Checking In On: Vermont Young Farmers Coalition
By: Kate Spring
In early 2017, Kate Spring profiled the Vermont Young Farmers Coalition in the Local Banquet article “Growing Community and Policy in Vermont” . Here, she checks back in to see how the group has evolved in the two years since.
Over the past two years, the Vermont Young Farmers Coalition has been busy doing policy work, networking with farm-based advocacy organizations, bringing candidates and legislators to farms, meeting with the governor and Senator Leahy’s office, hosting events for farmers and on top of all that...farming.
Made up of farmers, VYFC is a chapter of the National Young Farmers Coalition, a grassroots advocacy organization with a mission to ensure young farmers succeed. While VYFC supported the national NYFC Farm Bill Agenda, which led to wins for young farmers in the 2018 Farm Bill, their primary work is in Vermont. They have about 300 people on their listserv, and their events draw between 25 and 100 participants, averaging about 50.
As the chapter grows, they’ve mimicked the polyculture nature of their fields to focus on networking with other agriculture-related organizations, including Rural Vermont, Vermont Youth Conservation Corps, Farm to Plate, The Intervale Center, NOFA-VT, Vermont Organic Farmers,, and the Vermont FoodBank.
With the number of groups already working on behalf of Vermont farmers, Taylor Mendell, co-owner of Footprint Farm and member of the ten-person VYFC leadership team, says “we think our biggest role is to be advocates when something comes up on our list of important things, but more importantly, act as that networking group.”
Community building and health care top the list of important things.
“NYFC [the national organization] is really focused on land access, capital access, and food sovereignty issues and diversity, and we think there's so much support already for those things [in Vermont],” Taylor says. From their outreach and advocacy work, VYFC has found that the most critical issue for farmers in Vermont are health care and stress reduction.
“Health care — or something that supports people who are already farming but who are hitting this point of ‘Oh my God, I've been living on nothing for so long, and now what do I do to support a kid, or I actually need health insurance, or I have an accident, and I can't pay for it’ — those kinds of people are the ones we want to be there for,” Taylor says.
Towards stress reduction goals VYFC is doing trial workshops on anxiety, depression, and work-life balance. Their first took place this February. It was co-hosted by ACORN in Addison County, and taught by Taylor and farmer Bay Hammond.
“Bay [brought the] ‘I've been farming for 20 years and raised a family’ perspective, and then I gave more from a scientific standpoint like: here's your brain on stress, and farming hits all the trigger points,” Taylor says.
VYFC sees that the most important work they do right now is organizing more small groups, and helping farmers build community within their neighborhoods so they have people to lean on in the busy season.
As we head into another busy summer, Taylor says, “we're trying to facilitate people spending time with each other,” in the hopes of creating strong networks that support farmers all year long, and decrease isolation and stress, which has been a central focus of their work.
In the midst of community building, VYFC is taking 2019 as an information-gathering year, looking at what specific areas they want to work on for the next legislative session. Whether it’s health care, capital and land access, or anything else, community and networking with the array of VT advocacy groups is sure to be at the heart of it.
Kate Spring is co-owner of Good Heart Farmstead in Worcester, a CSA farm with a mission to make local food more accessible. She finds time to write in between pulling weeds and sowing seeds. Follow the farm on Instagram: @goodheartfarmstead. http://thegoodheartlife.com