Farm summit plans for agriculture’s viable future

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(Host) Behind the fun at Brattleboro’s “Strolling of the Hiefers” this weekend will be the more serious discussion on the importance of agriculture. Among the events is a two-day farm summit.

VPR’s Susan Keese has more:

(Keese) The summit’s objective is to begin to frame a plan for keeping agriculture and open space viable in southeastern Vermont.

Moderator Roger Allbee is the state director for the USDA Farm Service Agency. He’s also on the Vermont Agriculture Viability Council, which recently released recommendations for keeping Vermont agriculture profitable and sustainable. The recommendations include encouraging specialty products like ice cream or cheese that bring a higher price than milk. The problems include finding markets.

(Allbee) “We have discovered, and it’s been well known for some time, that the Vermont label – the Vermont name – is known in a lot of regions for wholesome products. And what we’re trying to do is see how that can be further captured to bringing greater value to the farmer and also to protecting the land base in Vermont.”

(Keese) Gary Hirshberg, president of New Hampshire’s Stonyfield Farm, will be among those who bring their ideas and experiences to the table. Stonyfield’s yogurt products have been credited with bringing organic foods into the supermarket mainstream.

That, or something like it, is what Westminster sheep farmer David Major is hoping for. Major’s acclaimed Vermont Shepherd Cheeses have won top honors in national gourmet cheese competitions for the past decade. Yet his farm remains barely profitable. Major says most supermarkets are too big to do business with Vermont’s small producers. He thinks the answer is encouraging smaller markets to thrive.

(Major) “What we might be talking is ways in which we can help the smaller scale markets. Things like efforts to promote farmer’s market, efforts to promote independently owned general stores, efforts to promote food coops, farms stands and web-based sales.”

(Keese) The summit starts Thursday with an open dialogue and panel discussion at Putney’s Landmark College.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese in Putney.

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