Welch wants Congress to copy Vermont ag promotion programs

07/09/07 12:00AM By Ross Sneyd



(Host) Congressman Peter Welch wants Congress to copy some Vermont programs that promote local agriculture in the state's schools.

Congress updates national farm policy every five years and the U.S. House is expected to act on the farm bill some time this summer.

Welch says the Farm Bill should include farm-to-school programs. He says lawmakers could base the national program on versions at the University of Vermont and many Vermont elementary and high schools.

Those programs use incentives and regional distribution networks to encourage schools to buy produce from nearby farms.

(Welch) "What we know we have to do to make agriculture sustainable is to increase markets. And the best way to do that is to provide local opportunities for farmers to sell what they produce."

(Host) The company that runs the UVM campus cafeterias buys as many local products as it can. Sodexho says about 35% of what it serves at the university now comes from Vermont farms.

Sodexho chefs consult with local farmers and plan their menus around what's available.

Bill Suhr runs Champlain Orchards in Shoreham. He sells a variety of apple products to UVM and Sodexho, depending on what's on the menu.

He says it's helping his orchard to diversify.

(Suhr) "That's encouraging us to not just grow apples but add value through apple sauce or apple cider. And that trickles down. They say give a farmer a dollar and he'll reinvest 99.9% of it.

(Host) UVM serves 10,000 meals a day when classes are in session. Administrators say buying local raises prices only a percent or two, but it's worth it.

Welch says he believes such programs would help farms around the country.
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