Complain all you want about the government, but it has historically stepped up to the plate, if slowly, to take action on the issues of the day. In most cases, two conditions precede such action: A cultural and political shift at the grassroots level, combined with undeniable problems that cry out for coordinated solutions.

Looking for examples? The popularity of walking and biking combined with the problems related to congestion and sprawl gave rise to municipal and state “smart growth” initiatives that have reshaped many cities. Environmentalism spawned widespread concern over climate change, energy costs, and dependence, which spurred municipal “sustainability” masterplans all around the nation.

And now Vermont is leading the way in what is inarguably one of today’s most vital issues: Our food supply. On the grassroots side stands a groundswell of interest in local and organic food—a broad coalition that everyone from suburban moms to downtown celebrity chefs to rural farmers. And the undeniable problem? The mounting costs—environmental, health, and economic—of an industrial food system that relies on massive petroleum-based inputs.

Seven years ago, the Vermont legislature stepped up to the plate—literally—when it enacted an innovative Farm to Plate plan. It’s an ambitious 10-year project, coordinated across a wide variety of organizations, to improve the quality and infrastructure of the state’s local food systems.

IMG_2246Photo courtesy of Vermont Farm to Plate

At the heart of Farm to Plate are a set of 25 ambitious goals covering a wide range of food-related issues. These include items like increasing access to local foods, improving the food distribution network within the state, increasing the number of farms—and their profitability, and improving access to capital for food entrepreneurs.

And the state’s methods are as unique as its goals. To enact the legislation, the state created a broad coalition of farms, food producers, educational institutions, non-profit organizations, financial institutions, and government entities: the Farm to Plate Network. This broad coalition is divided into five working groups with seven additional “cross-cutting teams” that handle issues—for instance, energy or financing—that impact each of the working groups.

The results of this multi-pronged approach, not surprisingly, have put Vermont at the forefront of the local food movement. Since implementation of the state’s food system plan began in 2011, the economic output of Vermont’s food system has grown at a rate of 24 percent (faster than manufacturing), thanks in part to a renewed focus on connecting institutional food buyers to local and regional growers. Along with that growth has come an increase in food entrepreneurs and food-related jobs.

And at the table itself? More healthy local foods on the plate. “The challenge lies in how local food becomes mainstream,” the network’s communications director Rachel Carter recently told the Burlington Free Press. “Vermont food should be available and accessible for all Vermonters. Eating local food should be the norm, not a privilege.”

Organic Valley is committed to building a just and sustainable local food system and is proud to support the Vermont Farm to Plate Network in its efforts.