The Vermont Agricultural Viability Council (VAVC) was formed with the goal of developing a strategic plan that would both further the prosperity of Vermont’s dairy industry and foster the growth of Vermont’s diversified agricultural enterprises. VCRD was encouraged to build a policy dialogue in this area by Vermont legislators, congressional staff, and federal agency staff. Vermont’s Commissioner of Agriculture supported and participated in the process because it dovetailed with departmental needs and the desire to advance a working platform that could unite state, federal, non-profit, and farm association efforts.

The analysis of the challenges and opportunities before agriculture began with an inclusive evaluation of all existing agriculture-related studies produced since 1990. Five agricultural hearings were then conducted with farmers and interested parties throughout the state. VAVC received presentations by a variety of agricultural experts covering all the topics before it. The Council also contracted for a research analysis of existing conditions in Vermont, national and international impacting factors, and alternative models of agricultural development.

A foundational concern for the effort that was approached from a number of perspectives was that of competition in commodity markets and the determinative impact of commodity prices, set out of state, on the profitability of Vermont operations. This led to an articulation of the necessity to diversify Vermont’s agricultural markets, to promote unique qualities that would make Vermont’s market offerings stand out in a competitive environment, and the need to raise the image and increase support of the agricultural sector among both consumers and state government.

At the end of the process, the Chair of the VAVC was appointed by Governor Douglas to serve as the Secretary of the new Agency of Agriculture; the VAVC report, in his words, became something of a “workplan” for the agency.

A number of the VAVC recommendations have been implemented successfully and have contributed to the viability of Vermont’s agricultural sector. The recommendation to establish a Secretary of Agriculture was instituted and that position provides a clear point of leadership and advocacy for Vermont farmers. A commonly identified concern was to consciously market Vermont’s assets—building a “Vermont Brand”—celebrating the entrepreneurial characteristics of Vermont farmers. Another key recommendation proposed is the development of what has become a successful “Buy Local” campaign in support of Vermont’s burgeoning and diversified, community agriculture market.

In an age of increasing energy insecurity, rising grocery prices, and incidents of unsafe food production in the global marketplace, Vermont is poised for an agricultural resurgence.

Vermont Agriculture Viability Council Members

  • Leon Berthiaume, St. Albans Cooperative
  • Wayne Bissonette, Hinesburg Dairy Farmer
  • Mark Boyden, Cambridge Diversified Farmer
  • John Bramley, University of Vermont
  • Paul Costello, Vermont Council on Rural Development
  • Leon Graves, Vermont Department of Agriculture
  • Paul Harlow, Windham County Organic Farmer
  • Beth Kennett, Vermont Farms!
  • Steve Kerr, Vermont Farm Service Agency (Chair)
  • Senator Sara Kittell, Senate Agriculture Committee
  • Roberta MacDonald, Cabot Creamery
  • David Major, Westminster Sheep Farmer
  • Dean Moreau, Yankee Farm Credit
  • Representative Ruth Towne, House Agriculture Committee
  • Sandy Witherell, Addison County Apple Grower
  • Julie Wolcott, Franklin County Farmer
  • Alex Wylie, Vermont Land Trust
  • Associate Members:
  • Ron and Roger Allbee, Allbee & Associates
  • Cynthia Tokos, Project Coordinator