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June 26th, 2017

Guest Opinion: Low Cost Local Food – Pile Your Plate with Vermont Food on a Budget

By Rachel Carter
Communications Director, Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund

Vermonters enjoy local food and beverages in a variety of waysŃgrowing or foraging their own, purchasing directly from a farmer or at the store, hunting or fishing, eating at schools and institutions serving local food, finding food from a community food shelf or the Vermont Foodbank, or just by trading with friends and neighbors.

Agriculture in Vermont is steeped in tradition, which helps define our communities and pride in our state. The local food movement of recent years has created opportunities for new products and food businesses to be developed and expandŃcreating more jobs for Vermonters and keeping money here in the state to help the entire Vermont community.

Local food in Vermont is considered to be anything produced or processed in the state, plus 30 miles from the border, followed by a regional food system covering the Northeast and Quebec. The types and costs of local food will vary as some products are marketed to urban areas like Boston and New York City to help farmers and producers pay for the cost to produce the food, and so that other products can be made more affordable for folks back home.

Local food is considered by many Vermonters to be tastier, healthier, and made by our neighbors and fellow Vermonters we trust. Still, budgets and time are often tight. Here are some ways to get your share of local food without breaking the bank.

How to Find Local Food on a Budget
Buy Farm Direct: Vermont is home to about 7,300 farms with many located in every county in the state. Buying directly from a farm is an easy way to find local food that’s in season, fresh, and often less expensive than what you’ll find in the grocery store.

·Farm stands sell everything from beef and pork to carrots and eggs, and are generally open between May and October (although some are open year-round). Pick your own begins with berries in June and runs through October with apples. Locally grown directories distributed in different regions across the state are helpful guides to find farms and farm stands in your area.

·Another buy direct option are farmers’ markets, which are typically once a week and offer local food from farmers and producers. More than 40 farmers’ markets in Vermont now accept EBT cards, which carry 3SquaresVT benefits.

·Many Vermont farms also offer CSA’s (community supported agriculture), where farm shares can be purchased in advance of the growing season for weekly picks-ups of local food all season long. Some farms offer winter or year-round CSAs as well.

·Find CSA’s or farmers’ markets at www.nofavt.org.

Bulk Up: Save significantly in the bulk container section at Costco, Hannaford, or your local food co-op, where you can load up on locally grown or processed flour, cornmeal, maple syrup, coffee, hot cereal mixes, granola, and more at volume-discount prices.

Grow Your Own: Seeds can be found at garden centers and hardware stores around the state, including High Mowing Organic SeedsŃa Vermont company that cultivates their own seeds in northern Vermont. In May, veggie and herb starts are sold everywhere from garden centers and hardware stores to farmers’ markets and tag sales with many bargains to be found.

Raise Your Own and Trade: Maybe you grow tomatoes, have a few chickens, or raise your own pigs while your neighbor is a beekeeper on a small farm with a few goats and cattle. Trading your produce, eggs, and pork for goat’s milk, honey and beef is an easy way to save money and share food. Maple syrup is also a favorite to trade and is in season now!

Foodbanks and Food Shelves: The Vermont Foodbank, as well as food shelves, meal sites, senior centers, shelters, and youth programs offer a place where anyone can access food assistance in an environment that is open, diverse and welcoming. Find a foodbank or food shelf at www.vtfoodbank.org.

Hunting and Fishing: Vermont offers a variety of hunting seasons throughout the year for deer, turkey, bear, moose, small game, and waterfowl. Vermont is also home to world-class fishing, offering opportunities to catch trout, pike, Atlantic salmon, perch, and more. You can buy a hunting or fishing license online on the Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife website (www.vtfishandwildlife.com) or at the department’s Montpelier office in the Dewey Building located on National Life Drive. Fishing licenses are also sold at general stores and town clerk’s offices across the state.

Grow from Food Scraps: Instead of throwing out your semi-used vegetables, consider planting them. Even though not every scrap will grow into a whole new vegetable, many will thrive. To start, save and plant the tops of vegetables like beets, carrots, and parsnips with at least a quarter of an inch of the vegetable intact for best results. Just add water, and you’ll enjoy fresh veggies for free.

Coupons: Several coupon programs help connect Vermonters with healthy, local food.

As the local food movement grows and consumers demand more local food, it will send a signal to the marketplace for more local food to be produced, which ultimately helps bring costs down. If more Vermonters spend a little more money on local food, it helps drive the local economy, which keeps more money and jobs here in Vermont.

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