Sustainable Agriculture/Food Security Task Force reviewed its final draft report.

Sustainable Agriculture Committee Concludes Work

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Thursday April 11, 2013

It began with a vision: “Transform South Burlington into a City that can provide all its residents with affordable, locally grown, healthy, organic food.”

Sound like a good idea? Those who believe so are in agreement with the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security Task Force, one of the four Interim Zoning committees created under the 2012 City Council. This vision was a year in the making, and after months of extensive research, meetings, consultant work, and opportunities for public input, the Sustainable Agriculture/Food Security Task Force has announced its final draft report.

The report was prepared by the city-hired consultants Lamoureux & Dickinson’s Landscape Architect Gail Henderson-King and Social Scientist/Wetlands Scientist Brian Tremback; UVM Professor in Agriculture Economics David S. Conner, Ph.D; and PlaceSense/Planner Brandy Saxton.

The eleven-person team with a diversity of agricultural backgrounds had been led by Councilor Rosanne Greco for months leading up to completion. The 2013 Council recently appointed current member, SB Land Trust member and Saint Michael’s College Sociology Professor Vince Bolduc as the new leader.

Bolduc, along with three other IZ Chairs, provided a progress report for Council Tuesday, March 26; the report was freshly completed and had not yet been reviewed. That was a job for the following Thursday afternoon. In its time, the IZ task force has built bridges between various groups and affilliations, broadening its understanding of what South Burlington has/doesn’t have and what it needs to do to preserve workable soil, Bolduc said. He attributed much of the outreach to Greco contacting an extensive list of various organizations for this information. After the Council meeting, Councilors, Planning Commissioners, and members of the public left knowing key points about South Burlington’s agricultural value:

•  South Burlington could, technically, feed all of its 17,000 citizens with certain foods, primarily fruits and vegetables.

•  Of South Burlington’s 10,600 acres, only 2,200 acres are suitable for agriculture; 1,400 are Category 2 soils, half of which are protected under current Land Development Regulations; 62 acres are truly prime.

•  Land in South Burlington has strong economic value, making it difficult for farmers to purchase and maintain.

The average American diet consists of less than 5 percent of locally grown food, Bolduc said. South Burlington is a highly developed city (of the 10,600 SB acres, 78 percent are considered prime, but most lie beneath development, solar farms, lawns and sports fields, among other things, so agricultural opportunities are limited. Other obstacles such as blurry boundary lines (city-owned, UVM owned, and private property) with various soil types complicate the task.

South Burlington residents are more educated and earn a higher income than the national average, and the task force has already recognized citizens’ aptitude to learn by providing opportunities such as educational programs run by Louise Murphy at the library, holding public meetings (in addition to regular meetings open to the public), and surveying public opinion on sustainable agriculture issues.

“Growing food has been one of humankind’s greatest challenges and so it’s not surprising that if we try to apply that to 10,000 acres in a 17,000 population, we are confused and challenged by it, too.” Bolduc shared.

At the final meeting with its consultants on March 28, the task force and a handful of members from the public went through the final draft of the report. Some noted changes were minor, others prompted additional questions and information, of which Development Coordinator Kimberly Murray offered to add to the report with a task force comments appendix.

For those who have not viewed the report, the consultants covered basic informational questions/explanations of purpose via an introduction, followed by an assessment (resources, city regulations, food), models and resources, and concluded with recommendations.

Additional information includes items such as a review of farms with Vergennes soils (a limited soil type found largely in Addison County); information about the South Burlington School District, concentric diagrams about where food is coming from, farmers’ age range, revision of property tax implications, community comments, wastewater allocation policy options, additional resources, discussion of survey results, and the Land Trust survey.

Greg Soll, a UVM graduate, a farmer of 5 years in Charlotte, and member of Common Roots was the only young farmer in attendance. Soll also attended the Council meeting two days prior and spoke about buying versus renting land and their financial impacts on farmers.

“South Burlington is very appealing to vegetable farmers,” Soll said. “[But] our profits aren’t stable enough to buy in Chittenden County.”

His vision as a young farmer is to see South Burlington become a role model for other municipalities by encouraging home and community gardening and continuing to integrate gardening into the school district programs. The task force recommended such educational components to Council, as well as recommendations to include agricultural language in the Land Development Regulations and have a year-round farmer’s market.

The consultants also provided advice for task force members to carry over after the consultant’s work is complete.

“Don’t lose momentum,” Conner advised. Henderson-King agreed. “Work with landowners and establish trust.”
“Look at land use and pay attention to Form Based Code,” Saxton added.

Tremback offered advice to “establish connections to other local and regional producers and programs that are involved in sustainable agriculture.”

The task force is looking to continue the discussion with landowners, stakeholders, and other farmers such as Soll. The goal to bring local food back to South Burlington won’t be easy, but it is not impossible. Sometimes a constant reminder is all that is required.

“Nothing is more powerful than soil and it’s capacity to nurture,” Bolduc said.

The report can be viewed on the city site,

SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent