PLAINFIELD, Vt. — Gov. Phil Scott held his regular media briefing this week at Shat Acres Highland Cattle, where he discussed challenges in the agriculture sector and declared August “Agritourism” Month in Vermont.
“We know farmers are important to Vermont — they form our culture, our brands, and are a critical part of our economy, especially in the rural parts of the state. That’s why it’s so important to find ways to continue supporting the sector, and why last year I created the Future of Vermont Agriculture Commission. Each year, my budget includes millions to support agriculture here in Vermont,” Scott said.
Agritourism is a term for farmers who offer housing rentals for visitors who would like to come stay at the farm, get tours, learn about farming life, and keep overnight stays in rural Vermont.
“This has opened up a new revenue stream for those who make a living off the land, and our Agency of Agriculture has been working closely with the Department of Tourism and with our farms to get the message out,” Scott said.
Sen. Robert Starr, D-Essex-Orleans, chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and also a farmer, shared what lawmakers are doing to promote agritourism. He told a story about a farm that invested in four “tiny houses” to use for overnight stays but ran into zoning troubles.
“What a mess they got into to try to get permits from the state, because the land is a conserved land, and we have a 2-acre rule that goes with housing. And we did get a bill passed to allow for these tiny houses for agritourism,” Starr said.
Anson Tebbetts, Vermont’s secretary of Agriculture, spoke on how agritourism can supplement the overall tourism industry. He commented on how there is a new home under construction currently at the farm to support this new initiative.
“This allows visitors to stay overnight, which grows their business. But it also allows visitors to explore other parts of Vermont,” he said. “They may spend time at another farm, maybe shop at a farmstead, maybe eat out, visit a brewery, a winery or distillery — these are all important to rural Vermont.”
Farm owner Janet Steward talked some about Shat Acres Highland Cattle and the history of local cattle.
“There is something very prehistoric about them,” she said. “They have been herbivores for 1,600 years, they have been working with humans for 1,600 years … they love being with people and they are different from other cattle.”
While other parts of the country are experiencing drought, the governor noted this is not the case in Vermont.
“If you recall we had a very wet spring, so we’re not that far behind in terms of the amount of rain that we’ve received this year; so I think we’ve been blessed to have these storms every now and then, and the crops are doing well,” he said.
Nationwide, the farm industry has been facing volatile prices, even before the latest economic recession. According to a July 13 Farm Bureau report, the rising cost of dairy products helps farmers, but that doesn’t mean their margins have improved.
“A quick glance at the dairy market’s high prices and decent demand signals might suggest dairy farmers are in good shape. Unfortunately, analyzing milk prices only by comparing their face value over time is futile to understanding the breadth of challenges facing dairy farmers across the country,” the Farm Bureau report states.
“Persistent high costs across the expense spectrum continue to challenge dairy farm solvency; these costs are further exacerbated by inflationary pressures that have lowered the real value of a higher milk check.”