Category Archives: Advocacy for Agriculture

Summer Policy Update

Water Quality

Just before the close of the 2015 session, both chambers of the legislature voted overwhelmingly to pass H.35 – a bill aimed at improving water quality in Lake Champlain and other Vermont waterways. After much debate among legislators and stakeholders, especially over funding, the bill provides around $7.5 million toward implementation and enforcement of new water quality regulations. Some primary funding sources include a surcharge on the state’s property transfer tax, fees on medium and large farm registrations, and fees on the sale of non-agricultural fertilizer and pesticides. In part, these funds will be used to pay for enhanced education, outreach, enforcement, and inspections by creating 8 new positions at the Agency of Agriculture and 13 at the Department of Environmental Conservation.

While passage of H.35 set the stage for changes to Vermont’s agricultural and stormwater management practices, many details of the clean-up initiative will be fleshed out through a rulemaking process over the coming year. For example, one key provision of the bill calls for the State to develop new regulations for reducing pollution from farms, changing accepted agricultural practices (AAPs) to “required agricultural practices” (RAPs) since they will be mandatory under the new legislation. What exactly those practices will include has yet to be determined. As the State works toward implementation of the law, NOFA will be working to ensure that organic farmers are aware of any new requirements they may face, while also working with State partners to ensure that implementation is as practical and effective as possible.

GMO Labeling Update: David vs. Goliath? Let’s Hope So

The legal battle to uphold Vermont’s GMO labeling law has often been described as a classic David and Goliath-style battle, wherein our small but mighty state is pitted against the gargantuan likes of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA). As the legal challenge brought by the GMA and others begins to move through the courts, members of the VT Right to Know GMOs coalition are working to ensure that our battle ends with the same happy result as that famed parable.

On April 27th of this year, the first significant blow was dealt to the GMO giants in the form of a ruling by the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont. In the ruling, Judge Christina Reiss soundly rejected plaintiffs’ attempt to halt implementation of Vermont’s GMO labeling law (Act 120), dismissing claims that the law is unconstitutional and preempted by federal law. On May 6th, plaintiffs appealed the District Court’s decision, though a schedule for the next steps has not been set as of this writing.

In the meantime, Act 120 is set to go into effect on July 1st of 2016, giving food producers, distributors, and retailers just over a year to prepare to put GMO labeling into action in the Green Mountain State. For more information and ongoing updates on the GMO show-down, you can visit the website of the VT Right to Know coalition or Attorney General Bill Sorrell.

NOFA-VT in DC: National Organic Coalition (NOC) Annual Meeting June 16-18

From June 16th to 18th of this year, the National Organic Coalition (NOC) will be holding its annual meeting and hill visits in Washington, D.C. NOC, of which NOFA-VT is an active member, is an alliance of organizations working to provide a united voice in Washington for the organic community and to maintain the integrity of organic food and farming nationally. This year, NOC’s annual fly-in will bring national stakeholders together to strategize on key issues like advancing organic integrity, growing domestic organic supply, and preventing genetic contamination on farms. While in DC, I will be meeting with USDA officials and Vermont’s Congressional delegates to discuss current issues that impact Vermont’s organic farmers and eaters. I look forward to thanking our federal representatives for the difficult work they do and will be asking them to continue to stand up for policies that work for Vermont’s organic food and farming community.

Also read: “USDA Accepts Proposals for an Organic Check-Off Program” »

Spring Policy Update

By Maddie Monty, NOFA Vermont Office Manager and Policy Advisor

If there’s one policy issue that has been making waves in Vermont’s farming community in this early part of 2015, it is water quality. While the condition of Lake Champlain and Vermont’s other waterways has been a source of concern for years, Governor Shumlin’s inaugural address in January cast new light on the subject, calling for changes to common agricultural practices and stricter enforcement of water quality regulations.

House bill H.35, introduced in late January, aims to carry out this agenda. A Senate version, bill S.49, is also under consideration. Though there are some differences between the bills, they share a common goal: to enhance protections of Vermont’s waters. One key component of both bills is a requirement to revise existing accepted agricultural practices (AAPs), a set of practices with which all farms are expected to be in compliance. The bills also propose to create a statewide definition for “small farms” for the first time ever, and to require that small farms certify their compliance with the revised AAPs and all water quality regulations. Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the proposal is a provision that ties participation in the Current Use Program to compliance with AAPs and other water quality regulations. The Current Use penalty was removed by the House Agriculture Committee, but could still be reinstated at a later stage.

The good news for organic farmers, and Vermont’s waterways, is that many of the protections called for in H.35 include practices already being used on organic farms to improve soil health, reduce soil erosion, and curtail nutrient runoff into Vermont’s streams, rivers, and bays. Organic farms are required to use tillage and cultivation methods that minimize soil erosion, to maintain buffer zones between tilled land and waterways, and to manage pastureland as well as manure and other nutrients in a way that does not put water quality at risk. Vermont’s organic farmers are setting a standard for practices that protect our state’s natural resources, and can be leaders in this critical effort to improve water quality.

USDA funds will increase access to fresh local foods in Vermont

NOFA-VT will receive $227,661 through USDA’s Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grant program as part of Wholesome Wave’s $3.77 million grant

Fresh Produce
This funding will make a tremendous impact in the lives of the over 87,000 Vermonters who currently receive SNAP benefits every month,” says Erin Buckwalter of NOFA-VT.

NOFA-VT celebrates USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack’s announcement of $31.5 million granted through the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) Program. The national nonprofit organization, Wholesome Wave, received a $3.77 million FINI grant, of which NOFA-VT is a sub-grantee. NOFA-VT will receive $227,661 through this award, which will be used to support increased access to fruits and vegetables for the food insecure of Vermont, while also benefiting small and mid-sized farmers in the region.

“This program is a key way that we help to bridge the gap in access for limited-income Vermonters to fresh, local and organic foods while supporting the viability of Vermont farms,” says Enid Wonnacott, Executive Director of NOFA-VT.

Since 1971, NOFA-VT has been committed to increasing the acreage of certified organic land in Vermont while also increasing the access of local, organic food to all Vermonters. The grant issued to NOFA-VT will increase affordable access to fresh fruits and vegetables for SNAP consumers across Vermont, while also supporting local agriculture.

“Over the last five years we have seen a tremendous increase in SNAP consumers looking for an outlet to use their SNAP benefits to support local farmers. With this FINI award, these consumers can more easily support Vermont’s local food economy while enjoying a bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables. This funding will make a tremendous impact in the lives of the over 87,000 Vermonters who currently receive SNAP benefits every month,” says Erin Buckwalter of NOFA-VT.

NOFA-VT received this award as a sub-grantee on a larger $3.77 million grant, which the nonprofit organization, Wholesome Wave, obtained from the USDA to support their national network of nutrition incentive partners. NOFA-VT is one of 32 community-based organizations that will join Wholesome Wave in this Large-Scale FINI Project. Wholesome Wave’s network is a robust community of innovation and learning, linking incentive programs through uniform data collection and evaluation to support the expansion and adoption of incentives through policy. Wholesome Wave’s project is one of many that received support as part of the total $31.5 million granted by USDA in this cycle. With the award from Wholesome Wave, NOFA-VT will implement incentive programs at over 40 summer and winter farmers markets across the state.

“We are thrilled to be working with such a diverse and competent group of incentive operators across the nation. This network brings together organizations ranging from a flourishing farmers market group to a large scale nonprofit, capitalizing on the grassroots expertise of community leaders, while also building regional and national impact that allows us to enact the kind of large-scale policy change we see in legislation like FINI,” says Wholesome Wave founder and CEO, Michel Nischan.


Wholesome Wave is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that strives to create a vibrant, just and sustainable food system. By making fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables affordable and available, we enable underserved consumers to make healthier food choices. Our innovative initiatives are improving health outcomes among low-income families, generating additional revenue for small and mid-sized farm businesses and bolstering local and regional economies. Our initiatives are implemented nationwide in collaboration with community-based partners at farmers markets, community health centers, hospital systems, food hubs, and retail outlets. Each year, our initiatives reach more than 50,000 underserved consumers and their families, as well as thousands of farmers. To learn more about Wholesome Wave visit http://www.wholesomewave.org or call 203-226-1112.

Save the Date for Open Farm Week 2015: August 3-9

If you are a farmer that wants to sign-up to participate, please visit www.diginvt.com/blog/openfarmweekforfarmers before July 1!

Open Farm Week is August 3-9; a time when many farms and farmers markets are at their peak of production and have a variety of different products to showcase to visitors.
Open Farm Week is August 3-9; a time when many farms and farmers markets are at their peak of production and have a variety of different products to showcase to visitors.

Building off of the success of NOFA Vermont’s 2014 Open CSA Farm Day, several organizations from around the state are coming together to organize Open Farm Week, expanding both the scope and the length of the event.  Our goal is to strengthen consumers’ connections to their growers, while teaching them how to access Vermont-grown products.  We envision this will become an annual event that engages both locals and vacationers in building relationships with our farmers and interest in our amazing working landscape.

Based on feedback from last year’s Open CSA Farm Day, we chose early August as a time when many farms and farmers markets are at their peak of production and have a variety of different products to showcase to visitors.  We also recognize that one specific day might not work well for everyone, so have expanded the event to a whole week to provide the opportunity for farmers and food lovers to participate on whichever day(s) work best. NOFA Vermont has received funding from the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service’s Farmers Market Promotion Program to augment our CSA-focused Specialty Crop Block Grant from the Vermont Agency of Agriculture in order to expand our outreach for this event to all farms that market directly to consumers.

We are excited to be able to promote Vermont certified organic CSAs and farmstands as well as those that are members of NOFA Vermont.  In addition, the Open Farm Week coincides with the annual National Farmers Market Week and we will be promoting markets that are members of the Vermont Farmers Market Association. To find more information or if you are a farmer that wants to sign-up to participate, please visit www.diginvt.com/blog/openfarmweekforfarmers.  The list of participating farms will be updated on a rolling basis.  Sign-ups end July 1 and by mid-July the final list will be set.


NOFA-VT is working with the following partners to organize this event  this event: City Market, Dig In Vermont, the Farm-Based Education Network, the Intervale Center, the Neighboring Food Co-ops Association, Shelburne Farms, Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing, the Vermont Farm to Plate Network Agritourism Task Force, Vermont Farm Tours, the Vermont Farmers Market Association, Vermont FEED, and the Vermont Fresh Network.

2015-2016 Farm to School Institute schools chosen

The  VT FEED Farm to School Institute is a unique year-long professional development opportunity being offered to ten diverse school teams from Vermont and, this year thanks to an USDA Farm to School Grant, the Northeast.

FEED Farm to School InstituteThrough 3 days of immersed training and planning this summer, participants will have time and support to develop a comprehensive Farm to School action plan and receive in-school mentoring to guide the implementation of their plan over the 2015-2016 academic year.

See what St. Albans City School, who participated 2013-2014, is doing in their farm to school program by watching this video.

Vermont schools that have been accepted are: South Burlington HS, Milton HS, Bradford Elementary, Essex Town Middle School, Guilford Elementary, Hardwick Elementary,  Manchester Elementary, Champlain Elementary.

More about FEED »

Vermont’s Working Lands need your support!

NOFA Vermont is a member of the Working Lands Partnership, a collaborative effort that is working to support local agriculture and forestry, grow and attract farm and forest entrepreneurs, and conserve Vermont’s Working Landscape far into the future.

You may have heard in the news that this is an unprecedented year of fiscal challenges in the state of Vermont. As a result, lawmakers are considering major cuts across the board. We need YOU to help us keep the Working Lands Enterprise initiative on the priority list. At least one proposal being considered would end the program entirely.

Please contact your HOUSE REPRESENTATIVE before March 10th and ask them to keep the Working Lands Enterprise Fund on the budget priority list.

Here’s how:

  1. Find out who your HOUSE REPS are – click here and search by your town.
  2. For EACH of your Representatives (you will have one or two), click on their name to find their email address. Send an email asking them to Make the Working Lands Enterprise Fund a priority in the FY2016 budget.

Personalize your email by saying why the Working Lands Enterprise initiative is important to you.

If you need some reminders of why the working lands enterprise initiative is important, you can visit Vermont Council on Rural Development’s Working Landscape Partnership page.

Please be sure to contact your House Representatives before March 10th, so they know the Working Lands Enterprise Fund should be a priority for the budget when they return after town meeting break.

Thanks again for all you do. Your support has been so important in this effort, and your action now will really help to keep the Working Lands Enterprise Fund strong.

Sincerely,

Maddie Monty
Policy Advisor

Act Now on Act 120! Attorney General’s Office Seeks Public Input on GMO Labeling

Vermont Right to Know! Label GMOs

It’s time once again to raise your voice about labeling GMOs in Vermont. The second and final public hearing on the proposed rules for enforcing Act 120, Vermont’s GMO labeling law, will be held this Wednesday, February 4th from 5-6pm in room 10 at the State House in Montpelier. The Attorney General’s Office has been tasked with developing the rules for how the law will be implemented, and they want to hear from you. The AG’s proposed rules provide details on the scope and requirements of the law, including the specific conditions for labeling, penalties for non-compliance, and exemptions for certain foods or businesses.

Read the Attorney General’s proposed rule (pdf) »

We hope to see you at the hearing on Wednesday, but if you can’t make it in person, you can also submit formal comments on the proposed rule to the Attorney General at any time until February 12, 2015, either through the Secretary of State’s website, or by sending an email to ago.gefoodlabelingrule@state.vt.us. To learn more about Act 120, you can visit the Attorney General’s GE Food Labeling page.

While the Attorney General’s Office moves forward with the rulemaking process, the state continues to fight a legal battle to ensure that corporate interests don’t keep Vermonters from your right to know about GMOs. Get the latest update on GMA v. Sorrell, the case against Vermont’s GMO labeling law, from VT Right to Know GMOs.

Be sure to stay tuned for updates from NOFA-VT and the rest of the VT Right to Know GMOs team.

City Market Rallys for NOFA-VT

Rally for Change
City Market in Burlington has a “Round Up” program to benefit local non-profits

The Onion River Co-op, aka City Market in Burlington, is dedicated to supporting the local economy and strengthening the local food system.

This year they’ve implemented a new giving program–
Rally for Change–that allows customers to “round up” their payment at the register (e.g., a $25.42 checkout could be rounded up to $26 for a $0.58 donation.) For the month of December, NOFA-VT is the lucky recipient of this “round up” change.

Want to round up to the nearest five or ten dollars? You can do that too!

With more than 4,000 transactions each day through the City Market registers, this “small change” can make a big difference for non-profit organizations like us.

Thank you for supporting us while you shop at City Market!

Story and Poetry Slam to Highlight Sunday Morning’s Conference

33rd Annual NOFA Vermont Winter Conference
February 14-16, 2015
University of Vermont, Burlington

Inspired by the revitalization of storytelling in Vermont and beyond, we’re opening our keynote stage on Sunday morning for a Story and Poetry Slam.

We invite you (yes, you!) to submit a story or poem to be considered for inclusion in the slam.

The theme for stories and poems is Growing the Good Food Movement. Tell us a specific story or read us a poem about how you have experienced or are addressing farm or food equity, race, class, farm worker rights, or food sovereignty in your work or life.

To submit your story or poem, call the NOFA Vermont office at 802-434-4122 and ask to be connected to extension 30. Leave a message telling us your story or poem (be sure to include your name and how we can reach you)!

Laura Brown-Lavoie
Laura Brown-Lavoie, farmer, poet, performer, and youth mentor

Stories and poems must be 5 minutes or shorter.

Deadline for submissions is January 15.

Submissions will be reviewed by our winter conference planning team and the 5 storytellers will be notified by February 1.

Hosting the Story and Poetry Slam (and performing, as well) will be Laura Brown-Lavoie. Laura is a farmer, poet, performer, and youth mentor in Providence, RI, who describes herself as,  “A farmer with a pen clipped to her beltloop. A poet with leaves in my hair… Out in the field between rows of tomatoes, the sun is past noon and there is a poem coming. Poems, they get sweated out of me. Born, like we all are, of physical labor, of sunlight and rain.”

You can follow Laura’s blog at http://lauralambbrownlavoie.wordpress.com/