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Krupp: Farm And Food Frontiers

01/03/11 5:55PM By Ron Krupp
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(HOST)  As the new year gets under way, commentator Ron Krupp is looking forward to new local food initiatives.

(KRUPP) Food and Farming is big business in Vermont. Taken together, farming, food processing and their multiplier effects generate more than $2.6 billion every year. I estimate this to be 15 percent of Vermont's economy. The U.S. Census reports that Vermont farmers sell close to $700 million worth of products annually and that's just the tip of the iceberg.
 
Every year, Vermont food manufacturers turn raw products into a billion dollars worth of ice cream, cheese, yogurt, salsa, apple cider, jams and jellies, pickles, maple products and meats. These businesses pay out wages, purchase supplies, provide services and transportation -all of which puts money back into the local economy. Throw in all the restaurants, hospitals, schools, and senior centers that purchase local food plus the food distributors, truckers and salespeople who serve these institutions and businesses.   
 
The Farm to Plate Initiative, created by the Vermont legislature in 2009 and directed by the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, has added all of this up and come up with some surprising percentages. They estimate that almost 18 percent of all private jobs and 12 percent of all private business establishments are part of the food system in the state. That's about 10,600 businesses with more than 55,000 jobs. The main task of the Farm to Plate Initiative is to develop an economic plan for food and agriculture. The goal is to have Vermonters eating 20 percent local food by 2020. As of 2009, the percentage was 3 percent. Go to the Farm to Plate website for updates.
 
Vern Grubinger, a University of Vermont Extension professor and leader in the statewide effort to increase local food production ads a few more comments. He says,"from hunting to gardening to backyard chickens, we generate a lot of food value, but it hasn't been measured." A study in Maine looked at vegetable gardens and found that a well-run 40 by 40 square-foot garden generates about $2,000 dollars worth of food. Grubinger figures that if there were 5,000 home gardens in Vermont - that would add up to around $10 million dollars.
 
With all the good news many challenges lie ahead. When I met with farmers in at the Richford Town Hall, they told me they weren't receiving a fair price for their produce. Farmers, cheese makers and meat producers at the Morrisville and Williston town libraries said they needed more customers. Inn Keepers were having trouble finding local food products. Networking through the Vermont Fresh Network that connects farmers to restaurants would help solve this problem. One thing's for sure. The future will require moving into new frontiers.  Stay tuned.

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