Food and farm economic plan shows progress in Vermont

MONTPELIER, Vt. — More than a year and half after Vermont launched a plan to boost the state’s food and farm economy, organizers are celebrating its progress.

The achievements include a mobile farmers’ market that reaches low-income housing sites in northern Vermont and an increase in the number of colleges offering local foods in their dining halls.

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‘‘Local food is exploding in this state, and it’s because of consumer demand and consumer interest. It’s also really being led by entrepreneurs who see an opportunity and are finding new ways of accessing markets,’’ said Ellen Kahler, executive director of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, which developed the Farm to Plate report released in January 2011.

More than 180 food system leaders from around Vermont met in Fairlee for a two-day conference Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss progress since a Farm to Plate network of organizations and working groups was formed a year ago.

It’s estimated that Vermonters consume about 5 percent local food on average. The group’s goal is to boost that to 10 percent by 2021.

This spring, Black River Produce, a Springfield company that sells produce, seafood, artisan cheese, meats, and dairy to restaurants, institutions, and retail stores in northern New England, bought a vacant factory to expand its meat processing. The expansion is expected to make more locally raised meat available, such as ground meats and sausages, and create six jobs soon and 20 by the end of the year.

To get fresh local foods to rural areas that don’t have ready access to them, the Green Mountain Farm-to-School Program started a mobile farmers’ market — a van with refrigeration and a commercial kitchen — that delivers food from more than a dozen local farms weekly to low-income housing sites and community centers in four so-called food deserts in rural northern Vermont.

The food service company Sodexo, which operates the University of Vermont dining halls and other college cafeterias in Vermont, is working with farmers to get more local products into its dining halls. The company signed contracts with Vermont State Colleges this year.

To promote tourism that focuses on experiencing culture through food, the state came out with a new interactive website. helps link tourists and foodies to nearly 400 food experiences around the state and provides information about the farmers, producers and chefs who make them.

About 1,500 jobs would be created over the next decade if residents double their consumption of locally produced food, the report estimated. Between 2010 and 2011, about 497 jobs were added, said the group, which is expected to release new figures in January.