Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition reviews a year’s success

VERGENNES — The Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition celebrated a year of accomplishments — including a national award — at its annual meeting on Jan. 26. The dinner at the American Legion Hall in Vergennes brought together close to 150 farmers and friends, including Gov. Phil Scott, newly appointed Secretary of Agriculture Anson Tebbetts and Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Alyson Eastman.
“Your presence tonight means you care about the environment,” said Tebbetts. “You’re working on it.”
The coalition was honored by being selected for a national No-Till Farmer Innovation Award, announced on Jan. 10 at the 25th annual National No Till Conference in St. Louis. The award honors “farmers, researchers, organization and others who have identified ways to no-till more effectively, more economically and with better impact on the environment.”
The Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition provides farmer-to-farmer support for practices that improve water quality in the Lake Champlain basin, while also helping to strengthen farms economically. It receives organizational support from the University of Vermont Extension office in Middlebury.
The CVFC held its first meetings in 2012. Since then its membership has grown to more than 80 members, including 61 farms and 20 businesses. More than 40,000 acres of farmland, most of it in Addison County, are under the stewardship of CVFC members.
Since 2012, the CVFC has been awarded grants from the High Meadows Fund, Working Lands Enterprise Board and the Keep Local Farms Fund, among other organizations and agencies.
CVFC 2016 highlights include:
•  Manure-application trainings in Shoreham, Richmond and Pawlett.
•  No-till corn planting clinics in Colchester and Weybridge.
•  “Crop patrols” that brought farmers together to look at test plots in the field in Addison, Orwell, Panton, Starksboro and Danby.
•  The Agriculture Conservation Bus Tour, a daylong event that brought policymakers to farms around Addison County.
Altogether the CVFC brought together more than 300 attendees at its training events, provided direct assistance to 19 farms with new farm practices, and saw 9,100 acres planted in cover crops, a 34 percent increase from cover-crop acreage in 2015.
Looking ahead to a new year, the CVFC hired Louise Waterman in January 2017 as its first dairy outreach coordinator. Waterman worked most recently for the Agency of Agriculture; she was raised on a dairy farm in Minnesota.
Also new in 2017 is that CVFC members will be able to get legislative updates from EJC Consulting on farming and related issues.
As dessert began to go around each table, Scott took the spotlight to discuss farm issues.
After thanking farmers for their support throughout his fall campaign for governor, he then addressed a question of utmost importance to many Vermont farmers: how President Trump’s immigration policy might affect Vermont’s dairy farm workers, many of whom are from Mexico (see related story from Jan. 30, “Scott vows to protect foreign farm workers.”)
Scott spoke to agriculture’s importance in Vermont’s culture and economy and promised aggressive marketing of the Vermont brand. He said he would build on the strength of the local foods movement. Scott named building a “more prosperous economy” as his “number one priority.”
Scott encouraged farmers to run for office and talked about his own transition from the family construction business to the Statehouse some years ago.
Next Secretary Tebbetts and Deputy Secretary Eastman took the mike.
Both Tebbetts and Eastman promised an open-door policy at the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets and said that listening to farmers would be a top priority.
When Eastman encouraged the farmers to contact the agency by phone or by email, someone asked outright for Tebbetts’ cell phone number.
Within minutes, Tebbetts cell phone was ringing.
“Just checking that it’s a real number,” shouted a farmer at the back of the room, who had test-dialed Tebbetts’ number.
The evening concluded with a panel discussion that brought together farmer-leaders from like-minded organizations around the state. Serving on the panel alongside CVFC President Kemp were Darlene Reynolds of the Franklin/Grand Isle Farmer Watershed Alliance, Paul Doton of the Connecticut River Watershed Farmers Alliance and Joe Tisbert, president of the Vermont Farm Bureau.
Reporter Gaen Murphree is reached at [email protected].

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