Workforce development critical to sustain local food economy
2017 Farm to Plate Annual Report shows successful implementation of Vermont’s food system plan has created need for more farm and food workers to meet food business expansion goals due to increased consumer demand
Montpelier, Vt. – Representatives of the Vermont Farm to Plate Network and staff at the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund presented the 2017 Farm to Plate Annual Report to the Vermont Legislature House and Senate Agriculture Committees today, identifying a critical need to improve Vermont’s workforce development system in order to continue to grow the local food economy.
Signed into law by the Vermont Legislature in 2009, the creation of Vermont’s Farm to Plate food system plan calls for increased economic development in Vermont’s farm and food sector, new jobs in the farm and food economy, and improved access to healthy local food for all Vermonters. Implementation of Vermont’s ten year food system plan began in 2011 by the Farm to Plate Network—over 350 nonprofits, businesses, and government officials all working together to reach the goals of the plan. The Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, a nonprofit organization committed to sustainable economic development, coordinates the Farm to Plate Network and is responsible for reporting the progress and challenges back to the Vermont Legislature in the Farm to Plate Annual Report.
Impacts of Success
Vermont has seen significant economic growth and development in Vermont’s food system since implementation of the Farm to Plate food system plan began in 2011:
· Economic Development: Vermonters spend an estimated $189 million (approx. 7%) on local food products annually (2014 data, next data release in 2018).
· New Jobs: Vermont’s farm and food economic sector employs more than 64,000 Vermonters and added 6,400 new jobs from 2009-2016.
· Food Access: The percentage of Vermont households that are food insecure has dropped from 13.6% in 2009 to 11.4% (29,754 households) in 2015 and charitable food organizations have significantly improved availability of local food for Vermonters.
Food and beverage manufacturing has been one of the few growing manufacturing sectors in Vermont with sales and wholesale distribution totaling $9.1 billion in 2012 (next data release in 2019). Continued growth is due, in part, to increased consumer demand—93% of 2017 Vermonter Poll respondents said it was important to choose products and services from Vermont companies and 80.6% said they are interested in buying more local food than they currently do.
However, many Vermont food businesses report a shortage of workers is inhibiting expansion plans and limiting their ability to fill existing jobs in the farm and food sector. The Farm to Plate Annual Report recognizes that statewide workforce development and training system redesign is critical in order for economic growth, new job creation, and local food availability to continue in Vermont’s local food economy.
Workforce Development Approach
“As the farm and food economy grows, more jobs are created which in turn creates workforce opportunities and challenges for both employers and employees. The Farm to Plate Network is collectively addressing the education, workforce, and training needs of Vermont’s farm and food businesses and organizations. Network members are providing training and skill building most needed by employers, improving local business’ ability to find labor, and positively changing the perception of food system careers, all aimed at helping to alleviate the shortage of workers,” says Jake Claro, Farm to Plate Director at the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund.
The Farm to Plate Network approach to addressing farm and food sector workforce challenges can serve as a model for responding to workforce development challenges in other Vermont economic sectors. By bringing together diverse stakeholders from across the farm and food economy, the Farm to Plate Network allows for constructive dialogue, networking, and professional development informed by multiple perspectives to create systematic change that no one organization can do alone.
Additional Farm to Plate Network Priorities
The Farm to Plate Annual Report also details progress and challenges in four other areas central to reaching the legislative goals of Vermont’s Farm to Plate food system plan.
· Improving Viability and Financial Profitability of Farms and Food Businesses
· Increasing Local Food Availability in All Market Channels while Balancing Farm Viability and Local Food Affordability
· Increasing Consumer Engagement and Demand for Local Food with the Rooted in Vermont Movement and Ensuring Vermont Product Sales and Labeling at Retail Stores
· Protecting and Expanding Affordable and Environmentally Sustainable Farmland in Agricultural Production