As a renowned culinary destination and a national leader in sustainable agriculture and local food systems development, Vermont is using this experience to define food systems education. The Vermont brand is a trusted source for dairy, grain, vegetable, fruit, meat, and forest products throughout the country. Per capita, Vermont has more local and organic farms, Community Supported Enterprises (CSAs) and farmers markets than any other state in the country. The state is also the per capita national leader in direct sales to consumers. (Vermont Working Landscape Partnership).
Vermont also ranks #1 among the top five states for new farmers to get their start, thanks to competitive land prices, opportunities for farmers to connect with consumers, availability of grants to make capital improvements and build community connections, and number of apprentice programs for young farmers. (National Young Farmers Coalition). Recent reports indicate that Vermont could produce about 20% of its energy needs from farm and forest resources. Schools throughout Vermont are expanding food education, farm visits and local foods in schools. Food-based vocational technology programs at the high school and state college level are seeing increased enrollment. A creative new generation of networked farm and forest entrepreneurs are growing Vermont-scaled companies that provide biofuels, beer and spirits, artisan and cave-aged cheese, specialty wood products, and organic seeds, produce, grains and other value-added products.
The purpose of the Vermont Higher Education Food Systems Consortium (VHEFSC) is to capitalize on Vermont’s assets and increase educational opportunities for students who want to learn from and participate in the food systems movement. Thanks to an ever-expanding global marketplace, there is growing interest in the cultural, economic, sociological, nutritional, political and ecological impact of our food and food systems. Students from all walks of life are interested in nutritious food, environmental stewardship, food justice, animal welfare, diversified agriculture, and new specialty food enterprises. They are hungry for the skills to solve problems, make an impact, and create change. Vermont higher education is not only a key economic driver of the state, but is also uniquely situated to foster and inspire the next generation of students interested in stewarding the working landscape while enhancing food systems enterprise development.
VHEFSC member institutions are collaborating in order to offer students from around the U.S. a premier food system experience – one that is grounded in entrepreneurship, community initiatives, and committed faculty and researchers, all geared to protect and enhance the state’s working land assets. Our collective goal is to broaden awareness of our cross-institutional offerings of courses, services, and learning experiences to potential students throughout Vermont, the U.S. and the world so we may attract more students who will support the state’s working landscape, help seed the next stage of entrepreneurial activity, and create an innovative sustainable food systems model that may be replicated in other communities and other regions. VHEFSC institutions offer courses, undergraduate and graduate degrees, experiential and service learning opportunities, and internships in Agriculture, Food Systems and other topics related to the vitality of Vermont’s food culture, working landscape, and entrepreneurial economy. Vermont’s colleges currently have 29 existing articulation agreements and partnerships in place around agriculture and food systems education, and are working to capitalize on existing synergies and collaborations to educate the new leaders in re-envisioning the future of the nation’s food systems. Together, we are creating a collective food systems “campus” that provides students pathways to each institution’s offerings, and is a catalyst for a national food systems education movement.
To support the effort, please contact the Vermont Council on Rural Development.