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Green Mountain Challenge

01/29/08 5:55PM By Ron Krupp
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(HOST) As a gardener and author, commentator Ron Krupp is encouraged by the growing interest in locally grown foods, but if food independence is the goal, he says we've still got a long way to go.

(KRUPP) Vermont has, per capita, the largest small farm initiative in the country, including the greatest per capita purchasing of local food from direct market outlets.   And our renaissance of farmers' markets, farm stands, and other forms of direct sales from farmers to consumers can serve as a model to other states.
 
Food Works of Montpelier, Shelburne Farms and the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont - NOFA for short - sponsor a program that has served more than 60 schools in the state.  The farm-to-school program is called FEED or Farm Education Every Day.  Vermont Fresh Network's farm-to-restaurant program is a great success, and the Intervale Center's work on developing a local urban food hub in Burlington provides over 8 percent of all the vegetables consumed in the Queen City.     
 
But even with all the good news, there are considerable challenges ahead.  Vermont produces less than it consumes in almost every category except dairy - the supplies of local meat, poultry, eggs, grains, beans, fruits and vegetables still fall short of the amounts required. Research from the Vermont Sustainable Agricultural Council shows that the state could potentially produce 38 percent of its food needs.  However, by U.S. standards, Vermont's agricultural diversity is low.  Thirty-one states have more potential than Vermont to feed themselves, with Minnesota ranking #1 at 88 percent, though Vermont leads all New England states except Maine.    
 
The local, sustainable food and farm movement cannot thrive without a regional density of producers, local and regional markets, distribution networks and the necessary infrastructure like slaughterhouses, food processing centers, and creameries.   
 
The mix must include farmers, veterinarians, truckers, processors, feed store managers, and farm machinery dealers.  These components and personnel are among the necessary ingredients for a new farm and food model.  Each one is connected to the other and is a critical piece of the whole.    
 
Vermont, like much of the Northeast and other parts of the country, is dependent on outside food sources.  I've heard the figure of 90 to 95 percent food dependency floated around for 30 years.  A return to greater food self-sufficiency would bring millions into the regional farm economy, support local market initiatives, keep the land open for farming, and provide the glue that holds our rural communities together.   
 
And there are other benefits.  Building a robust local food and farm system can have a dramatic impact on "food miles traveled" - thereby reducing fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, which will reduce global warming.  That's a real practical way of lowering the carbon footprint of Vermont.

For more commentaries by Ron Krupp, go to VPR-dot-net.
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