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Report: Workforce development critical to sustain local food economy

January 12, 2018

Vermont Business Magazine

Representatives of the Vermont Farm to Plate Network and staff at the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund presented the 2017 Farm to Plate Annual Report to the Vermont Legislature House and Senate Agriculture Committees today, identifying a critical need to improve Vermontís workforce development system in order to continue to grow the local food economy.

Signed into law by the Vermont Legislature in 2009, the creation of Vermontís Farm to Plate food system plan calls for increased economic development in Vermontís farm and food sector, new jobs in the farm and food economy, and improved access to healthy local food for all Vermonters. Implementation of Vermontís ten year food system plan began in 2011 by the Farm to Plate Networkóover 350 nonprofits, businesses, and government officials all working together to reach the goals of the plan. The Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, a nonprofit organization committed to sustainable economic development, coordinates the Farm to Plate Network and is responsible for reporting the progress and challenges back to the Vermont Legislature in the Farm to Plate Annual Report.

Impacts of Success

Vermont has seen significant economic growth and development in Vermontís food system since implementation of the Farm to Plate food system plan began in 2011:

  • Economic Development: Vermonters spend an estimated $189 million (approx. 7%) on local food products annually (2014 data, next data release in 2018).
  • New Jobs: Vermontís farm and food economic sector employs more than 64,000 Vermonters and added 6,400 new jobs from 2009-2016.
  • Food Access: The percentage of Vermont households that are food insecure has dropped from 13.6% in 2009 to 11.4% (29,754 households) in 2015 and charitable food organizations have significantly improved availability of local food for Vermonters.
Food and beverage manufacturing has been one of the few growing manufacturing sectors in Vermont with sales and wholesale distribution totaling $9.1 billion in 2012 (next data release in 2019). Continued growth is due, in part, to increased consumer demandó93% of 2017 Vermonter Poll respondents said it was important to choose products and services from Vermont companies and 80.6% said they are interested in buying more local food than they currently do.
However, many Vermont food businesses report a shortage of workers is inhibiting expansion plans and limiting their ability to fill existing jobs in the farm and food sector. The Farm to Plate Annual Report recognizes that statewide workforce development and training system redesign is critical in order for economic growth, new job creation, and local food availability to continue in Vermontís local food economy.

Workforce Development Approach

ďAs the farm and food economy grows, more jobs are created which in turn creates workforce opportunities and challenges for both employers and employees. The Farm to Plate Network is collectively addressing the education, workforce, and training needs of Vermontís farm and food businesses and organizations. Network members are providing training and skill building most needed by employers, improving local businessí ability to find labor, and positively changing the perception of food system careers, all aimed at helping to alleviate the shortage of workers,Ē says Jake Claro, Farm to Plate Director at the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund.

The Farm to Plate Network approach to addressing farm and food sector workforce challenges can serve as a model for responding to workforce development challenges in other Vermont economic sectors. By bringing together diverse stakeholders from across the farm and food economy, the Farm to Plate Network allows for constructive dialogue, networking, and professional development informed by multiple perspectives to create systematic change that no one organization can do alone.

Additional Farm to Plate Network Priorities
The Farm to Plate Annual Report also details progress and challenges in four other areas central to reaching the legislative goals of Vermontís Farm to Plate food system plan.
  • Improving Viability and Financial Profitability of Farms and Food Businesses
  • Increasing Local Food Availability in All Market Channels while Balancing Farm Viability and Local Food Affordability
  • Increasing Consumer Engagement and Demand for Local Food with the Rooted in Vermont Movement and Ensuring Vermont Product Sales and Labeling at Retail Stores
  • Protecting and Expanding Affordable and Environmentally Sustainable Farmland in Agricultural Production
Click here to review the 2017 Farm to Plate Annual Report prepared by the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund for the Vermont Legislature(link is external)bit.ly/2017FarmtoPlateAnnualReport(link is external)
About Farm to Plate
Farm to Plate is Vermontís food system plan being implemented statewide to increase economic development and jobs in Vermontís farm and food sector and improve access to healthy local food for all Vermonters. The ten year Farm to Plate Strategic Plan (2011-2020) to create a viable, sustainable, and resilient food system to produce and distribute our food is being implemented by the Farm to Plate Networkóover 350 farm and food sector businesses, non-profits, institutions, and government agencies from across the state. Farm to Plate is a program of the Vermont Legislature, administered by the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, a non-profit organization based in Montpelier, Vermont. www.VTFarmtoPlate.com(link is external)  
Source: Farm to Plate 1.10.2018