A Turning Point for Food Security in Vermont

We are thrilled to share that the 2024 Vermont legislative session marks an incredible win for food access in Vermont: the State Legislature has allocated $300k in one-time funding to support NOFA-VT’s food access programs!

The Changing Landscape of Local Food Access Programs

NOFA-VT operates several programs aimed at making local food more accessible to low-income Vermonters while ensuring that farmers are justly compensated for the cost of food. Two of NOFA-VT’s flagship local food access programs are Crop Cash and Farm Share. With every dollar invested in these programs, low-income Vermonters can purchase more healthy, fresh, local food that they could not purchase otherwise, and Vermont farmers receive a reliable, fair price for their products. The benefits of these win-win programs are two-fold, actively working to strengthen both the community investment in viable farms and food security for Vermonters. 

A fan of three $1 Crop Cash Coupons held by a farmers market shopper

In the summer of 2023, thanks to another one-time allocation from the Vermont Legislature, we were able to pilot an expansion of Crop Cash, dubbed Crop Cash ‘Plus,’ which provided an extra benefit that SNAP (federal food assistance program) customers could access at farmers markets, to use on any SNAP-eligible food, rather than just the produce they can typically purchase with Crop Cash coupons.

While Crop Cash and Farm Share have played an integral role in increasing local food access for many Vermonters, rising food costs and other economic challenges have made it difficult to continue meeting the needs of the growing number of Vermonters who rely on these programs. Since 2019, demand for and investment in these programs has expanded rapidly. Before the pandemic, the Crop Cash and Farm Share Programs funneled $144,630 in revenue to local farms. With the addition of Crop Cash Plus in 2023 and more Vermonters relying on the programs to afford local food, that number rose by a factor of nearly seven, exceeding $614,500. In turn, this revenue came to farms at a critical time, when many needed that income to recover from the July 2023 flood and continue to combat the challenges of climate change and inflation. 

As demand has grown, our funding has not been able to keep up, resulting in a need to decrease the number of Crop Cash coupons given to each shopper, pause Crop Cash for the winter, maintain a long wait list for Farm Share, and abstain from doing broad outreach about these programs. It has become clear that we need additional funds to sustain these programs consistently and reliably for program participants and farmers.  

Our Ask to the State Legislature

With this in mind, we advocated the state legislature for an allocation of $478,500 in base funding (meaning it would repeat annually), to support the growth of the Crop Cash and Farm Share Programs, as well as continue the Crop Cash Plus program. Over the course of the session, program participants, farmers, farmers market managers, and NOFA-VT staff testified in front of legislators to let them know how vital these programs are and the impact state support could have. We gained strong support from champions on the House and Senate Agriculture and Appropriations committees and ultimately, amid a tight budget year, a one-time funding allocation was included in the fiscal year 2025 budget for $300,000!

A Turning Point for Food Security

This public investment in NOFA-VT’s longstanding food access programs will have an outsized impact on Vermont communities. While this award of funding will not be enough to repeat the Crop Cash Plus pilot this year, we foresee being able to increase Crop Cash usage by at least 20% and fund nearly 100 more subsidized CSAs through our Farm Share Program in the coming year. The funding will also allow us to increase equitable access to these programs by expanding our ability to market them more widely, and, in particular, to do more intentional outreach to communities experiencing the most significant barriers to accessing local food. As part of this expanded outreach effort, we’re excited to have partnered with our friends at the Vermont Language Justice project to now offer Crop Cash instructional videos in 17 languages!

Farmers from Green & Gold Farm proudly display their farmers market sign reading "we accept crop cash"
Green & Gold Farm proudly accepts Crop Cash at the Middlebury farmers market, one of more than 40 farmers markets across Vermont where 3SquaresVT/SNAP participants receive extra money to spend on local fruits, vegetables, herbs, and culinary seeds and plant starts.

We will be returning to the state house next year to advocate for increased funding in the state budget, building upon this momentum toward meaningful food security in our state. Additionally, we will seek base funding, which would mean our local food access programs would receive State support every year, sustaining them so that they can consistently serve our community members and farmers without so many fluctuations (and, hopefully, make Crop Cash Plus permanent!). We are also heartened by this allocation of funding because it is an important step forward on a key strategy outlined in the Vermont Food Security Roadmap, a guide to ensuring all Vermonters are food-secure by 2035. Public funding for these food access programs marks strong momentum toward meaningful food security in our state.  

If you'd like to be part of this people-powered effort and you haven't yet filled out a supporter card, we invite you to fill out the digital supporter card. It takes less than 5 minutes and is a meaningful way to support food security for all Vermonters!

Additionally, if you’d like to take an active role in implementing the Vermont Food Security Roadmap, Hunger Free Vermont would love for NOFA-VT members to consider joining their local Hunger Council. These 10 state-wide coalitions of community members and local organizations work together to share information, raise awareness, brainstorm solutions, and build effective collaborations. No matter where you live in Vermont, there's a group of people working to end hunger and improve food security. Membership is open to anyone who wants to be a part of this work!