A New Movement Takes Root in Vermont’s Food System
Here in Vermont, we’re often recognized for our thriving local food system and commitment to the farm and food economy. While much of that praise is well-deserved, there is evidence that there is room to grow when it comes to consumer demand for local food and ensuring that Vermonters of all income levels and backgrounds have access to that food. Rooted in Vermont is a movement that seeks to address this issue by “shifting the local food narrative” and recognizing “the many ways Vermonters enjoy and acquire local food.” I spoke with Rachel Carter, Director of Communications for Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, to learn more about their efforts to understand what drives consumer behavior and reach out to those Vermonters who did not previously identify with the local food movement in our state.
During the course of our conversation, Rachel shared the story behind the Rooted in Vermont movement and its origins in the Vermont Farm to Plate Strategic Plan to reach 10% local food sales by 2020. Currently, that number is at 6.9% ($189 million annually), up from 5% in 2009.
To set the stage, the Farm to Plate Strategic Plan is a statewide food system plan, developed by the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund per legislation passed in 2009, with the intention of strengthening the food system. These three goals were identified as central to the plan's success:
- Increase economic development in Vermont’s farm and food sector;
- Create jobs in the farm and food economy;
- Improve access to healthy local food for all Vermonters.
The Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund conducted a public engagement process to identify gaps in the local food system and opportunities for growth. The result is considered the most comprehensive food system plan in the country. VSJF invited government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and private sector businesses to form the Farm to Plate Network and work together to implement the plan and advance their own organizational goals.
Fast-forward to present day and the plan is entering its seventh year of implementation (thanks to the work of roughly 300 members of the Farm to Plate Network) and progress has been made in each focus area. As a result of conversations with numerous food system stakeholders and meetings of the Consumer Education and Marketing Working Group, Rooted in Vermont was born to address the goal of increasing local food consumption. As Rachel shared with me, the Farm to Plate Network is working on a number of initiatives simultaneously in order to meet that goal. First, work is taking place to help farms scale up production in order to be prepared to sell into wholesale markets that are not always able to accommodate smaller quantities. Next, efforts are underway to get more local food into retail stores and restaurants, working with distributors and individual retailers to accommodate some of those smaller farms that may not be able to meet the scale of production that is commonly expected in major retailers. Last but not least, there is a need to increase consumer demand of local food. This is where Rooted in Vermont comes in.
Over the course of several years, the working group responsible for Rooted in Vermont’s inception held focus groups to hear from Vermonters from all walks of life. The phrase “Rooted in Vermont” was born out of these meetings and conversations, inspired by an effort to include those individuals who had not previously identified as “localvores” but may acquire local food as gardeners, fishermen and women, hunters, foragers, and community members. Rachel noted, “We want to recognize people enjoy local food in the ways that are accessible to them, which is not always just by purchasing. There’s a lot of local food at the food shelf, and many Vermonters grow or hunt their own food, for example. These are all ways to be ‘Rooted in Vermont’.”
Something that became clear throughout the course of my conversation with Rachel was that this movement is focused on more than just increasing consumer demand for the sake of economic development in the state; it seeks to increase the number of Vermonters who feel included in the local food scene. Rachel shared that Rooted in Vermont is not trying to tell anyone what to do. She noted, “However you obtain food is your decision. We want to celebrate the ways you connect with local food and hopefully encourage you to seek out more local food, but it’s totally okay to eat food from other places too. We are not here to judge.” She shared an idea of trying to pair local foods with non-local foods as one way to start to incorporate more local products into your diet without giving up the foods you love.
This sentiment and the Rooted in Vermont movement at large aligns with our Global Ends here at City Market as we seek to strengthen the local food system and ensure “consumers have local access to progressive social, environmental and healthful choices.” One of the many ways we support these goals is by offering over 2,700 local products (the sales of which exceeded 40% of storewide sales in our last fiscal year). As the Rooted in Vermont literature recognizes, “Purchasing local products keeps more money here in Vermont, in turn creating jobs, supporting the in-state supply chain, protecting our family farms, and making local food more accessible to Vermonters.”
If you’re interested in getting involved or learning more about Rooted in Vermont, check out their brochure here. Joining any of the upcoming Open Farm Week events (August 14th-20th) is a great way to show how you’re "Rooted in Vermont." Share your photos on social media using #RootedinVermont and follow the movement on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.