Working Landscape Background
The overwhelming majority of Vermonters believe the working landscape is a key to our future. Yet its survival is in grave doubt. Our state faces a continuing crisis that, if not reversed, could end the working landscape in Vermont within a generation.
“When most people talk about the “Working Landscape” they are referring to the land actively used in productive agriculture and forestry. Yet, to many Vermonters the working landscape also means additional public values it provides, including aesthetics, contributions to the tourism economy, and its central role in building a common sense of place and the Vermont quality of life. These values are all hard to quantify, but vital to the personal identity of Vermonters.”
--From Imagining Vermont; Values and Vision for the Future, the final report of the Council on the Future of Vermont
The Emerging Land Use Crisis
Dairies, sugaring operations, orchards, wood mills and forest product manufacturers have been essential to forming the state’s character, communities and culture. However mounting evidence, alarming trends, and a lack of cohesive policy threaten the economic viability of the state’s working landscape. The loss of family dairy farms is paralleled by the closing of mills and forest-based enterprises. Smaller land parcels have significant impact on land use and commercial sprawl not only transforms the look and feel of Vermont it also erodes our downtown economies. The decline of working lands has been gradual but cumulative and threatens to undermine Vermont’s distinctiveness, its core brand for tourism and attracting business, and many of the key values that unify the state.
We face a fundamental contradiction: while Vermonters desire a strong working landscape for all its scenic, cultural, economic, environmental and recreational attributes, we have not defined it effectively or built action and investment to match its importance. We need to ensure that Vermont remains the milk-bowl and breadbasket of New England, the source of high value forest products, and a model for the nation in entrepreneurial best practices on the land.
Assets and Opportunities
Despite the challenges, there are tremendous opportunities to reverse the trends. Vermont has good soils and is within easy reach of the Boston and New York markets. There is an increased focus today on food and energy security, and on locally-sourced, sustainably-produced farm and forest products. Vermonters and visitors are strong supporters of the working landscape. We have extensive non-profit and business support networks. Farmers, foresters, and landowners provide leadership and investment by their hard work and intelligent stewardship.
Vermont’s other assets for rebuilding a strong and sustainable agricultural and natural resource economy include:
- Some of the nation’s most innovative school-based food, agriculture and healthy eating programs.
- A strong infrastructure for conserving farmland and a major opportunity for encouraging young entrepreneurs who want to start and operate farms or start value-added agricultural enterprises.
- Vibrant farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) farms.
Goals for Vermont’s Working Landscape Policy
- Expand the number of farms, the acres in crops and pasturage, and the number of people directly employed in sustainable farm and forest-based enterprises.
- Systematically use the natural resource economy and resulting working landscape as the foundation of Vermont’s Brand identity and the cornerstone of its marketing message to attract and develop green business.
- Support food, fiber, energy and economic security while protecting and stewarding natural assets so that they can reliably support Vermonters’ future health, prosperity and quality of life.
- Increase access to local and affordable foods and expand value-added agricultural and forest product exports.
Key Steps to Support Vermont’s Working Landscape
- Build a major campaign to celebrate the distinctiveness of our working landscape
- Target strategic investment through a Vermont Agriculture and Forest Products Development Corporation
- Designate and support “working lands”
- Develop tax revenue to support working landscape enterprise development and conservation
- Activate the development cabinet and build a state planning office