- Animals: goats, sheep
- Animal Products: dairy
- Animal Production: feed formulation, feed rations
- Education and Training: demonstration, display
- Farm Business Management: marketing management
- Soil Management: organic matter
- Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities, partnerships, public participation, urban/rural integration, social capital, social networks, sustainability measures
USDA census figures show that both the number of farms and the number of acres being farmed in Grand Isle County, Vermont dropped by approximately 25% between 1997 and 2002. Despite the area’s long growing season (compared to other areas of Vermont) and an abundance of flat, fertile land, farmers are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain profitability. Over the course of 2005, South Hero Land Trust (SHLT) 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 promoting the long-term viability of agriculture in South Hero and the Lake Champlain Islands.
Producers, consumers, and food distributors commonly feel that more can be done to create stronger linkages between the various entities that comprise a local agricultural system. The SHLT Farm Initiative will enhance these relationships through: 1) a Champlain Islands Grown guide to local agriculture featuring local farms and distributors of local agricultural products, 2) Champlain Islands Farmers’ Market Education Program consisting of six educational “theme” days at the market, and 3) the creation of the SHLT Farm Initiative Steering Committee comprised of consumers, producers, and food distributors who will help guide the course of the SHLT Farm Initiative.
Collectively, these efforts will increase agriculture’s visibility in the Champlain Islands community and ideally result in greater interest in supporting local farms while creating new partnerships that will foster a positive future for Grand Isle county agriculture.
Project objectives from proposal:
Basic information such as the total number of farmers listed in the Champlain Islands Grown guide as well as total distribution of the guide will provide basic results on the level of interest in the guide from producers and consumers. If a majority of Islands farmers participate by being listed in the guide and all guides are distributed, this would suggest that the apparent need for increased linkages between consumers and producers was indeed justified. University of Vermont has agreed to expand their customer survey to include questions that will shed light on the community impact of the guide. Pertinent information will include where the customer is from, if they own a copy of the Champlain Islands Guide, and if so, has it increased their awareness of local farms and products available to them and/or led them to purchase more locally produced goods than in years past (if yes, by what percentage more?).
It will also be necessary to survey farmers who are listed in the guide to see if they have seen positive ramifications, whether in profits or exposure, directly from the guide’s existence. The survey will provide a good opportunity to get direct feedback from producers about future guides, and assessing the level at which they would be willing to help cover some of the production costs, either through advertisements or listing fees. The survey will be produced by South Hero Land Trust with the assistance of the Lake Champlain Islands Chamber of Commerce.
The impact of the Champlain Islands Farmers Market Educational Program will be measured through customer survey questions administered by University of Vermont interns. Examples of questions might include: “Did you know about the farmers market educational events series before arriving?”, “Was the theme of today’s market a major reason for you attending?”, “Did you learn something today that you previously didn’t know about agriculture- if so, what?”, and “Are there any ag-related themes you would like to see represented next year?” The series of questions will show both how effective advertising efforts were in notifying people of market events, and the extent to which customers came away from the farmers market feeling as though they’d gained knowledge about a particular aspect of local agriculture.
Positive results for the SHLT Farm Initiative Steering Committee will entail creating an open dialogue between diverse parties (farmers, consumers, restaurant owners, etc.) who have an interest in local agriculture. It is hoped that this group of individuals will help guide the evolution of the SHLT Farm Initiative, and create a clear set of goals to work toward.