On a late March morning, my Food Policy class ventured to the Statehouse in Montpelier for Rural Vermont’s Small Farm Action Day. Throughout the semester we have been discussing a wide range of topics, including food safety regulation and labeling laws, the intersection of food consumption and public health, the effects of food production on the environment, and the implications of groundbreaking technologies like CRISPR on the future of our food supply. In alignment with Sterling College’s mission of providing hands-on, experiential education, we had the opportunity to attend House and Senate Agricultural Committee hearings on two hot topics for Vermont’s small farmers. Both committees had cleared their schedules to meet with Vermont’s small-scale farmers to hear about the challenges and implications of implementing the RAPs (Required Agricultural Practices) this year— the most significant regulatory change in Vermont’s agricultural policy in over a decade, and one that is applicable to all Vermont farms. Citizens were able to provide testimony, allowing our voices—as allies, future farmers, and participants in Vermont’s food system—to be heard.
My twelve classmates and I squished into the House Ag Committee’s meeting room and were pleasantly surprised to find posters on the wall expressing sentiments of peace and promoting agrarian living. In short order, the committee opened the floor for testimonial statements from concerned citizens. After a series of statements from fiery and well educated small farmers who practice regenerative agriculture and care for their food-centric communities’ viability, Rural Vermont made sure that the farmer-allies had a few moments to share their perspectives. Our faculty member, Nicole Civita, made her way to the “witness stand.” She briefly introduced herself, announced the presence of our class, and then quickly ceded her time to her student: me! Although I was nervous beyond any nervous I’ve ever felt before, as the words I had prepared passed through my lips, I could feel the growth of my voice as an environmental steward and activist. In the few minutes allotted to me, I articulated my support for small farmers with these words:
Good morning, everybody. My name is Emma Enoch and I’m here in connection to Rural Vermont’s Small Farm Action Days. As a current student at Sterling College in Craftsbury Common, I have recently become both invested and involved in Vermont’s food system and the voices of Vermont farmers. As I’ve fallen in love with the landscape here and the close-knit relationship among farmers, I one day hope to sustain a life working with this land and the people of it.
Braided into the dawn-to-dusk tasks of farmers are the careful and restorative practices of contributing to community sustainability and land management; time is essential. By extending the deadline for the RAPs (Required Agricultural Practices) to be implemented on January 1st, 2017 as opposed to the current date, September 15th, it will not only relieve our small-farmer community, but also our consumers. As a conscious consumer, it is important to me that buying food directly from local farmers remains a part of my life. [This type of food purchasing forms] a relationship and bond that can sustain Vermont economies.
The RAPs fail to incentivize and reward farmers who employ sustainable and restorative practices. The preventative, but not outcome-based regime in place by the [current] RAPs seems like a bandage, but if we extend the deadline, our small-farmer community will have the space and time to continue to contribute and educate the public in collaboration with the Agency of Agriculture to enlighten all of the benefits of restorative agricultural practices, which could be the solution to Vermont’s water quality issues.
From living adjacent to Sterling’s farm for the last couple of years, I know this is a very busy time of year for farmers. Formal rule making is set to begin in May, just as we are all heading out to the fields. Because this regulatory change is the most significant in Vermont agricultural policy in years, it is crucial to continue to hear the voices of our small-scale farmers—which is the community most affected by the RAPs. I hope you’ll consider our request to extend the RAPs implementation to the first of next year. Thank you.
Delivering this testimony was a unique and unprecedented opportunity for me to engage with our elected representatives. My hands were shaking and my heart was pounding as I faced a long-standing fear of public speaking, stretched past perceptions of my own limitations, and began to uncover a new facet of my identity—that of an advocate. The fact that I was given an opportunity to advocate before a powerful audience, despite my nerves, hesitation, and inexperience, exemplifies the unique benefits of a Sterling education. It is, in and of itself, a testimony to the way that Sterling College believes in and encourages students to be the best environmental stewards possible.