Policy Updates

We advocate on behalf of our members to build a food and farming system where farmers can thrive, natural systems are healthy and functioning, and everyone has enough nourishing food to eat. Read on for our current updates.

Spring 2022 End of Session Legislative Update

Accurate as of June 21st, 2022. Stay tuned for updates from the upcoming legislative session.

On May 12, the Vermont State Legislature officially wrapped up another session, ending the 2021-2022 biennium. In this legislative recap, we’ll share updates on several of NOFA-VT’s priority issues this session, including some major wins, some disappointments, and as always in policymaking, plenty of incremental progress. 

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Kid eats school lunch

Food Access & School Meals

Perhaps the most resounding successes of this legislative biennium came through in the form of unprecedented funding for various school meals and food security initiatives, the first three of which have been championed as three prongs of a collective goal known as “Farm Fresh School Meals for All”. The upcoming food access and school meals funding includes:

  • Universal Meals: Facing the expiration of pandemic-related federal waivers that have allowed schools to serve meals at no cost to students since March 2020, the legislature passed S.100 to continue providing free breakfast and lunch every school day to every student. The bill explicitly calls for this to be a permanent program, and funding has been appropriated for next school year.
  • Farm to School & Early Childhood Grants: After many years of steadfast advocacy by Vermont’s Farm to School & Early Childhood (FTSEC) Network partners, the legislature agreed for the first time to fully fund Vermont’s FTSEC Grants program at advocates’ requested level of $500,000.
  • Local Food Purchasing Incentive Program: For the second year in a row, the budget passed by the legislature includes $500,000 to incentivize schools to purchase Vermont local food for their school meals. 

 

Finally, the budget as passed by the House and Senate included a one-time appropriation of $200,000 aimed at expanding two of NOFA-VT’s food access programs: Crop Cash and the Farm Share Program. These programs help limited-income Vermonters access local and organic food at a reduced cost at farmers markets and through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares, and have experienced record demand since the beginning of the pandemic.

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River running through hills in autumn

H.466 (Surface Water)

H.466 is a bill that will establish new reporting requirements for farmers and other users of surface water (meaning water withdrawn directly from rivers, streams, ponds, lakes, reservoirs, and the like), as well as a permitting system for certain users. After passing through the House without farmer testimony, H.466 was taken up by the Senate where a substantial amount of farmer input was heard by the Natural Resources and Agriculture committees. In the end, the bill will require farmers who withdraw 10,000 gallons or more of surface water in a 24-hour period (or 150,000 gallons or more of surface water over any 30-day period) to report that usage to the Secretary of Agriculture, Food & Markets annually. The final version of the bill does not require farmers to have a permit for surface water withdrawals, while it will establish a permitting system for other users. H.466 passed both the House and Senate, and was signed into law by the Governor on May 24. 

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A bee lands on a chive flower

H.626 (Sale, Use, or Application of Neonicotinoid Pesticides)

Neonicotinoids are a class of pesticides widely used in conventional agriculture that are known to be highly toxic to bees and other pollinators. After substantial testimony from researchers, beekeepers, farmers, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets (VAAFM), and seed manufacturers and dealers, the final version that passed both chambers requires VAAFM to develop best management practices for the use of neonicotinoid-treated seeds, in consultation with the Agricultural Innovation Board, and to work with farmers, seed companies, and other relevant parties to ensure that farmers have access to appropriate varieties and amounts of untreated seed or seeds not treated with neonicotinoids. However, before the rules can go into effect, they will have to be presented to the agriculture committees in the House and Senate on or before March 1, 2024. The bill also requires VAAFM to monitor managed pollinator health in order to establish pollinator health benchmarks. H.466 passed both the House and Senate, and was signed into law by the Governor on May 27. 

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Two people walk through a farm field, seen from bird's eye view

H.273 (BIPOC-Led Land Access and Opportunity Act)

H.273 was introduced in 2021 with the aim of creating a representative body to distribute funding to promote and support land access and opportunity for BIPOC and other marginalized groups in Vermont. While H.273 itself did not pass, language establishing the Land Access and Opportunity Board was successfully added to another housing bill, S.226. The Board will be tasked with putting structures in place to move money directly into communities of marginalized folks to purchase land and housing, by:

  • gathering legal experts to advise on constitutional avenues for granting money to marginalized communities for home ownership and land access;
  • advising state-led housing organizations such as the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB), the Vermont State Housing Authority, and others on mechanisms to more effectively serve historically marginalized communities; and 
  • defining internal Board infrastructure, roles, decision-making frameworks, methods for ongoing operation, and granting and other external programmatic structures.

 

While funding has not yet been allocated directly to the Board to distribute as grants, this is an important step to ensure that substantial funding for housing in S.226 is distributed equitably. To stay up to date on the Land Access & Opportunity Board and future organizing efforts around equitable access to land and housing, sign up for future updates from Seeding Power Vermont. 

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A farmer holds a chunk of soil in a field

Soil Health & Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) Working Group

The Soil Health & PES Working Group continues to work on developing a pilot program to pay farmers for ecosystem services. The group has until January 2023 to bring its program recommendations to the legislature and plans to roll out a pilot next year. NOFA-VT continues to advocate for a program that includes “early adopters” of ecological practices (such as many organic farmers), and to work directly with farmers to ensure their perspectives are included as the program is developed. The FY23 budget also includes $1 million for the PES program to fund facilitation, research, pilot program development, and deliver payments to farmers for quantified ecosystem services.

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Aerial photo of a river and farm land

S.148 (Environmental Justice)

S.148 is Vermont’s first environmental justice bill and has been signed into law by Governor Scott. S.148 will:

  • codify the definition of environmental justice, making it the state’s policy that no segment of the population should, because of its racial, cultural, or economic makeup, bear a disproportionate share of environmental benefits or burdens;
  • create an Environmental Justice Advisory Council, comprised of key community stakeholders with real power to influence decision-making and best practices for environmental justice, through meaningful public engagement processes and analysis of cumulative environmental burdens;
  • build a statewide environmental justice mapping tool as a visual assessment for navigating environmental justice issues across Vermont;
  • require state agencies to adopt formal community engagement plans to ensure every Vermont resident has the opportunity to participate in decision-making that impacts their health and wellbeing; and
  • set a target for investment in environmental justice populations, encouraging the state to proactively deliver environmental benefits to communities most impacted by historic injustices.