February 13, 2016

Coalition Funds Young Farmers, Woodsmen, Requests More State Aid

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Montpelier, Feb. 12—Rural development advocate Paul Costello presented to the House Committee on Natural Resources and Energy this morning on behalf of the Vermont Council on Rural Development. Costello spoke about a promising new agricultural program called the Working Lands Coalition (WLC), which has created 4,500 new jobs in the state since 2011, according to Costello’s presentation.

The WLC is focused on “systematically encouraging significant additional public investment” for farming, logging, and other industries based in Vermont’s natural landscape, according to their website. Over the past few years, Costello said, the program has supported land-based startups and small farmers in each of Vermont’s fourteen counties.

A main goal of the coalition is encouraging young farmers and new businesses in rural Vermont communities. Costello cited several examples of entrepreneurs in their 20s, such as Calley Hastings of Brookfield’s Fat Toad Farm, who have been able to grow their operations and hire new employees through WLC grants. This money encourages young people to stay in rural Vermont, get married, and start families, providing for the future of these communities, Costello said.

Governor Shumlin’s proposed budget for the program is $700,000. Costello recommended increasing that to $1 million. Additional funding from the state would provide the resources and support that these enterprises need “to go to the next level”, said Costello. He told the committee that Vermont’s working landscape is our number one asset as a state.

The committee, particularly vice-chair Kesha Ram, voiced concerns about where this extra money would come from. Costello said he recognized “the tensions around funding” and state budgeting, but stressed the importance of the program for renewing Vermont’s economy, which has struggled to bounce back from the 2008 recession. He described WLC as a “home run” for Vermont’s economy because it gives the state the opportunity to model rural renewal for the rest of the country.

Due to time constraints, Costello was unable to finish his presentation. He will present to the committee again next week.

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