That Vermont grit

-A A +A

That Vermont grit

Sun, 03/14/2021 - 5:07pm -- tim

You are All Amazing

Vermont Agency of Agriculture As we hit the one-year mark of COVID-19's devastating shock to our community and nation, we'd like to express our awe at the resilience, hope, and inspiration that we have witnessed across Vermont's farming and food community. In those early months, when we all felt paralyzed in disbelief - like our world was crumbling, we saw businesses and individuals conjure the strength, motivation and courage to step outside of the familiar, take risks, form alliances and build new iterations of that true Vermonter grit. 

So this week, it feels only right to share a project we have undertaken with University of Vermont and UVM Extension to capture those farm and food business stories. The COVID-19 Impacts on Vermont Farms and Food Businesses: Pivots, Needs and Opportunities report details the experiences of 223 farm and food businesses during the first six months of the pandemic. The report identifies multiple challenges faced by the businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, and demonstrates that the majority faced economic and market impacts. 

Perhaps more importantly, the report highlights opportunities to transition Vermont’s farm and food businesses in a post-COVID-19 context, and outlines strategies to make this possible. Key findings and recommendations are included at the beginning for ease of reading. We hope that this report can provide important information for Vermont farm and food businesses as you look toward the future. Thank you all for your inspiring resilience.

COVID-19 Impacts on Vermont Farms and Food Businesses: Pivots, Needs and Opportunities for the Future
Meredith T. Niles1, Farryl Bertmann1, Emily H. Belarmino1, Mark Cannella2, David Conner3

Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences & Food Systems Program, University of Vermont
UVM Extension
Department of Community Development and Applied Economics & Food Systems Program, University of Vermont

Overview

This report highlights results from a survey of Vermont farm and food businesses conducted during August and September 2020, with a total of 223 respondents. The survey was distributed via a number of non-profit, business, and state agencies in Vermont. Respondents included farms, food and farm product retail, agritourism operators, on-farm food processors, food and beverage manufacturers, nurseries/greenhouses/garden centers, and food hubs/aggregators.

Key Findings

  • The majority of respondents experienced a COVID-19 business impact, especially market (58%) and financial impacts (54%).

  • The most common market impacts included a change in demand, change in market channels or closure of markets, and the majority of all business types and gross sales categories experienced market impacts.

  • The primary financial impacts were a loss of sales, and the majority of all business types and gross sales categories experienced financial impacts.

  • There was a significant shift from businesses identifying as financially “vulnerable” before COVID-19 (4.6%) to after COVID-19 (21.2%).

  • Among the minority of businesses that reported an increase in sales, this was most common on farms, especially those that produced animal products. Sales gains were most common in either small or large businesses (18% of businesses grossing less than $10K and 24% of businesses grossing over $250K).

  • More than 1 in 4 respondent businesses faced a health impact from COVID-19, and more than 1 in 5 faced a human resource impact.

  • 2/3 of respondents made either a significant (23%) or moderate (44%) business change as a result of COVID-19, the most common being market, safety and distribution changes.

  • The majority of respondents implementing new product, market or distribution changes intended to continue these changes for the next 1-2 years.

  • While 96% of respondents agreed it was necessary to change their business as a response to COVID-19, more than 40% of respondents did not see opportunity for changes in the future, were not excited about the changes, and did not believe their business had the appropriate labor, finance or equipment to implement changes.

  • Smaller grossing businesses and those classified as “financially vulnerable” were more likely to believe they didn’t have the appropriate equipment, infrastructure, technical assistance, finance, labor and skill sets to implement changes.

21 Day Racial Equity Challenge

Commit to deepening your understanding of, and willingness to confront, racism for twenty-one consecutive days, April 5 - 25. The Challenge is a self-guided learning journey for individuals and groups for examining the history and impacts of racism and inequities and how they are connected to our food system. The Challenge includes daily prompts, resources and inspirational examples of dismantling racism and inequities in ourselves, our communities and our culture. 

Challenge Launch Webinar: March 18

Dairy Agritourism Grant

Dairy farmers, processors and producer associations with interest in integrating agrotourism activities into their businesses are encouraged to partner together to apply for the Multi-Business Dairy Agritourism Grant.  This grant, offered through the Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center, will provide funds for the development and marketing of agritourism activities designed to raise awareness and consumption of dairy products produced in Vermont and the greater Northeast. Grant awards range from $10,000 - $25,000. 

Deadline to Apply: April 1 @ 4pm ET

Be Well Farming Workshops

The Be Well Farming project is offering two winter workshops for farmers or earth workers of all roles and backgrounds across the Northeast U.S. The first session focuses on exploring fairness and equity on the farm. The second covers improving communication among all of the people (owners, managers, employees, interns, etc.) in the farm ecosystem. The workshops are free to attend but participants must register in advance.

Event Dates: March 22 & March 29

Grain Growers Conference

The Northern Grain Growers Association and the University of Vermont Extension Northwest Crops and Soils Program are bringing the Grain Growers Conference to you! Three virtual programs are being offered, over the course of three weeks, with a series of videos, presentations, and even hands-on activities, each highlighting a specific grain crop in the Northeast. Sign up for a single program or all three! Cost to attend ranges from $25 - $75. 

Event Dates: March 23 - April 9

Source: Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets https://agriculture.vermont.gov