South Hero Land Trust (SHLT) utilized 2006 SARE Sustainable Community Grant funds to promote the viability of agriculture in South Hero and the Lake Champlain Islands. Through the South Hero Land Trust Farm Initiative, the organization: 1) created the “Champlain Islands Grown” Guide to Agriculture featuring area farms and distributors of local agricultural products, 2) developed a Champlain Islands Farmers’ Market Education Program consisting of six educational “theme” days at the market, and 3) formed the SHLT Farm Initiative Steering Committee comprised of consumers, producers, and food distributors who help guide the course of the SHLT Farm Initiative. These efforts create stronger linkages between the various entities that comprise our local agricultural system and raise awareness of the critically important role agriculture plays in the community.
The SHLT Farm Initiative will serve to:
1)integrate consumers, producers and food distributors, thereby creating a stronger local agricultural economy;
2)increase public awareness of the processes involved in various types of agriculture production;
3)draw more people to the Champlain Islands Farmers’ Market, thereby increasing sales potential and creating stronger connections between producers and consumers;
4)provide a forum for local producers and community members to guide future farm initiative projects;
5)provide increased exposure for farms not represented at the Champlain Islands Farmers Market
The concept for the South Hero Land Trust Farm Initiative resulted from a research project investigating ways a local entity like South Hero Land Trust could play a greater role in promoting agricultural viability at the local level. Over the course of 2005, the land trust used a combination of interviews with local farmers and food distributors (restaurants and local groceries), and a consumer survey to see where the challenges and opportunities lie in promoting local agriculture. Using results from this research, the concept for the SHLT Farm Initiative came into being with the goal of partnering with farmers and the community on projects that advance agricultural viability.
The Sustainable Community Grant addressed three components of the South Hero Land Trust Farm Initiative.
1) “Champlain Islands Grown” Guide to Agriculture
The “Champlain Islands Grown” Guide to Agriculture was created to raise awareness of the diversity of agricultural products grown and raised in the Champlain Islands. By providing consumers with relevant information about local farms, restaurants, and markets that raise and carry locally grown products, it was hoped that people would create stronger ties with their local producers and in turn support the local farm economy.
Several phases were involved in the creation of the guide. The first step required contacting all producers in Grand Isle County. With the help of various farmers in Grand Isle County’s five towns, SHLT was able to create a working list of people who might be interested in being listed in the guide. The criterion for inclusion in the guide was that products had to be grown or raised on Champlain Islands soil. An information request form was created and mailed with a cover letter explaining the project. In some cases, producers were contacted by phone prior to being sent the letter in order to get their address and/or to assess their interest in being listed in the guide. A similar form was created for owners of local restaurants and markets offering local food, with the criteria for inclusion being that they had to make an effort to use or offer local food when available. In order to make sure everyone who wanted to be included in the guide had the opportunity, a follow-up phone call was made to prospective participants who did not respond by the date listed on the information request form.
Information was also gathered for other parts of the guide, such as determining which farms are certified organic through the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT) and which farms and businesses are members of the Vermont Fresh Network, an organization that connects chefs and farms in Vermont. Interesting farm facts, recipes, photographs, reasons to buy local, and a map of farms are also included in the guide. In an effort to make the guide as user-friendly as possible, farm descriptions are listed alphabetically by town and cross-listed by product in the back of the guide.
Layout was done in-house using Microsoft Publisher. A local printing service was used for final printing of the guide.
Once the guide was ready for distribution, an announcement was placed in the Islander, a local newspaper with distribution throughout the northern Lake Champlain region. The Guide was distributed free of charge at over thirty locations throughout Grand Isle County and a few select sites in neighboring Chittenden County. An initial delivery was made to farmstands, restaurants, markets, tourist centers, and other high visibility locations. Extra copies were left with the Champlain Islands Chamber of Commerce in North Hero, Vermont so that distributors of the guide in the northern part of Grand Isle County could refill their supply if need be. Extra copies were also kept at the South Hero Land Trust office, and staff continually refilled supplies in southern Grand Isle County. Throughout the summer and fall, guides were distributed at both the Grand Isle and South Hero sites of the Champlain Islands Farmers Market.
2) Farmers Market Educational Theme Days
The purpose of the educational theme days was to add an extra layer of educational value to the farmers market, and hopefully attract more people to the market who were interested in learning more about the featured theme. A list of proposed themes was discussed with the Public Relations coordinator for the market, and then presented to market vendors at an early planning meeting. Using that feedback, a final list of market themes and dates was solidified. Themes included Dairy Day, Composting with Vermont Master Gardeners, Cooking Demonstrations using fresh market produce, Youth Day, Food Preservation (featuring information on canning, freezing, and root cellaring), and Focus on Fiber (more information on each theme day below).
Once dates were established, a plan for each market was created including what supplies were needed and who in the community might be interested in helping with a specific theme day. Conversations were also had with the South Hero Community Library about any relevant books that may be appropriate to have on hand at the market that attendees could later check out.
The week before each market event, an article announcing the next theme day was published in the Islander newspaper. Farmers market events were also listed on the South Hero Land Trust website, on farmers market fliers posted throughout Grand Isle County, and on the back cover of the “Champlain Islands Grown” Guide to Agriculture. South Hero Land Trust and the Lake Champlain Islands Chamber of Commerce listed events in their newsletter as well.
A brief description of each theme day is listed below:
Dairy Day, June 21
June is Dairy Month in Vermont and to celebrate, South Hero Land Trust organized several activities and displays around the dairy theme. Local farmer Amy Maxham brought her Jersey Calf (Sunshine) to the market, along with examples of different types of feed. South Hero Land Trust and South Hero Community Library provided numerous books about cows and dairy farms, including information on how cows turn grass into milk. Both children and adults enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about dairy farming from Amy.
Under the same tent, butter-making demonstrations were conducted by two local elementary school girls. They shook whipping cream in canning jars until it solidified and served the butter with crackers. Islandacres Farm provided an antique butter churn to show how butter used to be made and provided photographs of dairying on their farm.
The Vermont Dairy Promotion Council provided “Vermontica” coloring books, erasers, bumper stickers, and funded the purchase of dairy products for distribution at the market (milk, yogurt, cheese).
Composting with Vermont Master Gardeners, July 19
The Vermont Master Gardener (MG) program, part of University of Vermont Extension, serves to educate the public about sustainable gardening practices. Master Gardeners go through a semester long course and are required to complete volunteer hours to maintain their certification. Two Master Gardener volunteers manned a great display on composting provided by the MG program. There was tons of information on various means of composting, as well as information on MG courses and a Master Composter program being offered in the fall. Literature included information on the benefits of composting near lakes and streams, thus reducing the need for chemical fertilizers (appropriate given South Hero’s location in Lake Champlain). There was a wide range of interest from people wanting to know how to get started, to existing composters trying to address problems of smell, animals, etc.
A Grand Isle county resident supplied two tumbling compost bins that he makes out of used pepper barrels, while another local woman supplied her worm composting bin to have on-hand as examples.
“Eat Fresh” Cooking Demonstrations, August 9
August is a banner month for fresh produce and a common question many consumers face is “What can I do with XYZ vegetable or fruit?” A list was created of all “in-season” fruits and vegetables and a meeting was coordinated with local farmer, chef, and market vendor Kelly Robinson to create a menu of items originating from market ingredients. She prepared corn salsa and stir-fry wraps made with produce purchased from market vendors, and blueberry and blackberry pancakes made with farm fresh berries, served with Crescent Bay Farm maple syrup. Freshly baked bread from Farmer Sue was used as a base for various jams, cheeses and spreads. Kelly also popped corn grown on her farm. Each prepared item had a list of market ingredients, along with the vendor who could supply the ingredients. Other recipes were also provided. In all, fourteen vendors (all that served food) were represented through the cooking demonstrations.
Youth Market Day, August 25, 2006
An article was placed in the Islander newspaper three weeks prior to the event soliciting youth vendors. Given high interest, it was decided that three “shifts” of youth vendors would be the best way to accommodate everyone. Fourteen vendors ranging in age from four to fourteen sold crafts, baked goods and food made from local produce. Items for sale included jam, apple crisp, lanyards, jewelry, pesto, brownies, painted pots and Froot Loop bracelets. Vendors sold in three one hour shifts, and on average most sold between $20-$40 worth of goods. Items were priced comparably to other vendors so that the kids weren’t underselling the regular vendors. It was great to see interaction between various kids who previously didn’t know each other. They thoroughly enjoyed the experience of making & selling their products and were already talking about what to make next year.
Other activities included a kids’ scavenger hunt for items at the market (eg. find something sweet that comes from trees [syrup], find largest vegetable, find something you can wear that comes from an animal, etc.) There were also seed matching cards available- cards with seeds to be matched with a card naming the vegetable or fruit corresponding to the seed. The Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT) generously shared their experiences and ideas to help guide our Youth Day activities.
A representative from the Lake Champlain Basin Program brought her watershed model for kids to learn about how they can decrease their impact on the Lake Champlain watershed. Kids got to “pollute” the lake through things like chemicals on lawn, construction, agricultural run-off, etc, (using cooking oil, dirt, food coloring, etc.) and then learn how to minimize their impacts. It was a great activity and kept kids engaged.
Food Preservation Day, September 7, 2006
Two local canning/preserving experts answered questions about various food preservation techniques, explaining appropriate use of canning jars and pots. Because of concerns about proper sanitation critical to canning, it was decided that holding actual canning demonstrations was not appropriate. Printed materials included information from the National Center for Home Food Preservation on safe canning procedures, freezing, root cellaring (including how to build a root cellar), and a list of recipes. Several books were also available for people to peruse. People who were just getting started (or knew someone who was) appreciated the advice and materials offered. Information on freezing actually was more popular than information on canning (several people who used to can noted that they gave it up because it was “taking over their lives!”).
The event was also held at the Grand Isle farmers market on the following Saturday.
Focus on Fiber, September 20
The Champlain Islands Farmers Market is fortunate to have a variety of fiber vendors selling wool from sheep, alpacas and angora goats. Fiber vendors congregated at one corner of the market, conducting loom demonstrations and handspinning techniques. Two angora goats were on-hand in their moveable pen- a big hit with the younger crowd. South Hero Land Trust’s information table had books and information on various fiber topics, ranging from raising fiber animals to more project-oriented themes. SHLT Community Library supplied some books, while others were supplied by vendors. One visitor said that she hadn’t been to the market before and made a special trip for Fiber Day. People liked seeing the live animals and appreciated the artisan skills possessed by the fiber vendors.
3) SHLT Farm Initiative Steering Committee
In order to keep farmers actively engaged in the development of the SHLT Farm Initiative, a steering committee was formed to guide future Farm Initiative projects. The committee is comprised of a mix of farmers from different backgrounds and a representative from a local food market. Meetings provide the opportunity for farmers to discuss their challenges, and collectively think about solutions to those challenges. South Hero Land Trust can then take those ideas and use them to build the foundation for future projects. The committee has had a total of four meetings and is now focusing its attention on ways to promote dairy farms to a greater degree.
Taken as a whole, the projects of the South Hero Land Trust Farm Initiative have reached a wide spectrum of farmers, consumers, and local food distributors. In total, the “Champlain Islands Grown” Guide to Agriculture includes 44 agricultural producers from all five Grand Isle County towns and eight restaurants and markets offering locally grown food. For the first year of a county-wide guide, these results met our goal of including a majority of farms, with 61% of producers who were contacted deciding to be listed. (72 total producers were contacted).
Despite emphasizing that the guide was designed to raise awareness of area farms, many dairy farms decided not to list their farm since they weren’t selling anything directly to customers (because their milk is sold to a co-op). In general, however, even those farms that did not participate thought that the guide was a good idea. It’s hoped that now that they’ve seen a version of the guide they might be interested in being included in future editions. In total, almost 3,000 guides were distributed through over thirty businesses and information centers throughout Grand Isle County and a few spots in neighboring Chittenden County.
To assess the guide’s effectiveness at linking producers and consumers, a survey was mailed in the fall of 2006 to all businesses listed in the guide. The survey consisted of four multiple-choice questions and two open-ended questions, and was mailed with a self-addressed stamped envelope. Response rate was 43% for producers (19 out of 44) and 38% for restaurants and markets (3 of 8). A discussion of the consumer survey taken at the farmers market will be presented later.
Question 1: “Do you feel that the guide increased exposure of your business?” 79% of producers responded “Definitely Yes” or “Most Likely.” Alternately, the three restaurants/small groceries replied “Unlikely”, “No”, and “Unsure” to the same question. This could be due in part to the fact that all three businesses are already prominent, well-established entities in their communities.
Question 2: “Do you feel that being published in the guide increased your sales?” 72% of producers responded “Definitely Yes” or “Most Likely”, 22% were “Unsure”, and one respondent replied “No.” Of those that replied “Yes” or “Most Likely”, estimates on the amount of increased sales ranged from 2% to 20%, with the mean being 11%. It should be kept in mind that the question can be difficult to answer, due to the fact that not every consumer explains how or where s/he heard about a farm.
Restaurants and groceries were asked if the guide resulted in an increase in their local food offerings. One replied “Yes”, one replied “No” and one respondent was unsure. Creating more connections between farms and restaurants could be an area of further work for the Farm Initiative.
Question 3: “As a consumer, did the guide increase your awareness of local agricultural products?” Across the board, every respondent felt that the guide increased their awareness of local agricultural products with 100% replying yes. As this was one of the main objectives for the guide, we were pleased with the results especially given that respondents in this case were all directly involved in the local food system.
The following questions were based on the uncertainty of funding for future guides.
SHLT’s goal is to keep inclusion in the guide free of charge for producers, however circumstances may require that guide production be cost-shared on some level through advertising or a listing fee.
Question 4a): “Would you be willing to pay to be included in future editions of the guide?” 33% of producers responded “Yes”, 11% “No” and 56% “Maybe”. One grocery responded “No” and two responded “Maybe.” The follow up question of “How much would you be willing to pay?” came out to an average of $30, with $5 at the low end and $100 at the high end. The median was $25.
Question 4b): “Would you be interested in advertising or sponsoring future editions of the guide?” 75% of producers responded “Yes”, 14% responded “No” and 14% responded “Maybe”. One grocery replied “No” and two replied “Maybe”. Another possibility for funding, in addition to grants, is sponsorship of the guide from one or more local businesses.
Questions five and six are open-ended questions asking about the structure of the guide and other general thoughts. Feedback was very positive and respondents felt that the layout and content were effective. There was a suggestion to put the guide on the internet, something we hope to do in future years. Wider distribution was also brought up as a possibility.
Consumer Survey at Farmers Market
Two University of Vermont (UVM) students in the Department of Community Development and Applied Economics gathered data at the Champlain Islands Farmers Market, including consumer input on both the agricultural guide as well as the educational events at the market. When asked if they owned a copy of the agricultural guide, 38% of those surveyed replied “yes.” The market attracts many people who live outside of Grand Isle County and are visiting the Islands on vacation who may not have seen the guide. Although a few bed and breakfasts carried the guide, it may be wise to leave some with real estate agents who rent out houses during the summer months.
A good representation of the effectiveness of the guide is that, of those customers who own a copy of the guide, 52% believe the guide led to an increase in purchases of local goods. In these cases, the guide not only raised awareness of local producers, it actually led to an actual increase in local purchases.
With respect to farmers market events, approximately one-third of the respondents knew about the theme day before arriving, which the UVM students deemed a “reasonably high percentage for a new promotional effort.” Over half of all respondents visited the theme area, of which 83% felt that the presentations and activities effectively conveyed the theme of the day.
The committee met four times and is now focusing its attention on ways to promote dairy farms to a greater degree. Committee was very pleased with the outcomes of both the agricultural guide and the farmers market events, feeling that both did a lot to promote agriculture in the region. The committee provides invaluable perspective to the Farm Initiative and will continue to guide the land trust in future endeavors.
Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary
South Hero Land Trust published information about the SARE grant in several publications, including The Islander newspaper, SHLT’s website, and two South Hero Land Trust newsletters. These media efforts drew attention not only to the specific SHLT projects, but to the important role of agriculture in the community. A benefit that came from having consistent articles in The Islander announcing farmer’s market events was that it kept the market in people’s minds, regardless of what or when a given theme day was occurring. And, by sending the Champlain Islands Grown guide to various groups throughout the state, Islands agriculture gained visibility at a higher level than had previously been the case.
Additional Farm Initiative outreach occurred at the Northeast Land Trust Alliance Rally in Saratoga Springs, NY. South Hero Land Trust submitted a proposal to present the Farm Initiative model at the conference held in June 2006. The proposal was accepted and land trust staff had the opportunity to share with others our work on connecting community and agriculture. Land trust representatives, farmers, and state agency personnel attended the presentation and were happy to hear about steps taken to expand land conservation’s focus to include the operational side of farms in addition to conservation of the land itself.
Much of our progress has been noted in the prior section, below are some of the noteworthy results of the project. Survey results (above) suggest that the “Champlain Islands Grown” Guide to Agriculture achieved its goal of raising awareness of local producers and creating a stronger local agricultural economy. 100% of guide participants felt that the guide increased their awareness of area farms and almost three-quarters of the producers listed in the guide believed that the listing increased their sales. Over half of farmers market customers who own a copy of the guide felt the guide led to an increase in their local purchases.
The Champlain Islands Farmers Market’s success over the course of the year is shown in the increase in attendance and overall gross receipts for 2006 ($30,214 up from $26,460 in 2005). While many factors are at play in this increase, it’s possible that the elevated media exposure associated with the market’s events played a role in the increase in overall attendance and the ensuing increase in sales.
Theme day success: 83% of those customers who visited a theme table at the market felt that the presentations and activities effectively conveyed the market’s theme. One of the most inspiring theme days was the Youth Market with 14 young vendors. It was incredible to see the confidence boost these entrepreneurs received when people started buying their food and handmade items. Of all the theme days, we’ve received the most positive feedback on Youth Day and may try to have two Youth Market Days next year.
The partnerships created through the Farm Initiative are also one of the major accomplishments of the past year. In addition to partnerships created with numerous farmers, the Farm Initiative resulted in collaborations with South Hero Community Library, Lake Champlain Basin Program, Vermont Master Gardener Program, Lake Champlain Islands Chamber of Commerce, Vermont Agency of Agriculture, and University of Vermont’s Department of Community Development and Applied Economics. Many local volunteers also helped out with events at the Champlain Islands Farmers Market.
South Hero Land Trust is currently engaged in a Creative Economy process wherein Champlain Islands residents and workers are pursuing ways to promote the Islands by taking advantage of its natural, agricultural, historical, and artistic resources. One project that’s resulted from these conversations is a “trail” of Islands farms, artist studios, and cultural and natural landmarks. South Hero Land Trust is utilizing information gathered from the agricultural guide to help promote farms interested in agri-tourism. The two guides should complement each other nicely, with the existing guide serving as a products and services guide, and the other combining local resources into a comprehensive guide for tourism in the Islands.
One aspect of the Farm Initiative we hoped would take hold is its adaptability for other communities. A woman from the Mad River Valley area of Vermont picked up a guide at one of the local apple orchards and was extremely excited (according to the farm’s owner) to take the guide to farmers in her community in hopes of using it as a model.
Additionally, the recent “localvore” movement in Vermont has also been a good impetus for communities to take a stronger look at their local food offerings. Localvores try to eat food grown solely within a given radius of their home (typically ranging from 30 miles to statewide) for a set amount of time. One of the most difficult aspects of being a localvore is finding the full range of food options in your community. The agricultural guide, and events such as Food Preservation Day at the farmers market, all have a positive impact on the localvore movement by making it easier to eat and store local food.
The Farm Initiative Steering Committee will continue to serve as a good forum for farmers and their ideas. Having the opportunity to discuss challenges and potential solutions should be a good process for farmers and will hopefully make the agricultural network in South Hero even more tightly knit.
- Do more to get local food into more groceries, restaurants, and schools.
Make an effort to promote dairy farms that sell bulk milk to a cooperative. These farms often don’t fit squarely into a “Buy Local” effort since they aren’t selling directly to customers. Possibilities include value-added production, diversification, transition to organic, farm tours, etc.
Look at cooperative approaches to adding value to products- dairy bottling plant, cooperative canning facility/kitchen, etc.
Act as a liaison between farmers and relevant grant opportunities & farming information