Photo courtesy of Earthwise Farm And Forest

The Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD) has its roots in the 1992 Farm Bill.  The organization has also taken strong leadership in the creation of Vermont’s Working Landscape Partnership, a non-partisan and broad-based coalition to support local agriculture and forestry, grow and attract farm and forest entrepreneurs, and conserve Vermont’s “Working Landscape” far into the future.

With VCRD’s long history of support to the sector, coupled with the extensive financial impact from Tropical Storm Irene on Vermont’s agriculture-based ventures, a key service of the Vermont Digital Economy Project is to provide assistance specifically tailored to farm and forest operations seeking to integrate online tools into daily operations. This direct strategic advising is delivered to farm and forest businesses on a one-on-one basis, by experts from the Vermont Small Business Development Center.

We strongly encourage any farm, forest, or agricultural value-added business (particularly those in towns directly impacted by Tropical Storm Irene or the spring floods of 2011) to take our Survey for Farm & Forest Venture Use of Online Tools.  Doing so will not only connect survey takers with free VtSBDC digital advising, but, also, aggregated data from the survey can help the Vermont Digital Economy Project and VtSBDC to develop topical workshops on digital tools that are of special interest to agricultural businesses.

According to Carl Russell, co-owner of Earthwise Farm and Forest, a certified organic draft-animal powered family farm located in Bethel, Vermont:  “The way farm and forest practitioners work and market their products and services does not easily lend itself to the typical online tools of social networks and websites. It is important to try to find tools that can augment record keeping and operations management, and to assist this group with improving the use of digital equipment and resources before the Internet can become a viable option in their box of business tools.”

VCRD is committed to seeking out meaningful ways to foster economic development in rural areas through digital advising.  Carl Russell helped the team assemble a group of farmers from the Bethel area to discuss online tools.  This “workshop” led to five individual farmers, including Russell, who sought out tailored assistance from Pat Ripley, VtSBDC’s assistant director of e-Commerce.

Russell strongly encourages other farm and forest ventures to also seek advice.  He noted, “The Vermont Digital Economy Project is a great opportunity, and the professionals associated with it have taken the task of meeting the specific challenges of this commercial genre seriously. I have been very pleased with the comfortable, earnest, and flexible way that the individual needs of each participant have been considered and responded to. I feel like there will be some good things to come from this project.”