulated and volitale market structure may not be able to depend upon member equity as in the past either.  Numerous studies on the future of farmer cooperatives in the 21st Century indicate that new and innovative business approaches will be needed in order to be successful in ever changing marketing structures that are occurring today and are likely to continue.

VPR: Local Food Production, A Priority By Law

John Dillon
Full Article and Audio

In Vermont, the effort to boost local food production is a priority that’s spelled out explicitly in state law

The Legislature passed the Farm to Plate investment program in 2009. The program aims to create jobs in the farm economy and improve access to healthy, local foods.

Now big institutions are making a difference by creating strong markets for producers.

Fletcher Allen Hospital in Burlington serves about 2 million meals a year. So if you want to see what Farm to Plate looks like in practice, check out a place that puts food on thousands of plates a day.

Diane Imrie, director of nutrition services at the hospital, dodges chefs and workers wheeling stacks of trays as she gives a tour of the bustling kitchen.

“All the cold food is ready to go but it doesn’t come out until they’re preparing the tray,” she says.

Under the direction of Imrie and her team Fletcher Allen has embraced local foods as a way to provide healthy meals for patients, staff and visitors.

Purchasing manager Scott Young says local food does often cost more. But he’s confident the expense is worth it.

“Dollar-wise it’s more expensive. But I’ll use ground beef as an example. When you buy a local ground beef, you’re spending a little more for it, but it’s such a peace of mind when you have a recall nation-wide on ground beef and you’re like, ‘Oh, we’re not affected by that because we’re getting a local ground beef.’ I think that alone – the increase in costs just outweighs that,” he says.

Young continues the tour and we peek into a room where two chefs are stirring ingredients into huge stainless steel vats.

“This is where we do a lot of our big production cooking in the kettles,” he says.

Today’s special is squash and black bean soup – both of the two main ingredients came from local farms. Yesterday, it was corn chowder – again sourced locally, even at this time of year.

“We use corn that’s frozen from Sunrise Orchards. And it’s cool that they access locally and we buy that and that’s available now,” he says.

And that’s another way Fletcher Allen has became a key part of the local food system. Because of the institution’s huge demand and its dedication to buying local, the hospital has helped build a market for a new kind of food company.

Sunrise Orchards in Cornwall grows apples. They’re sorted and packed with the help of a machine that separates them by size.

But the orchard has also branched out into a new frozen food venture, built on entrepreneurship and its own distribution network.

David Dolginow is a recent Middlebury College graduate who was hired to help launch the new business. He says Fletcher Allen worked closely on the start-up with orchard owner Barney Hodges.

“In terms of the marketing and distribution side of it, I cannot speak highly enough of Fletcher Allen hospital,” Dolginow says. “Diane Imrie encouraged Barney over about a two-year period to think about minimally processed vegetables. And Fletcher Allen has been one of the primary customers from the start.”

Sunrise Orchards, the farms it buys from, and the institutions it sells to are part of a statewide local food network promoted by the Farm to Plate program.

Networks like these don’t spring up spontaneously. They take years of planning, an effort coordinated by the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, which was also created by the Legislature.

Fund director Ellen Kahler oversaw the development of the Farm to Plate strategic plan, a detailed document that identifies both opportunities and gaps in the food system. She says one such missing link was filled by Sunrise Orchards.

“They had excess capacity, so they’re looking at storing other types of vegetables and because they’re already trucking they were thinking, ‘Well, if we can truck apples, why can’t we truck other things around?” she says. “So part of the value, I think, of the plan was that it surfaced where these gaps were, where these holes were. And in wonderful Vermont fashion, we have so many entrepreneurs, when they see opportunity they jump on it.”

The Farm to Plate plan calls for the state to double the amount of locally produced food, from 5 percent to 10 percent in 10 years.

Purchasing decisions by big institutional customers is a big part of the effort to boost production on local farms. A few hours north of Sunrise Orchards, a beef operation is making inroads with Sodexo, the food service company that supplies the University of Vermont and the state colleges.

Ray Edwards is sales manager for the Vermont Highland Cattle Company. The beef is grass fed on the company’s Northeast Kingdom farms, slaughtered in Troy and then processed at the company’s plant in Orleans.

Edwards is an evangelist for pasture-raised beef. He says the lean meat is low in cholesterol and contains more beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids than corn-fed commodity beef.

Highland Cattle sells a few hundred pounds of beef a week to Fletcher Allen and this fall began selling to Sodexo. The Highland beef is now only available at UVM, but Edwards has high hopes for the Sodexo connection.

“It may not go to every campus in the state. But I think once you’re in the door, it creates an opportunity,” he says. “Other campuses can sort of see what’s going on. … I think it just gives you the opportunity to grow.”

And that opportunity keeps farmland open in the Northeast Kingdom and employs a dozen people in a growing food enterprise – solid results of farm to plate in action.

Times Argus: Composting comes of age in Vermont

By Marija Zagarins
Full Article

Before long, Vermonters won’t have a choice about whether to compost. Last May, the state Legislature passed Act 148, a phased-in ban to keep recyclable and organic materials out of the state’s landfills. The law will call for everyone to separate organic waste from their trash by 2020.

Act 148 marks a major step toward improving the state’s solid waste statistics. Cathy Jamieson, solid waste program manager for the Agency of Natural Resources, reported that the rate of recyclable and organic materials that get diverted away from Vermont’s landfills has remained steady at 30 to 36 percent since 2001. For the past decade, the agency has aspired to increase that rate to 50 percent.

“It’s more economical to make things from recycled materials or reduce your organic waste by composting,” said Jamieson. “That way you’re conserving not only the resource but also the energy that goes into making that item.”

But how will Act 148 be enforced?

Jamieson said the Agency of Natural Resources is focused on creating consistent services for waste management rather than penalizing those who don’t comply with the new law.

“We’re not looking to have trash police out there going through trash to see if people recycled everything,” she said.

For some individuals, composting may present enough of a challenge to overshadow its positive attributes. First of all, maintaining a home compost system is no easy job.

“It’s not for the squeamish. You have to get your hands dirty,” said Zachary Brock of West Lebanon, N.H. Last spring, Brock set up an indoor worm compost bin that introduced a small population of fungus gnats into his home.

But Brock believes that composting at home is worth the trouble, especially for gardeners. Organic compost contains essential plant nutrients, and anyone willing to add red worms to their food waste bins will be rewarded with castings, a finely-processed material ideal for growing seedlings.

Carey Hengstenberg, an Environmental Analyst with the Agency of Natural Resources, is researching more ways the state can offer convenience and choices to waste generators when Act 148 goes into effect.

Currently, the Agency of Natural Resources subsidizes the Master Composter program, a course offered every other year through UVM Extension with the purpose of training people to become advocates and resources for backyard composting within their respective communities.

Hengstenberg would like to see Vermont’s solid waste management districts interact more with graduates of this program.

“Master composters aren’t being utilized as much as they could to show their neighbors how to build a backyard composter or demonstrate different techniques through community projects,” she said. “I think that’s something that we’d like to see the districts tap into more.”

Ag Professional: Court sets date for hearing of lawsuit against Monsanto

November 27, 2012
By Wood Prairie Farm
Full Article

On Nov. 21, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C., announced that it would hear the Appeal of Dismissal in Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association et al v. Monsanto at 10am on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013. The landmark organic community lawsuit was originally filed in Federal District Court, Southern District of New York, in March 2011.

OSGATA et al v. Monsanto challenges the validity of Monsanto’s transgenic seed patents and seeks preemptive court protection for farmers when Monsanto seed trespasses onto their farms and contaminates their crops. Should contamination occur, innocent farmers would be placed in legal jeopardy and could be held liable by Monsanto for patent infringement because of the farmers’ “possession” of Monsanto technology without having paid royalty on that “possession.”

Plaintiffs are being represented in the case by lawyers from the Public Patent Foundation, who are providing their legal services to the farmers pro bono. Plaintiff lawyer Dan Ravicher asked Monsanto for a binding legal covenant guaranteeing family farmers that they would not be pursued for patent infringement should they become contaminated by Monsanto seed. Monsanto refused to provide this assurance to the farmers.

The farmers’ Appeal brief, filed last summer, cites legal and factual errors by Federal District Court Judge Naomi Buchwald which in toto caused her to erroneously conclude that the farmers lacked standing under the Declaratory Judgment Act to seek court protection.

In addition, two powerful Amicii briefs were filed in support of the farmers’ position – one by a group of 11 law professors and another by a group of 14 non-profit agricultural and consumer organizations. These briefs will be studied by the three judge Appellate panel during their deliberations.

“American family farmers have gone to court seeking justice and protection from Monsanto. We are not seeking one penny from Monsanto,” said Maine organic seed farmer Jim Gerritsen, President of lead Plaintiff Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association.

“We satisfy the requirements of the Declaratory Judgment Act. We want our day in court so that our families can achieve protection from this perverse injustice. We are prepared to prove at trial that the U.S. Patent Office improperly granted Monsanto patents on their genetically engineered seed and that those patents are invalid,” said Gerritsen.

OSGATA has re-established its Farmer Travel Fund in order to raise funds to enable family farmers to travel to the Oral Argument in January. The Farmer Travel Fund is in immediate need of contributions to support this convergence of farmers from across the United States in solidarity for the OSGATA et al. v. Monsanto lawsuit effort.

12/13/12 Alert! Do you Eat?

Dear Members and Friends:

We are writing to you because we need your help and, as a friend, we value your point of view. As you probably know, Rural Vermont has a reputation for getting a lot done on a very lean budget. In spite of this commitment to being efficient, we have been facing some hardship and tough decisions.

At the end of October, in the face of dwindling resources, the Board of Directors of Rural Vermont made the difficult choice to furlough our entire staff until the beginning of January. Consequently, Rural Vermont is continuing with only the essential activities of the organization through December, relying on volunteers to accomplish them. We are so grateful to everyone who has pitched in.

Unlike previous times when Rural Vermont has been in a financial pinch, this time we seek a different result. We can’t effectively serve our mission by just scraping by anymore.

Over the next couple months, Rural Vermont will be intensively consulting with our members, supporters, friends and allies to work together to design a new model for our Community Supported Advocacy that will enable this feisty, grass-roots organization to gather the financial resources we need to sustain the important work we still need to do.


We are thrilled to report that the early results of our outreach efforts

have produced a unique opportunity and challenge:

Through the generosity of committed supporters who have pooled their resources, between now and the end of 2012,  

all new or renewed membership gifts, and all contributions  

to Rural Vermont


In response to this challenge,

we have set an ambitious and necessary goal

of increasing our membership significantly,

and raising a total of $15,000 from our grassroots supporters

(That’s YOU!)

so we can all get back to work and
begin the New Year from a position of strength.

And our work is more important than ever. Since Rural Vermont was founded in 1985, we have been speaking up for the needs and concerns of family farms and speaking out against agricultural and economic policy that hurts the interests of those farms and their customers.

We are the only Vermont non-profit   

organizing and advocating   

for farmers’ freedom to produce   

and their customers’ freedom to buy   

the food that supports their values.

Please take a look at this summary of our major accomplishments – and find the things that have been a benefit to you.


1. Securing our right to know our food by making Vermont the first state in the US to require labeling of Genetically Engineered Food.

– As a key partner in the Vermont Right to Know GMOs coalition, we can help make Vermont the first state in the country to give consumers the right to know if their food has been genetically engineered. With the loss of the California GMO Labeling ballot initiative in November, Vermont will be the target of even more well-funded opposition from the bio-tech, pesticide, and industrialized food corporations who want to prevent us from knowing what is in our food.

2. Expanding direct sales of farm fresh food by building on the success and lessons learned since the passage of the “chicken bill” and the raw milk bill, Rural Vermont will seek further improvements to existing laws and regulations that will benefit farmers and consumers who wish to produce and purchase the foods of their choice.

3. Protecting farmers and their customers from inappropriate and burdensome regulation designed to benefit the corporately controlled industrial food system. With the recent surge in public interest in and concern over how our food is produced, Rural Vermont will continue to seek appropriately-scaled regulatory and legislative solutions to enable Vermont-scale, sustainable agriculture to thrive and feed us all.

If you care about these goals, please consider investing in them.

To double your dollars, make your gift by
the deadline of midnight on December 31, 2012

We are grateful for your commitment and activism. We hope you’ll consider becoming a member or making a special gift and joining us as we work to steer Rural Vermont toward long-term sustainability. The work we still have to do is too important for us to merely survive. Now’s the time for us to thrive.

Thank you!

Andrea, Shelby, Robb, Mollie

and the Rural Vermont Board of Directors:

John Pollard, Co-Chair, Red Wing Farm, Shrewsbury
Lindsay Harris, Co-Chair, Family Cow Farmstead, Hinesburg
Lisa McCrory, Treasurer, & Carl Russell, Earthwise Farm & Forest, Bethel
Ben Hewitt, Secretary, Cabot
Doug Flack, Flack Family Farm, Fairfield
Tamara Martin, Chandler Pond Farm, South Wheelock
Rachel Schattman, Bella Farm, Monkton
Randy & Lisa Robar, Kiss the Cow Farm, Barnard
Dexter Randall, (Emeritus) Newport Center  

P.S. You’ve never had a better chance to put your money where your values are. Through the benefit of our one-to-one matching challenge, your gift to Rural Vermont TODAY will have twice the impact in helping us reach our goal!

Remember the DEADLINE for the 1:1 match is midnight on New Year’s Eve (but you can beat the last minute rush and give now!)

NOTE: If you don’t want to give electronically,
please mail your gift to:
Rural Vermont
15 Barre St, Suite 2

Montpelier, VT 05602


Thank You!

You did it! As of the deadline last week, for the 1:1 Match, we had received just shy of $30,000 in grassroots contributions. We are all humbled by this outpouring of generosity and commitment to the work of Rural Vermont.

We are also thankful for the contributions, new and renewed memberships that continue to arrive.

As we said at the beginning of this effort, just under a month ago, we are committed to making good on your investment and ensuring that Rural Vermont becomes an even more effective AND sustainable advocate for farmers’ freedom to produce and their customers’ freedom to buy the food that supports their values.

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please take a look at the history of our accomplishments.

Over the next few months, Rural Vermont will be intensively consulting with our members, supporters, friends and allies as we work to design a new model that will enable this feisty, grass-roots community to gather the resources we need to adequately finance and sustain the important work we do.

Please bookmark this page and check back often for the latest news. Also, if you are not already receiving our email updates, please sign up here.


1. Securing our right to know our food by making Vermont the first state in the US to require labeling of Genetically Engineered Food. As a key partner in the Vermont Right to Know GMOs coalition, we can help make Vermont the first state in the US to require labeling of genetically engineered food. With the California GMO Labeling ballot initiative being defeated by overwhelming corporate money and misleading advertisements in November, Vermont will be the target of even more well-funded opposition from the bio-tech, pesticide, and industrialized food corporations who want to prevent us from knowing what is in our food.

2. Expanding direct sales of farm fresh food by building on the success and lessons learned since the passage of the “chicken bill” and the raw milk bill, Rural Vermont will seek further improvements to existing laws and regulations that will benefit farmers and consumers who wish to produce and purchase the foods of their choice.

3. Protecting farmers and their customers from burdensome and inappropriate regulation designed to benefit the corporately controlled industrial food system. With the recent surge in public concern over how our food is produced, Rural Vermont will continue to seek appropriately-scaled regulatory and legislative solutions to enable Vermont’s farms and farmers to thrive and feed us all.





12/06 Update: Let’s Dance!


Dear Members and Friends:

Last weekend I was invited to talk with members of the Capital City Grange about what issues Rural Vermont will be working on in the upcoming legislative session. We talked about the VT Right To Know GMOs Labeling bill (which will be back and with broader support) and our efforts to continue to expand opportunities for farmers to sell and customers to buy farm fresh food.

After a lively discussion, I was invited to join the Grange members at their monthly potluck supper (which was delicious) and then to the bi-weekly  Contra Dance.

I’m embarrassed to admit that it has probably been over a decade since I last joined in a contra dance.  My excuses are many: bad knees, no time, fear of stepping on everyone’s feet…

Last Saturday night, sitting on the sidelines, admiring the new dance floor, I was content just to listen to the music and then someone asked me if I wanted to dance and I said “sure” and the next thing I knew I was joining hands, promenading, swinging with my partner and doing something that I realized rarely happens in our daily lives: I was looking a stranger in the eye (from less than an arm’s length away) and smiling. It was impossible not to. Besides the fact that if you look beyond the person you’re swinging around with, you’re very likely to get dizzy, it is also so infectious. Everyone was smiling, making eye contact, and being very forgiving of newbies like me who frequently turned the wrong way or broke the rhythm of the dance.

I’m wondering if this open-armed and open-hearted engagement with friends and strangers alike is, in fact, exactly what we need to tackle all the opportunities and challenges that are ahead of us. Let me know what you think.

Let’s dance!


P.S. We’re heading South THIS SUNDAY for a Rural Vermont benefit Contra Dance at the Old Stone Church in Brattleboro. See below for details.



organized by Brattleboro Contra
Sunday, December 9th this weekend!

7:30 pm – Beginners’ workshop at 7:15 pm

Old Stone Church

corner of Grove & Main Streets, BRATTLEBORO  

Rebecca Lay calls, with music by Ethan Hazzard-Watkins on fiddle, Anna Patton on clarinet, and Andy Davis on piano  

Admission: Adults $10-$15 sliding scale;

$7 students & seniors

Proceeds benefit Rural Vermont!

PSSST…We’ll be announcing a special way you can help us meet our year-end goal.

Thanks to our good friends at Brattleboro Contra, there will be a special dance this Sunday night and you’re invited! No partners are required, and both new and experienced dancers, as well as all ages, are welcome. Come dance away that holiday stress while supporting an organization you care about

Bring your friends, soft-soled shoes, and money for snacks. Please remember this is a fragrance-free dance. 

See you at the Old Stone Church  

this Sunday!   



Last Minute Contra Dance Support – If you can lend a hand at the contra dance on Sunday, we need a couple people to make and drop off treats to be sold at the break. And we could use help at the dance staffing our raffle table. PLEASE CONTACT SHELBY ASAP if you can help! 

Front Porch Forum liaisons – If you live in a town that has a Front Porch Forum, become the Rural Vermont ambassador in your community by posting Rural Vermont events and relevant actions, please be in touch.

Posterers – A quick and simple method to help Rural Vermont spread the word about our upcoming events is by putting up posters in your community. Let us know if we can count on you.

Phone Callers – We always need help making personal phone calls to Rural Vermot’s supporters, whether to invite folks to events or provide campaign updates. If you’re comfortable on the phone and would like to volunteer from home, this is the task for you!

If you can volunteer for any of the above, please email Shelby

or call the office at 802-223-7222 today!


At its heart, Rural Vermont is a grassroots advocacy organization. That means our ability to get things done that you care about is directly tied to the number of members who support our work.

Our credibility and power comes directly from you – the people who share our values and our vision for a community-based food system that enables family farms to be economically viable and offers everyone access to healthy, locally-produced food of their choice.

To make this vision a reality,
we need you.


P.S. If you THINK you’re already a member but aren’t 100% sure (and just because you’re receiving this email does NOT mean you’re a member), please contact Mollie to confirm your membership status.

WCAX: Debate over GMO labeling law in Vermont

By Susie Steimle
Full Article and Video

MONTPELIER, Vt. -When University of Vermont student Danielle Piraina heads to the grocery store, she steers clear of certain labels.

“I avoid ‘natural’ because it’s not regulated,” Piraina said.

Last year, she started paying close attention to exactly what is in her food. It was then she realized the word natural can be thrown on any product, even if that product contains genetically-modified organisms like crops that have had changes to their DNA.

“They’re totally fooled, I think the average consumer is,” Piraina said.

So, she headed to Montpelier where lawmakers debated forcing companies to label food that contains GMOs and forbid others from using the word “natural.”

“We’re more concerned about the health issues here and particularly this type of fraud being perpetrated on people with the natural label,” said Paul Burns of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.

When you walk down the aisle in the grocery store, it’s easy to find products with healthy buzz words like “homegrown,” for example. You’ll see products labeled “all natural” and it’s easy to find products labeled “organic.” But you’ll see some companies starting to label products as “Non-GMO verified,” even though there’s no requirement for them to do so.

Gov. Peter Shumlin says this looks all too familiar.

“I would love to find a solution to the GMO labeling bill without repeating what we’ve been through before,” said Shumlin, D-Vermont.

Harrison and Shumlin both stress this bill would not likely hold up in court. Harrison adds labeling regulations will likely cost everyone more money.

He says Vermont should wait for a national bill instead, but advocacy for this bill is strong, which means it will likely get some attention when lawmakers return to the Statehouse.

Burns says the environmental group is working closely with Vermont Law School to make sure this bill will hold up in court. He says a new group of recently elected progressives will prioritize this bill early on in the session.

Drovers CattleNetwork: The voice of reason (Interview with GMC)

Dan Murphy
November 21, 2012
Full article

As a professor of philosophy and environmental studies at Vermont’s Green Mountain College — and something of an authority on animal ethics — Prof. Steven Fesmire found himself at the epicenter of the recent activist-driven flap over the college’s plans to slaughter and serve the meat from two working oxen that toiled on the college’s on-site farm.

The idea was to align the school’s farming operations with a robust concept of sustainability. The result of what seemed to many as a pragmatic—if somewhat controversial—decision was an outcry ginned up by members of VINE, a local animal activist group that operates a sanctuary its members lobbied for the college to consider as an alternative destination for the pair of aging work animals.

Both Fesmire and William Throop, the college’s provost who also specializes in environmental ethics, were caught up in an aggressive campaign to demonize the college and threaten the owners of a local packing plant where school officials had planned to send the oxen. The plant owner balked after receiving numerous threats, and due to an injury, one of the oxen eventually had to be euthanized.

That was hardly the end of the controversy, however, which continues to reverberate across the rural campus, as students, activists and Green Mountain’s leadership grapple with the fallout of a highly charged, media-driven food fight.

To set the record straight about “Oxengate”, and to discuss the larger issue animal agriculture, Prof. Fesmire spoke with Contributing Editor Dan Murphy.

Q. Let’s start at the obvious place: What happened with the protests against the college’s plans to turn its oxen into meat, and what’s the situation there currently?

Fesmire: It’s become a serious dispute. What we’re dealing with here are vegan abolitionists, the folks who think that animal agriculture itself has to be abolished. The vitriol and the harassment against us on this issue is coming from these people, diehard animal rights abolitionists. From their perspective, any aspect of animal agriculture is analogous to human slavery. Thus, there’s no such thing as a “better master.” From their standpoint, even small-scale animal operations, such as we have at Green Mountain College, are no better than the concentrated feeding operations you find in the industry.

Q. You have gotten some very critical comments directed at you, as I have, despite Green Mountain’s attempts to be even-handed about this issue.

Fesmire: Yes. To these folks, any type of animal use is a violation of the fundamental rights of the animal, so it all has to go away. These folks are organized, and with social media, they have a big international network they can mobilize, so that’s where the heat’s coming from.

Q. And there’s been quite a lot of heat, as I understand.

Fesmire: Yes. It’s interesting. Most people—regardless of their diet—might agree or disagree about our decision about the oxen. But this [controversy] has almost nothing to do with Bill and Lou [the two oxen]. They’re merely props. However, the activists see them as mascots for the animal rights movement. This [dispute] isn’t about the vegetarian agenda; most vegetarians are used to living with the [meat] industry. Many of them eat dairy products. This controversy is about the vegan agenda.

Q. How is that different from being vegetarian?

Fesmire: Most people—even vegetarians—can accept that there is a plurality of different diets. For instance, a recent graduate of nearby Middlebury College, who is a vegan, emailed our president and said, “I’m so sick about what these [activists] are doing to you guys, I’m going to send you a contribution.” And he mailed a check for $250. That attitude is pretty prevalent at our college, and that’s what we’re used to.

Q. But that’s not where these protestors are coming from, eh?

Fesmire: No, not at all. The people who are protesting against our college believe there is only one right diet—a vegan diet—and it must be imperialistically forced upon everyone else. To them, that’s the only possible “ethical” diet. It’s not a matter of accepting there are lots of dietary choices out there. They believe in the PETA concept of meat is murder. They’re the ones who blocked off our slaughterhouses, they’re the ones who have threatened our local businesses, they’re the ones who are harassing us daily, and they should not be confused in any way with “typical” vegetarians or vegans.

Q. Without condemning industrial agriculture, or exclusively touting small-scale farming, how do we get to a more balanced approach to food production?

Fesmire: Well, on the issue of animal agriculture, you have to get past thinking that the only choices are business as usual or abolition [of all livestock]. If you get past that, you can have an intelligent conversation and people have some flexibility to think about alternatives. But these pompous, sanctimonious abolitionists are utterly incapable of shining a spotlight that can lead us forward. They block the road on that kind of dialogue.

Yes, the industry does need to change, but right now, there’s not a lot of room to have the dialogue that we need to discuss how we might do that.