Farming helps retain young Vermonters

SALISBURY — Lawmakers believe that unless the exodus of Vermont youth to other states is reversed, the Green Mountain State will lose a large chunk of its tax base — not to mention a valuable pool of employees for businesses.
“These are the (people) who fuel our economy and … who pay into the revenues in the state,” Rep. Harvey Smith, R-New Haven, said at a Legislative Breakfast in Salisbury on March 27. “It’s going to be a balancing act as to how we stabilize our economy and our population.”
Rep. Peter Conlon, D-Cornwall, said he recently received a very telling graph from state economic officials charting population by age group.
“There’s a huge ‘bubble’ at the top representing … residents currently in the prime income area, producing the most taxes,” Conlon said. “This is a group that is rapidly moving into retirement with lower incomes and lower tax payments. As this population moves into retirement and beyond, the revenues of the state will start dropping precipitously.”
Longtime Ripton Selectwoman Laurie Cox urged lawmakers to focus on the positive and not the negative.
“That’s not the kind of thing you want to be running around saying,” she said. “If I were a 20-something and that’s what I was hearing, I would think, ‘All of the good places to go are somewhere else.’ We have so many good things for young adults and families to want to be in Vermont, and I think that’s what we need to put out, constantly.”
And Sen. Chris Bray, D-New Haven, said not all the news is bad on the population front — particularly in the agricultural sector.
He credited Vermont’s Farm-to-Plate legislation for wooing many young farmers back to the state to participate in local food initiatives. Bray spearheaded the Farm to Plate Investment Program legislation back in 2009. The law called for the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund to create a 10-year “Farm to Plate Strategic Plan” to increase economic development in Vermont’s farm and food sector, create jobs in the farm and food economy, and improve access to healthy local food for all Vermonters.
Farm to Plate activities, according to Bray, have created around 6,000 new jobs in the food-systems sector.
“We’ve seen over $100 million in growth in receipts in that area,” Bray added.
Consequently, there has been a resurgence in farms helmed by younger Vermonters making a variety of specialty food products, according to Bray.
“Yes, we’re in a challenging time, but we’re also seeing that when we shift our focus and look to long-term, sustainable planning, we’ve been able to interest younger folks, and we’ve seen a lot of growth in the farm and food sector,” he said.

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