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Vermont Panel Explores How Sustainable Food Systems Help Address Climate Change

Barn silos
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Barn silos

Vermont Lieutenant Governor Molly Gray has been holding a series of themed roundtables to bring attention to what she says are critical issues for the state.  Her latest “Seat at the Table” featured a panel discussion on climate change and sustainable food systems.

In the Earth Week edition of the Seat at the Table series panelists explored how food systems affect carbon emissions and climate. Lieutenant Governor Molly Gray, a Democrat, began the session noting that the pandemic has spotlighted a need for local and resilient food systems.  

"According to the Vermont Food Bank and the Feeding America report the number of food insecure people in Vermont increased by 46%. We also have the increasing signs of climate change," Gray said. "March was the second driest month over the last 21 years. And we also know from the last year that we’ve seen more and more people moving to Vermont and buying land meaning that our farms and forests are being broken up and sold for development. So there are a lot of different issues that are intersecting: climate, access to land, just and sustainable food systems and food security in Vermont that are all coming to a head in this moment.”

Rural Vermont was founded 35 years ago as a grassroots group to help dairy farmers. It now addresses more global issues affecting agriculture. Policy Director and small farmer Graham Unangst-Rufenacht says you cannot address climate change without supporting regionally based food systems. 

“There are just so many impacts from climate change and global warming," Unangst-Rufenacht said. "But there’s also so many interrelated aspects of it from biodiversity law to global warming to greenhouse gas emissions to inequity, water access and pollution, land grabbing and land access, health care, child care, drought, food security as we heard mentioned earlier.  If we focus solely on carbon then we really will not be able to create holistic change and we will probably create a lot of unintended consequences on the other end as well.”

Footprint Farm owners Taylor and Jake Mendell have been active in the National Young Farmers Coalition and grow crops on about three acres of land. They say the pandemic created a huge demand for locally produced food. Jake Mendell says conservation and plant rotation measures have been crucial to  improve their soil and crop production. 

“The better our soil is and the more we can build that up we have that carbon sequestration piece but it also makes us just a little more  flexible with environmental instability," Jake Mendell said. "And it’s been very interesting to see how that has helped with resiliency on our farm.”

“And another key piece about our environmental experience is that we grow year round," Taylor Mendell added. "It’s becoming easier to grow year round. It’s still not easy because it’s completely unpredictable. Especially once COVID hit it was really important for us to have the infrastructure in place to have fresh food available. We saw a huge increase in the want and need for local food.”

The Lieutenant Governor’s next Seat at the Table panel on economic development in Vermont communities using tax increment financing is scheduled for Monday.

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