By KEVIN O'CONNOR Staff Writer
The Council on the Future of Vermont knows the state treasures its farms and forests. So why is it asking if there's too much of a good thing?
Surveying almost 4,000 experts and everyday folk at more than 100 meetings, the nonprofit, nonpartisan study group heard more talk about the working landscape than any other topic. Nearly 98 percent of those surveyed, in fact, said they valued the fields, woods and pastures more than any other of the state's features.
"Vermont's identity is linked inextricably to its physical environment, which always has been and continues to be a core value for the people who live here," the council writes in its new 112-page report, "Imagining Vermont: Values and Vision for the Future." "The council heard repeatedly that Vermonters want to hold on to what makes Vermont distinctive, and for most, that means agriculture and the working forest."
Each, however, has its flip side. Take farms: Vermont's dairy industry not only is the largest milk producer in New England but also accounts for nearly 80 percent of the state's agricultural sales. That may be good branding for a state that's home to Ben & Jerry's, but such lack of diversification is bad business with the current plunge in milk prices.