- Education and Training: demonstration, display, mentoring, networking, workshop
- Farm Business Management: whole farm planning
- Sustainable Communities: infrastructure analysis, new business opportunities, partnerships, public participation, social capital, sustainability measures, community development
There is strong support for agricultural viability in this region. Nearly every town in the Rutland Region has indicated a desire to “protect the rural character and working landscape” in their town plans. This character is integral to many sectors of the economy, including agriculture and forestry as well as the tourist and recreation trade that attracts skiers, Sunday drivers, fishing enthusiasts and hunters. It is also a key selling point to many within the “creative economy” who decide to locate here, bringing new business ideas and jobs to the state. So, aside from retaining agriculture, protection of the open landscape is vital to the economy in many additional ways. At the same time, agriculture, and maintaining a local food supply, is important in and of itself. With soaring oil prices, a renewed focus on lower health care costs through proper nutrition, and the potential for terrorist disruption of our food imports or large scale farming enterprises, retaining a diversified food production system is an important element of planning continued access to fresh, local foods in the future. Despite its importance, efforts to support agriculture in the Rutland Region have been largely driven by statewide efforts. A concentrated effort at the regional level was begun approximately one year ago. In that time some progress has been made toward important local level results, like improving networking between area farmers, refining land use plans and regulations to be supportive of agricultural uses, and bolstering local purchases of regionally produced agricultural goods. In 2004 a Regional Planner in our area participated in the NE SARE funded “Growing Home” program at Cornell University’s Community, Food and Agriculture – a professional distance-learning program focused on how support for small-scale agriculture can be intrinsically linked to community development. Out of the “Growing Home” program came a grassroots discussion around the potential effect a concentrated regionally based effort could have on local agriculture. Through a series of meetings over the past year a broad and diverse collaboration of people representing local farms, agricultural support organizations, community leaders and economic and business development representatives has formed. This group has been working on a number of short-term and long-term projects intended to address what it identified as three high priority issues affecting the viability of agriculture in this region. Those issues are: 1. Capitalization costs for new agricultural businesses are high. Entrepreneurs that try their hand at agriculture are struggling as they seek to begin new enterprises, and others who may wish to farm fail to consider it as a viable occupation. 2. Too many consumer dollars are being leaked out of 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.
Project objectives from proposal:
Performance targets for the community farm and agricultural resource center encompass accomplishment of the necessary activities that lead up to the opening of the farm as a community center and farm community farm and agricultural resource center space. These include: identifying and acquiring the community farm and agricultural resource center Site; a thoughtful Education Campaign to involve area farmers in the project; periodic Newspaper Articles and Press Releases on progress; continued Community Visioning and Prioritization Sessions to incorporate the larger public and consumer base; identification and feasibility assessment of proposed Project Components and Infrastructure; development of Master Plan for the land; development of Equipment and Building Needs List; exploration of On-site Housing options for community farm and agricultural resource center farmers and families; set up of operational procedures, management scenarios and Business Plan through work with the Intervale Foundation; identification of Staffing Needs for farm management and operations; creation of Marketing Materials to attract community farm and agricultural resource center farmers; set up of Mentoring Program between established farmers and farmers at the community farm and agricultural resource center.
As we build the agricultural capacity of the region to increase local food production, a complementary effort to expand the current market for local foods will be necessary to ensure continued balance between regional supply and demand. The 5-10-50-100 Campaign will address these needs through the following activities: creation of Public Awareness Materials such as a local buying guide and effective distribution; creation of Press Releases and Newspaper Articles explaining aims of campaign and newspaper articles highlighting local farms and products; expansion of RAFFL Website to educate and support campaign and tracking of number of hits on farm products locator page; identification of Community Locations to Advertise and distribute information on campaign (earth day celebrations, farmers markets, radio spots, etc); Measurement of 2005 Baseline Consumption level vs. 2006 Consumption Level with a targeted 10% increase in local food purchases over five years; measured Positive Economic Affect on Established Area Farmers of increased local food purchases; measured Expansion of Market Opportunities—increase in contract and institutional buyers, increased CSA participation, increase in retail space devoted to local produce and other agricultural products.
While much progress can be gauged objectively, measuring success will also depend on continued conversations with established and beginning area farmers. Their feedback on the success of marketing programs, completeness of community farm and agricultural resource center concept, and overall viability of agriculture in the region will be invaluable.
It is understood that increasing local support for area farmers and creating an environment that is conducive to successful farm start-ups is a long term, multi-faceted mission. Ultimately, progress will be measured by the growth of the agricultural sectors in the Rutland Region, the ease and availability of resources for beginning farmers and the success rate of new farm businesses, and the increased support of local agriculture by the general public and local institutional food providers.