Sustainable Agriculture/Food Security Action Plan Kicks Off

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Friday January 04, 2013

The first forum to acquire public input on sustainable agriculture and food security in South Burlington was held on December 10. This initial gathering was well attended, not only by City employees and committee members, but by residents and local farmers as well. Task Force Chair Rosanne Greco kicked off the meeting by welcoming and thanking everyone, then offering statistics from an article that stated that the U.S. is losing more than one acre of farmland per minute. This article also surmised that if this trend continues, by 2090 there will be no farmland left in VT. “We passed interim zoning to take time out to think about things…preserving open space,” Greco said.

One of the major goals of the task force is to transform SB into a City that is able to provide all residents with healthy, organic, and locally grown food. Greco made it clear though that this doesn’t mean the task force is interested in walling off SB, the City wants to work and partner with other communities to foster these efforts.

A series of discussion-prompting questions were presented, such as: how important is it that local agriculture be organic; what are you, your business or organization doing to support local agriculture in SB; and what type of locally grown food or other products would you like to have available in SB?

Of the issues raised, affordability as a barrier came up consistently. Resident Marianne Callahan voiced her concern for SB’s lower income residents, particularly those receiving food stamps. Would they be able to afford to buy local, organic produce? How would that work? One potential idea that came up was having one’s own garden, but as Library Board Chair Nancy Simson pointed out, backyard gardens can be both expensive and problematic in that they take a large time investment. “This is probably not a good solution for many individuals, especially if someone is working multiple jobs. It’s not only maintaining the garden, but processing the output that takes time,” Simson said.
Corie Pierce, owner and farmer at Bread and Butter Farm in South Burlington said, “It’s a challenging conflict [to make items affordable]. Our food system as a whole is broken.”

Common Roots Director Carol McQuillen dovetailed this by saying, “We either pay up front for better food or later in health costs.”

Planning Commission Chair Jessica Louisos mentioned that she would like to see more options here, noting that she has to go outside of the City to go berry and apple picking. Her CSA (community supported agriculture) is from Pete’s Greens in Craftsbury, since they offer convenient pick up nearby.

Several residents also brought up zoning concerns. Resident Mike Simoneau mentioned that he does not want to see the implementation of mandates and that there needs to be exploration into incentivizing voluntary participation. Resident Larry Michaels said that he hopes people can collaborate. He expressed his concern that taking away or zoning land would be a disservice and could ultimately lead to an erosion of trust among individuals. Greco addressed these comments and made it clear that, “This was never about forcing people to do something with their land they didn’t want to do.”

According to Farm to School Coordinator Mollie Silver, there is a lot happening to foster awareness of local food and sustainable agriculture in SB schools. For example, this is the first year that there has been a garden at each school. Corie Pierce mentioned that she has seen a surge of youth interest in farming and currently has a SB high school student interning at her farm.

After two hours of active community engagement, the meeting drew to a close and the next steps were outlined: completing background research and analyses; outlining policies, strategies, and draft regulatory measures; and preparing and distributing a public survey. A public meeting will be held at the end of January to present findings and draft recommendations. 

Task force members include: Chair Rosanne Greco, Vince Bolduc, Mollie Silver, Betty Milizia, Sophie Quest, Addison Raap, Jenna Antonino DiMare, and Ethan Thompson.

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent