The rolling fields, red barns and black and white Holsteins that characterize Vermont’s dairy farms are perhaps the most visible and well-known symbols of the state’s agricultural economy. Faced with rising energy costs, unstable prices and increased competition, farmers and communities are seeking ways to preserve our rural identity and maintain farming as a viable industry.
Farms are an integral part of a landscape that defines our Vermont’s unique character. In 2022 approximately 6,800 farms covered 1,200,000 acres of the state’s land area. In 2017, 21,000 people were employed on Vermont farms. Our rural landscape is more than a postcard image. It lures tourists and the dollars they generate; provides food for our residents; maintains the state’s history and attracts people to live in Vermont.
But there are challenges. For example, between 1982 and 2005, Vermont has seen a 20 percent reduction in farmland. Because farming is an important part of the fabric of Vermont, state agencies, communities, non-profit, business, farmers, and individual are seeking ways to preserve farmland, encourage and educate new farmers, create added-value products, increase profits and ensure that farming continues for decades to come.
In 1987, the state created a unique entity, the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB), which connected affordable housing and community development with land conservation and historic preservation. VHCB has worked with state-wide and local land trusts and by 2022 has conserved 275,700 acres of forest and recreation lands and natural areas, 170,918 of agricultural lands, 789 farms, 81 historic buildings, 1500 homes. Others are focusing on supporting the economic viability of the state’s farmers. Thus, some farms are shifting their focus to specialty foods like artisan cheese; others are going organic while still others are creating value-added products like salsa. The state Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets has been successful in promoting Vermont products both nationally as well as locally.
Communities are also planning for the future of farming, and crafting local policies and regulations that limit the conversion of farmland to other uses, provide incentives to farmers to conserve their land, and protect finite agricultural soils. These communities recognize that farmland provides many community benefits, including:
- a diversified economy created by selling value-added products that expand income potential and create additional employment opportunities.
- a source of fresh food for local residents.
- beautiful views, as well as educational and recreational opportunities. Many farms preserve and promote traditional rural activities such as hunting, fishing and hiking.
- less water and air pollution per acre compared to urban or suburban development.
Municipal land use plans, policies, regulations and zoning play a key role in ensuring that our farms are more than pretty pictures. There are many tools that a community can utilize, including the following:
Related Case Studies
- Conditional Use Review – Fairfield
- Meadowland Overlay District – Warren
- Transfer of Development Rights – Stowe
University of Vermont’s Center for Rural Studies: provides a wealth of data and statistics for agriculture in Vermont
UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture
Sustaining Agriculture: Agricultural Land Ue Planning Modules