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Costello Commentary: Investing in Working Lands


Last year Act 142 established the Working Lands Enterprise Board (WLEB) and Fund.

Act 142 was both the jobs bill of 2012 and the agriculture and forest products policy bill of the decade. It established a unifying and nonpartisan platform to support the enterprises that grow our food, manage our forests and provide the economic foundation for the priceless look and character of Vermont.

With the Working Lands Enterprise Bill the Legislature invested more than $1 million in farm and forest products businesses and the value-added chains that can create more jobs, attract youth, and support the land in production for the future.

We deeply appreciate the vision of Gov. Peter Shumlin and his commitment to this program. His administration, led by Secretary Chuck Ross, Secretary Lawrence Miller, and Commissioner Michael Snyder, is overseeing the development and implementation of the Working Landscape Enterprise Fund. They and the WLEB are doing a terrific job, and the staff of the three agencies is inspiring in is work ethic and dedication to the future of Vermont.

Together they have built a one-stop shop to unite all the public resources that we can dedicate to sustainable economic development on the land.

Make no mistake. WLEB is historic and has a history-making role in both the future of Vermont’s rural prosperity and in the success of the enterprises that preserve the land and character of the state we love.

WLEB has already received 378 applications from all around the state totaling nearly $12 million for the $1 million it has available.

We have a sector ready to grow, a sector that is attracting entrepreneurial energy and youth.

The Working Lands Coalition is a group of 15 prominent Vermont organizations who all recognize the value of our natural resource economy and our rural heritage.

I urge all Vermonters to support the goal of the Working Lands Coalition for a “five-by-three” investment of $5 million annually for the next three years in working lands enterprises.

This investment will have a transformative effect, galvanizing growth in this vital sector of the rural economy.

Seed investment now will have multiple returns in job creation, rural prosperity, and all the ecological, economic, recreational, scenic services that the land provides all of us.

All of us benefit from Vermont’s working landscape, and all of us should contribute to the economy that sustains it.

Paul Costello is executive director of the Vermont Council on Rural Development and the coordinator of the Vermont Working Lands Coalition (