By Paul Costello, VCRD Executive Director
Vermonters have always known that our working landscape is our greatest asset. It drives our economy, brings tourists from away, and sustains the wonderful environment where we live, work and play. Vermont consistently ranks first in healthy eating, overall health, and access to local food. The Working Lands Enterprise initiative recognizes, celebrates, and leverages our working landscape to continue to strengthen our economy, sustain our environment, and keep our state beautiful.
This year was an important one for the Working Lands Enterprise initiative. Governor Shumlin’s budget included a proposal, which was affirmed by the legislature, to make permanent the two state positions supporting the work of the Working Lands Enterprise Board, and also to continue to fund the initiative at the $1.5 million level, making this the base level of funding for the program going forward.
During the first year of the initiative, the WLEB awarded just under $1 million to 36 recipients, leveraging an additional $1.4 million for the projects that were funded., and creating approximately 45 new jobs in Vermont. So far, in its second year of funding, 19 grants have been awarded, with several more to be announced this summer. These grants have supported projects from building a new goat meat industry to marketing custom made Vermont furniture. In all cases, the projects keep our working landscape healthy, dynamic, and affordable for our entrepreneurs who want to keep Vermont strong.
Another initiative that is leveraging the power of Vermont’s working landscape is the Vermont Higher Education Food System Consortium. This partnership of Vermont’s colleges and university is a commitment to prioritizing agriculture, food systems, and Vermont’s working landscape as key areas of development. Today under this initiative the higher education institutions in Vermont are designing new ways to collaborate, share resources and expand a plethora of elective opportunities for place-based food systems education where “Vermont is our classroom.” The goal of this effort is to make Vermont the epicenter of community-based food systems education in this country.
As we continue to navigate the 21st century economy, investing in our roots and from our values will continue to strengthen Vermont’s economy and allow our state to thrive. We need to continue to invest in the local jobs and local resources that only a working landscape can provide. Our Vermont brand will only grow more valuable as we increase our investment across the state and across economic and educational sectors in our working landscape and the people who do the work that ensures that our Green Mountains and verdant valleys are not just pictures in our history books, but rather our everyday reality, and our long term future.
Paul has been the Executive Director of the Vermont Council on Rural Development since 2000. Paul is a UVM alumni and holds a PhD in intellectual history from McGill University. In addition to his work at VCRD, Paul is a member of the Housing Vermont Board of Directors and President Emeritus of the national Partners for Rural America organization.