Stay Rooted in Vermont with Local Food

Stay Rooted in Vermont with Local Food

Written By

Helen Labun

Written on

August 16 , 2017

If you live in Vermont, chances are that at some time during the year you’ll be eating food that was either grown or processed (or both) in Vermont. Some people seek these foods out, but a lot of Vermonters simply happen across them, as they always have—Vermont roasted coffee at the gas station, a few extra zucchinis from anyone who has a garden. Maple syrup. Fishing trips. Hunting trips. Not to mention that 64 percent of all New England milk comes from Vermont cows.

Rooted in Vermont, which originated in the Farm to Plate Network at the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund (VSJF), would like everyone to remember that lots of people ate these Vermont foods before “local” became alive with marketing buzz.

“In talking to Vermonters around the state who do not identify themselves as ‘locavores’ or foodies…those people spoke loud and clear about feeling like hunting, and gardening, and foraging were some of the original ways Vermonters had access to local food, and that those things are not part of the current discussions about local food, and instead it’s a lot of expensive food, fancy food,” says Rachel Carter, communications director at the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund. “That’s created a sense of irritation among Vermonters…they want connections to the original local food, not the trendiness of recent years.”

Rooted in Vermont aims to spark a cultural shift so that all Vermonters feel included in the local foods movement. Toward that end, they spent the last year experimenting with social media, using #RootedInVermont to encourage everyone to share the ways they connect with local food. Examples on their Facebook page include photographs from UVM and the Vermont Historical Society, gardening tips, an article on the cost of local food, and information about Vermont foods such as garlic scapes, cheese, and strawberries. The Instagram account takes advantage of Vermont food’s photogenic qualities; it includes community meals, piglets, many shots of fish, garden harvests, and farmers’ markets.

Rachel emphasizes that “We’re not promoting events, not telling people to buy things, just building a relationship.”

Liz Ruffa, co-chair of the Consumer Education and Marketing Working Group of the Farm to Plate Network, explains, “What’s really powerful about Rooted in Vermont is that this is sort of both a PSA and a local food promotion campaign…it resonates with Vermont values of pride, equity, and tradition—values that Vermonters hold so dear—and this value proposition is getting woven into support of local food.”

The goal at the moment isn’t increasing farmers’ sales, per se, it’s helping everyone see themselves as part of the local foods movement through highlighting the ways they already are.

While it currently de-emphasizes any economic transactions, Rooted in Vermont is also playing the long game for local food purchasing. The idea is that when local foods become mainstream, showing up in quantity at supermarkets and similar outlets, there will be plenty of customers waiting to buy them. These customers still may not go out of their way to find local food, but they would look for that “Vermont” label on shelves where they normally shop. This outcome would highlight a major strength in the “network” element of the Farm to Plate Network: one committee focuses on building demand for local food among more consumer groups, while other committees work on building the supply to the places where those consumers shop. Combine the two projects and everyone wins.

The lineage of Rooted in Vermont traces the ways that Farm to Plate works as a network. It begins with a 2009 legislative mandate to the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund to develop a plan for promoting local foods. The resulting Farm to Plate Plan was published in 2011 with, from Chapter One, an “…ultimate purpose to encourage policies and strategic investments that accelerate the movement toward strong local and regional food systems.” The plan identifies 25 goals for supporting Vermont food and dozens of strategies, objectives, and measurements beneath those goals. Goals are focused around the year 2020, although not all the work is expected to be completed at that time. Rachel puts the cultural shift timeline for Rooted in Vermont at 5 to 10 years from its beginning last year.

The Farm to Plate Network is the individuals and organizations working to reach the plan’s goals. Formally, it includes five working groups, five teams working on cross cutting issues, and additional task forces formed within those working groups and teams. The Consumer Marketing and Education Working Group, where Rooted in Vermont originated, used Farm to Plate research that included surveys—followed by focus groups held around the state—to sketch out a Rooted in Vermont concept. This concept was refined further by a Task Force, followed by hiring content creators and managers, who tested Rooted in Vermont on social media before developing a more detailed plan for a statewide launch this summer.

Today, Rooted in Vermont is the first project from a Farm to Plate Working Group to receive full staffing at VSJF—they hired Shane Rogers, formerly of Green Mountain Farm to School, as project manager in July of this year.

Liz notes that Rooted in Vermont is a good pick for this level of investment because the group has demonstrated the full-time nature of work involved. Within Farm to Plate’s plan for progress toward 2020, “…access and affordability are the overarching goals, and Rooted in Vermont advances those outcomes,” she explains.

Communications director Carter anticipates this hire will allow for focusing more energy on community outreach across the state. Shane will work with community organizers who can help achieve the elusive word-of-mouth source of local food recommendation and endorsement. Rachel emphasizes that this work is a grassroots movement and that the full-time manager will help that grassroots component “lift off.”  “Rooted in Vermont is a way for all Vermonters to feel connected to the local food movement,” she summarizes. Ultimately, it provides tools for everyone who enjoys Vermont foods to share that experience with others and to identify themselves as “Rooted in Vermont’”

You can follow Rooted in Vermont on Facebook: facebook.com/RootedinVermont; Twitter: twitter.com/rootedinvermont; and Instagram: instagram.com/rootedinvermont/. Businesses, organizations, and Vermont communities can get involved too. Learn more at http://bit.ly/RootedinVermontMovement.

About the Author

Helen Labun

Helen Labun

Helen Labun spent many years contributing articles to Local Banquet, and she is now Local Banquet's publisher from her home in East Montpelier. Are you interested in writing about Vermont agriculture for LB? Email us localbanquet@gmail.com 

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