The Rutland Area Farm and Food Link is working towards a diverse and thriving agricultural industry in Rutland County supported by the county’s residents and communities. The major project we are focusing on to meet these objectives is a community farm and agricultural resource center, a working farm that will provide a starting place for new farmers. By providing farm space and equipment for beginning farmers to rent, the focus is on building their markets, developing strong business plans, and determining efficient and effective growing techniques. This will ensure that, when they do make the transition to a farm of their own, they will be investing in an economically viable, pre-existing business. In addition, the community farm will be a learning space for the public to reconnect with agriculture and food production, and a resource center serving farmers from across the county.
To complement the community farm, RAFFL is also focusing on expanding the market for locally produced foods through buy-local publications, community dinners highlighting local foods and farms, and a branding campaign to help consumers identify food grown within the county. These efforts have been coined the “5-10-50-100” campaign designed around the concept that within five years Rutland County consumers will buy at least 10% of their food that has been produced within 50 miles of where they live, contributing toward the state’s goal of adding $100 million to the local economy via purchase of local agricultural products.
The SARE funds awarded to the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link, along with additional funding from other sources, made it possible to hire a half-time coordinator to help organize our efforts and implement projects. The additional capacity our organization has gained with this hiring has allowed us to pursue the following objectives laid out in our SARE grant proposal:
Community Farm and Agricultural Resource Center Objectives
Identify and obtain land for the community farm and agricultural resource center site.
Continue publicity of project to stakeholders.
Offer community visioning sessions to further define and prioritize project components.
Develop a master plan for the land.
Develop wquipment and building needs list
Work with the Intervale Foundation to set up operational procedures, management scenarios, and a business plan.
Create marketing materials to attract community farm and agricultural resource center farmers.
Identify and work with established area farmers to set up mentoring program with new farmers.
Identify staffing needs for farm management and operations.
5-10-50-100 Campaign Objectives
Work with GMC “Environmental Economics” and “Building Sustainable Communities” classes on Economic Analysis and measurement indicators.
Work with GMC Environmental Communications class on marketing approach and materials
Public awareness materials distributed—press releases, newspaper articles, buying guide, website with farm locator
Rutland Area Farm and Food Link’s activities have been crafted to address three important agricultural issues identified through meetings with local farmers, agricultural support agencies, community leaders, land conservation interests, college educators, land use planners and economic and business development representatives.
These issues are:
1. High capitalization costs for new agricultural businesses—entrepreneurs that try their hand at agriculture are struggling as they seek to begin new enterprises, and other who may wish to farm fail to consider it as a viable occupation.
2. Too many consumer dollars are leaving the community for food products that could be cultivated locally—instead of strengthening our regional economy, supporting our neighbors, and placing a market value on our rural agricultural landscape, our current food habits support unsustainable national food distribution networks.
3. The market for local products is limited—by seasonality, convenience for purchasers, inefficient regional food distribution systems and insufficient cooperative marketing and sales of locally grown food.
RAFFL has taken a two-prong approach towards addressing the initial issues identified. Our activities have involved planning for infrastructure to increase the success of new farm businesses while initiating a wide-ranging consumer education program meant to build support, increase the market demand for local farm products, and address accessibility issues for consumers.
Over the past year and a half, RAFFL’s board has worked with project stakeholders and the general public to identify our approach in each of these areas.
Regarding the Community Farm and Agricultural Research Center, we have focused our efforts on identifying a location for the center. This has been directed by community priorities for the center that were identified through a public visioning session and strategic planning sessions with our board of directors. Alongside the land search, we teamed up with the Intervale Center in Burlington, Vermont to articulate our vision for the center into an implementable business plan that outlines the policies and procedures for the farm’s operation and the necessary capital outlay over the next five years to make the center a reality.
Our approach regarding the 5-10-50-100 campaign also started with stakeholder discussions on the ways to reach consumers and educate on the importance of buying local farm products. After the first season, our campaign tactics were reviewed and assessed by RAFFL’s board of directors and surveying of consumers and farmers. We used this information to further hone our message and efforts during the 2007 growing season.
Community Farm and Agricultural Resource Center
Since January 2006, the land search committee has spoken with 20 property owners to inform them about the project and gauge their interest in possibly using their land for it.
Since September 2006, we have received eight inquiries from property owners interested in possibly siting the Farm on their land. All the inquiries were generated from outreach associated with the September public meeting and mailings to Rutland Town and Clarendon land owners.
The land search committee took a driving tour of all farm possibilities in Rutland, Clarendon and West Rutland.
The land search committee has visited six potential farms to meet with the property owners and assess the potential for the farm to meet the project’s needs.
The project has the support of the Rutland Redevelopment Authority, who has promised RAFFL help in fundraising for infrastructure and capital costs.
The board visited the Intervale Center in Burlington Vermont for inspiration and guidance on incubator farm development.
We completed a business plan for the center.
We drafted lease agreements, equipment and infrastructure needs lists, incubator program guidelines and procedures, center capital enhancement plan, amd the enter build-out scenario.
We identified staffing needs for the center and a potential location; we have also discussed the project with the landowners and are working to identify the possibilities for land use of acquisition.
Built relationship with 27 separate local farms and value added producers by sourcing ingredients and highlighting their operations at local food dinners.
Distributed a local consumption trends questionnaire in the fall of 2006 and received 92 completed surveys. These surveys provided information on Rutland County consumer buying habits, as well as the effectiveness of RAFFL activities and projects. Hight from the survey include:
– 82% of respondents bought more locally grown products and services this past year than the year before
– Respondents are primarily buying local goods at farmers’ markets (81%), farms and farmstands (72%) and retail stores (67%)
– 49% of respondents asked at a retail store or restaurant where a food item was grown
– Of the respondents that increased their purchases of local goods, 63% attributed the increase at least in part to RAFFL efforts, 28% attributed the increase to use of RAFFL’s “Locally Grown Guide,” 27% attributed the increase to attendance at one of RAFFL’s local dinners
– 87% of the respondents that increased their local purchases this year believed RAFFL services benefited them
– 38% of all respondents feel that the local community is more aware of local food and farming because of RAFFL programs; 25% of all respondents feel that the local community is somewhat more aware of local food and farming because of RAFFL programs.
– Only 3% of all respondents feel that the local community is not more aware of local food and farming because of RAFFL programs
– Seventy-five respondents increased their purchasing of locally grown products and services this year, adding between $24,900 and $58,564 to the local farm economy.
– These 75 respondents bought at least $145,000 in local farm products and services over the 2006 growing season.
We also identified seven actions that RAFFL can take during 2007 to help local farmers connect with local institutions interested in purchasing local food They are.
1. Use our website as an information hub bringing together farmer, consumer and organizational resources regarding agriculture. Site will seek to link current resources, not reinvent the wheel. Encourage farmers and buyers to use VFN, send parents and schools to VT-FEED website, list useful information for farmers looking to sell to institutions.
2. Host a quarterly speaker series to provide useful information – cafeteria food service director, Black River Produce representative, Rutland Regional Medical Center nutritionist. Also provide information fair at these meetings with handouts and resources for attendees.
3. Host a two-part workshop on farm to restaurant table, the first workshop held at the farm, the second at the restaurant.
4. Provide co-op and other interested retailers in farmer profiles produced by GMC class for use as marketing/promotion piece.
5. Host five farm tours between May and September.
6. Form a committee to work on institutional purchasing issues and continue work started with the farmers’ gathering.
7. Publish e-mail (and mailed version when needed) newsletter four times a year. Include RAFFL update, volunteer opportunities, events, and project status.
Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary
– RAFFL display table at Saturday farmers’ markets. We have had a staffed table at the past seven farmers’ markets in downtown Rutland. Our display outlines our projects, advertises upcoming events, and allows folks to sign up for our newsletter and email updates. From this, we have added more than 30 new people to our email communication list, expanding it to 148 people.
– 2006 Locally Grown Guide, 8,500 distributed, and the 2007 Locally Grown Guide, 37,000 distributed.
– RAFFL brochure and bookmarks for display.
– RAFFL Winter 2006 and Spring 2007 newsletter, about 200 distributed by e-mail or regular mail.
– 2006 and 2007 Heart of Vermont Agriculture promotional materials.
Over the past nine months, while working under our SARE grant, we have taken on many activities important to reaching the project’s overall milestones. These include:
Efforts to make the Community Farm and Agricultural Resource Center a reality have focused on finding a piece of property upon which to locate the project. This process began in January 2006 with a public visioning session to identify important components of the project that would direct the land search.
The land search committee, comprised of RAFFL board president Greg Cox, RAFFL coordinator India Burnett Farmer and Vermont Land Trust staff Bob Baird, met ten times to identify an outreach strategy, discuss potential properties and meet with interested land owners.
We met with planning commissions of Rutland Town and Clarendon to gain project support and identify town level farmers with an understanding of agricultural land in the area.
We co-hosted, with the Rutland Town selectboard, a public informational meeting on the farm to increase public awareness of the project and seek leads on potential farm properties.
We mailed information on the project and land characteristics to over 160 large land owners in Rutland Town and Clarendon.
We created GIS maps for eight potential properties with soils and other property features, and visited properties to determine appropriateness for project.
We are currently working with development personnel, public officials and private property owners on the acquisition of an ideal property for the center within walking distance of downtown Rutland.
We completed the business plan and strategic planning documents
Other activities regarding the creation of the farm have been put on hold until a location for the project has been secured. Site planning and outreach to new farmers is all dependent on the characteristics of the property we ultimately obtain.
Reaching out to the consumer and farmer community through our 5-10-50 Campaign has been a driving force directing RAFFL activities over the past two growing seasons. These include:
– Distributed and promoted RAFFL’s first ever “Locally Grown Guide” for Rutland County. The guide was created over the spring of 2006 with the help of Green Mountain College students and professors. Over 8,500 copies of the guide, which educated consumers on why buying locally grown food was important, how to eat seasonally, and the farm stand, farmers market, retail store, and restaurants where local food could be purchased, were distributed throughout the county. Forms to update listings in the guide were distributed at RAFFL’s 2nd Annual Farmers Gathering, held December 5th at Green Mountain College. Other activities taking place to update the guide for 2007 include extensive farmer and consumer surveying, in part focusing on the effectiveness of the 2006 guide.
– The “Locally Grown Guide” was complemented by a branding campaign for Rutland County agriculture. Heart of Vermont Agriculture stickers and information signs were mailed to 16 Rutland County farmers and also distributed at the Rutland, Poultney, and Fair Haven farmers markets. The Rutland Area Natural Foods Market also joined in the campaign by using RAFFL-produced Heart of Vermont Agriculture display materials in the store. The effectiveness of these activities was also measured through farmer and consumer surveying activities.
Promoted 5-10-50 challenge and other RAFFL activities on Lakes Region Radio Coffee Break talk show (both summer of 2006 and spring 2007), through press releases, and news coverage in area newspapers.
Building Community Through Local Food: a Harvest Celebration with Frances Moore Lappe, on September 22, 2006 RAFFL (in partnership with many other community organizations) hosted a large community meal of locally sourced products for close to 300 people. An important part of the meal was the presence of farmers serving their respective menu items. This served to highlight the farming community, and encouraged many discussions between farmers and those attending the event. The meal and informational fair followed a talk by Frances Moore Lappe, a world-renowned author and researcher on local food issues. At the event, an additional eight people signed up to receive RAFFL information, and over 20 people took the localvore challenge, which is a commitment to eat entirely local foods for a day or a week in October.
Second Annual Farmers Gathering, held December 5, 2006, attracted over 100 attendees to explore the challenges and opportunities for institutional purchasing of locally grown food by leading a discussion between interested farmers and producers, institutional buyers, distributors and consumers. A gourmet pizza menu, made from entirely local ingredients, was featured.
Local consumption measurement, which determined consumer buying habits regarding locally grown products and changes from past years.
Published the second annual “Locally Grown Guide,” a listing of farms and farmstands in the area and how to buy from them. The guide also contains listings of restaurants, bakeries, grocers, farmers markets and institutional food services using and selling local agricultural products. In addition to the listings, the guide contains articles on eating seasonally, including a calendar of the harvest and availability times of our favorite fruits and vegetables, new farm and unique business profiles, and articles of food preservation and local initiatives linking local farmers with area schools. The listings of area farms grew from 28 farms in the 2006 edition to 60 farms and maple producers in 2007.
Increased farmer use of “Rutland County: Heart of Vermont” branding materials (product stickers and informational posters). Currently, 23 farms are using the materials. In total, we have distributed 36 posters and 23,000 product stickers. Using consumer feedback, we updated the informational posters with a simplified message, “Local Farms, Fresh Food, Healthy Communities: BUY LOCAL.” We will continue to identify ways of measuring our progress against the “5-10-50-100” indicators originally identified at the start of the campaign. We have also worked with the Rutland Natural Foods Market to incorporate the Heart of Vermont materials into their displays and identify the local farms they are working through farmer profiles to display in the produce aisle.
RAFFL’s board of directors has committed itself to aiding in the implementation of the many project ideas outlined here. Over 650 working hours from board members, dedicated community members, and staff members of our partners have been leveraged through the work of RAFFL’s half time coordinator. In addition, we have been supported through the work of over 50 volunteers at our various events. Please refer to meeting sign in sheets attached.
We are especially excited at the progress of the Community Farm and Agricultural Resource Center. Outreach efforts throughout the fall seem to be paying off, with a noticeable increase in inquiries from interested property owners. Currently we are working with a property owner in Rutland to determine whether a partnership is appropriate. This property is ideally suited for the project, and the owner’s interest and support for the goals of the Farm is positive. We also have committed funding from the Castanea Foundation to hire a consultant to work closely on this property and two other priority properties to secure ownership or use of a property for the center. Now that we have completed the business planning process, we are in a position to begin fundraising for capital investments necessary to make the center a reality.
Over the past year RAFFL’s visibility has increased, as seen through surveying and in feedback at RAFFL events. Another sign of increased community awareness is increase in Directors. At our annual meeting our board increased from six directors to eleven. Continued consumer feedback on the 2007 “Locally Grown Guide” indicates the increased distribution has equated to increased visibility and educational opportunities.
Through intensive public involvement and discussion between our partners, the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link feels that a focus on strengthening regional food systems is essential for long-term food security. Currently, Vermonters are dependent on food and other goods produced and transported to us from national and international locations. Many national and global factors could affect the ability for Vermonter’s to access the range of agricultural products accessible to them today, including rising prices of foreign oil. This, in addition to the identified desire of Rutland County residents for all members of our population to have access to fresh, healthy, locally produced food in their homes, workplaces, educational and health care institutions, guides the long-term work plan of the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link.
The Rutland Area Farm and Food Link has identified four interconnected goals that seem universal to the security of our food systems.
1) Distribution networks and processing infrastructure meet the region’s needs
2) The market demand for local agricultural products increases
3) Production capacity is available to meet increased market demand and aid local farmers in reach new agricultural markets
4) Community pride for the working landscape is strengthened
The work of the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link hopefully provides a model for regional food system planning to address future food security and agricultural viability that is built upon collaboration and inclusive of all community viewpoints.
Our efforts to strengthen regional agricultural and help secure our food system’s future continues into the future. As the organization gains community visibility and credibility, there will be increased demand for our services. This is evident in requests for our help over the past spring in the areas of farm to school program start-up and facilitation, local food sourcing help for community dinners, aid in establishing new farmers’ markets across the county, coordination of cooperative marketing efforts, and increased attendance to public events. We have not been able to act on many of these requests because of our limited staff capacity. We expect that fundraising for staff and programmatic development will become easier as we become established and certain programs begin to contribute to our overall budget.
We believe that regionally scaled efforts like ours fill very specific needs that are not addressed through current organizational programs. The ability to serve as the connection between the consumer and farming communities has benefited both groups, as identified in our surveying efforts and anecdotal information collected through our public meetings and communicated to our coordinator.