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Agency of Ag Reaches Out To Farmers, Community

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Anson Tebbetts

STATEWIDE — Throughout February and March, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets held a listening tour to gather feedback and ideas about farming in our state. Over the course of six weeks, the agency hosted meetings in Lyndonville, Brattleboro, Middlebury, St. Albans and Montpelier. More than 300 farmers and community members attended. Now, the agency plans to address listening tour feedback.

“The suggestions and ideas shared by participants were insightful and covered a wide range of topics,” said Agency of Agriculture secretary Anson Tebbetts. “The feedback was diverse, but four main themes emerged.”

Here’s what was shared, and how the agency plans to address it:

Vermonters want to ensure the next generation has opportunities to work in agriculture, and has access to land. They want young people to feel excited and optimistic about careers in agriculture. The Agency of Agriculture will work with University of Vermont  Extension, Vermont Technical College, Vermont Student Assistance Corporation and the career centers to promote educational programs that get future farmers ready to take the reins. There are many existing programs, like 4-H, that do great work to get young people engaged. The agency has said they would work hard to promote these opportunities and build awareness, to get more kids involved and to continue to partner with the Vermont Housing Conservation Board and Land Trust to improve access to land.

In addition, many people who spoke up and said they feel burdened and overwhelmed by regulations. Therefore, the current administration has made a commitment to limit new regulations. The Required Ag Practices were adopted in December 2016. Agency officials vow to work with farmers to implement them in a way that is fair. They have recently formed the Required Ag Practices Advisory Committee, which includes farmer representatives and stakeholders involved in water quality issues. The role of the board will be to advise the agency on the roll-out of the Required Ag Practices, to ensure they are effective and attainable and that they take into account real-farm practices.

Some people said they find it difficult to get in touch with key staff, and that the agency needs to do a better job with customer service. Participants also said the agency needs to work harder to build positive relationships across the entire farming community. To address these concerns, the agency has already begun a comprehensive audit of our customer service practices. Over the next three months, the agency plans to work closely with managers, inspectors and technical assistance providers to identify the ways in which the agency can improve customer service and relationships. As a first step this week, a contact list for all agency personnel has been placed on the website, at http://agriculture.vermont.gov/contact_us.

Because there’s a lot going on, farmers sometimes find it hard to get the information they need. The agency needs to do a better job communicating. In order to ensure farmers have timely access to the information they need, staff are now mailing complimentary copies of the internal newspaper, Agriview, to all Vermont farmers on a monthly basis. Over the course of the next year, a plan is in place to redesign the website to make it more user-friendly. People can also follow the agency on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

“This is just the beginning. Each comment shared with us at these meetings helps inform the decisions we, as a new administration, make each day on the job here in Montpelier,” said Alyson Eastman, deputy secretary.

“We are committed to working with our farming community, to grow the economy, to making Vermont affordable and to enrich our communities,” added Tebbetts. “Thanks to all who came out to share their thoughts.”

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