This week, the Legislature was not in session due to Town Meeting week. Our Town Meetings on Tuesday were well attended and we really appreciated the attendees taking time out of their orders of the day to allow us to visit with them. One of the highlights was the commitment to a 3-cent cap on property tax increases due to federally eligible infrastructure projects approved by the FEMA Public Assistance Program. This was very good news for several of our towns effected by Tropical Storm Irene.
The rest of the week was spent on an automobile trip to New Jersey for a meeting of the Council of State Governments and a visit to Maryland to deliver lamb to family and friends. The delivery of lamb (and the eight-hour drive it requires) gave me time to reflect on the power and value of the Vermont brand and why the work the House Agriculture Committee did on the Working Lands Enterprise Bill (H.496) is so important.
As a follow up to the Farm to Plate Bill in 2009, H.496 continues to recognize the importance of our working lands to the entire economy of Vermont and the economic development opportunities we will have if we make wise investments in our agriculture and forest products sectors. Including forest products in the equation is an important step forward as we try to reinvigorate that industry.
As some of you may know, my husband, Alan, and I raise sheep on our farm in Windham. Their primary purpose is fiber for the yarn that I have spun by the Green Mountain Spinnery in Putney and sell on my web site, www.goodshepherdyarn.com, as well as at sheep and wool festivals.
One of the other products of the sheep is their offspring that are born every spring, which we ultimately have processed and market through the We All Are What We Eat (WAAWWE) store in Chester, as well as to individual customers. This year in an email exchange, I casually mentioned to my sister-in-law that we had five lambs available. She put the word out to her friends and in a very short time, our five lambs were sold and we could have sold twice as many more.
My sister-in-law, Marika Partridge, lives in Takoma Park, Maryland. She and many of her friends are very concerned about knowing where their food comes from, how it is grown, and how it is processed. The tainted food scares, mostly the result of huge agribusiness have awakened many to this issue.
The possibility of purchasing lamb grown by a trusted source at a reasonable price is very attractive. Being able to sell five made it possible to deliver the meat to Maryland. The fact that the lamb came from Vermont made a difference. “Grown in Vermont” connotes quality, health, and freshness. There is a definite advantage associated with the Vermont brand and we are presented with an opportunity to leverage that brand to everyone’s benefit.
Some of the challenges that producers face are the high cost of fuel, grain, and processing in a USDA plant (necessary for interstate commerce). One of our goals is to make Vermont lamb more affordable for Vermonters, but to really provide economic opportunity to more Vermont farmers, we must develop regional markets in the northeast. As the cost of fuel rises, food grown in California and Chile will become more expensive and make Vermont’s locally-grown produce more competitive.
We need to position ourselves now to take advantage of the markets stretching from Washington, DC to Montreal and all the cities in between, not to mention the international markets. The fact that we are exporting cheese to France is also impressive and encouraging. We need to dream big and not let our current economic situation prevent us from making this investment.
Finally, a few words about Melinda Bussino. Because I was not able to attend her service due to my longstanding commitment to the Council of State Governments in New Jersey, I would like to take a moment here to express my appreciation for her contributions. Melinda’s tireless work on behalf of our most vulnerable citizens is well known – it was her mission in life. At the same time, she gave her precious time to the Windham Regional Commission as Chair of the Executive Committee, and a member of the Nominating Committee, which is how I knew her best. Her knowledge of the community and her even-tempered, thoughtful approach to sometimes difficult situations was very much appreciated and highly valued. She was a one-of-a kind individual, a role model for us all, and I will miss her terribly.