We have long noted the impressive standing of Vermont as a green state with its strong commitment to protecting the environment demonstrated by the extraordinary number of community supported agriculture farms committed to organic and conservation agriculture while also building community. Our directory of CSAs in Vermont lists a remarkable 56 farms in a state second-smallest by population. A couple years ago, the memorable exhibit at the Vermont Historical Society, Freaks, Radicals and Hippies: counterculture in 1970s Vermont, was a reminder that the American local and organic food movement had its beginnings, in some good measure, in the back-to-the-land movement centered in 1970s Vermont.
The results of the eighth annual Locavore Index recently announced by the non-profit, local food advocacy organization, Strolling of the Heifers confirms once again that Vermont’s reputation as the greenest state in the U.S. remains intact. The organization’s Locavore Index ranks the 50 states in terms of their commitment to local food. Vermont again tops the list, as it has since the first Locavore Index was compiled in 2012.
The rankings for 2019 are not the result of any bias of Strolling of the Heifers, based just north of Brattleboro in East Dummerston (Wyndham County) in Vermont. According to Orly Munzing, executive director of the organization, Strolling of the Heifers is all about the idea that growing and consuming local food is better for everyone. The Locavore Index is how we track and encourage more efforts in every state to spread the benefits of healthy local foods and strong local food systems.
Mr. Munzing notes that when the Locavore Index was first launched, there was very little data available indicating how much local food was consumed in each state, and the rankings depended upon indirect measures including the number of farmers markets and CSAs on a per capita basis. But for this year’s rankings, data reflecting direct measures was obtainable.
Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) published the results of the 2017 Census of Agriculture which gathers information on the output and business practices of all of the nation’s farms. And the 2017 Census included two questions about local food: (1) The value of food sold by farmers directly to consumers (at farmers markets, farm stands, CSAs and direct online sales), and (2) The value of agricultural products sold by farmers directly to local retailers, institutions, and food hubs. Mr. Munzing is confident that this year’s results are extremely accurate in measuring the commitment of states to healthy local food.
The top ten (in order) for 2019 were Vermont, California, Hawaii, Washington, Maine, Oregon, Idaho, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Arizona.
A map of the United States uses dark green to designate the top ten and brown to designate the bottom ten with the weaker commitment to healthy local food. Might some states at the bottom of the rankings seek to turn their color on the map from brown to green or at least to a shade of tan? The bottom ten (starting with the lowest ranked state) are Alabama, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nevada, West Virginia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Nebraska, Texas, and Tennessee.
With the incorporation of the new USDA data, there have been some major shifts in the ranks. California, which ranked 27th in 2018 is now No. 2; Hawaii, which was 8th, is now 3rd; and Washington jumped from No. 11 to No. 4. On the other hand, several states slid to lower spots: New Hampshire moved from 5 to 16; Massachusetts from 6 to 22; Rhode Island from 10 to 33; Connecticut from 17 to 27; and Montana from 3rd to 28th.
Vermont, still No. 1, had total local food sales per capita of $166.22 compared to California’s $129.88 and Hawaii’s $107.29. Vermont’s Secretary of Agriculture, Food and Markets, Anson Tebbets took pride in noting that by buying and supporting local agriculture, Vermonters have made our rural communities stronger.
Strolling of the Heifers is also well known for a weekend of events built around an agriculturally-themed parade, featuring well-groomed heifer calves led by future farmers (that took place in Brattleboro this past weekend). Need a pick-me-up? Check out the You Tube video created by Caleb Clark of the 2015 Strolling of the Heifers parade.
(Frank W. Barrie, 6/12/19)