It’s no secret that farming can be an isolating and difficult vocation at certain times. A farmer’s typical daily duties might include keeping up with the weeds, caring for sick animals, moving chickens, fulfilling wholesale orders, rushing to the farmers’ market, and responding to e-mails and phone calls. My partner is a poultry farmer and processor, I work to support beginning farmers, and both of us feel like we cannot seem to keep up with the vast amounts of farming information we receive every day on topics as diverse as best management practices, marketing strategies, new loans available, etc. With the release of the 2012 USDA Census of Agriculture, organizations have been going crazy gleaning trends from the data and trying to understand what it means for farmers and for people whose work supports farmers, like mine. I recently discovered one resource that I’d particularly recommend if you are a data geek like me and you need a bit of a break from the day-to-day details of farm life. It is also important as a business owner, or aspiring business owner, to understand the trends happening in your work sector. Whether you are writing the marketing section of a business plan and need to outline the competition and marketplace that already exists, or you are thinking about your current businesses potential for growth in New England, this data can be helpful. Sometimes this information can be daunting to track down and summarize, but this particular resource, the Vermont Food System Atlas, does it all for you!
The Farm to Plate Network, an initiative of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, is developing a 10-year strategic plan to strengthen Vermont’s food system, with goals such as increasing profitability of farms, increasing consumption of Vermont-produced food, and increasing production and sales of local food for all markets. Their Vermont Food System Atlas is a website developed by the Farm to Plate Network to aggregate information relating to the food system in Vermont. The Atlas website outlines the strategic plan, lists job postings, news and announcements, events, as well as a lot of other information related to the food and farming sector in Vermont. Farm to Plate experts have taken the historical and updated 2012 census data and connected it with those goals. I am not going to explain all of their conclusions, but instead will list a few of my favorite facts and provide links to some of the charts and data that I find most interesting. When you get to a page, check out the arrows on each side of the charts to scroll through various graphs related to the goal.
- Direct sales of food in Vermont have increased from $9,713,042 in 1997 to $27,430,000 in 2012. This is a 98.6% increase. Although direct sales of food are not necessarily local, according to Farm to Plate, direct sale statistics provide helpful proxy indicators of consumption of local food products. http://www.vtfoodatlas.com/getting-to-2020/1-total-local-consumption
- To put it in context, direct sales are still only a small % of total food sales. They account for 3.5% http://www.vtfoodatlas.com/getting-to-2020/1-total-local-consumption
- According to 2012 data, about 15% of all Vermont farmland is protected by an easement.
- In 2013, 3,710 acres of farmland were conserved, down from 2012’s 4,460 acres that were conserved. http://www.vtfoodatlas.com/getting-to-2020/5-land-in-agriculture
- New England accounts for .72% or $2.8 billion of all agricultural products sold in this country. http://www.vtfoodatlas.com/getting-to-2020/7-food-production
- The total value of all agricultural sales in Vermont were $776 million, up from $746 million in 2007. http://www.vtfoodatlas.com/getting-to-2020/7-food-production
- Maine and Vermont were the only states to see increases in agricultural sales.
- Milk from cows accounts for about 65% of the total agricultural sales in Vermont, leaving about $267 million for all other sectors.
- The number of farms in Vermont has increased 5% since 2007 and 26% since 1997.
- The number of dairy farms in Vermont has decreased about 49% since 1997.
- In 1997 there were 159 vegetable farms, 351 in 2012, and 252 in 2007.
- In Vermont, 15.1% of farms accounted for 90.5% of agricultural sales.
- There are 1,760 farms in Vermont that make less than $1000 in sales.
- Farms making between $1,000 and $2,499 in sales account for less than 1% of total sales but 11.4% of farms.
Try to think about what this means for your farm and for the Vermont food system as a whole? If 15.1% of farms make 90.5% of agricultural sales what does that say? If 11.4% of farms split less then 1% of sales, what does that mean for those farmers?
If you want to scroll through all the goals and the associated data, visit www.vtfoodatlas.com and hit “Get Connected: Click Here” in the upper right hand corner, and then choose “Food System Data” on the left hand side of the screen. This will bring you to an overall summary of the findings; if you click one of the live links for the goals, you will get connected to specific charts related to that goal.