What is the future of farming in Vermont? And how does the state get there? A panel of farming entrepreneurs-- from beef and cheese to compost and CSAs-- offered their advice Tuesday at Vermont Technical College. Mechanical Engineering major Tyler McNaney was one of them. He doesn't make food-- rather parts.
"The biggest problem I see with the farmers in the maintenance of the machines breaking down. So, with the 3-D printing technology, they can change that. So, I guess that is how I'm helping. I'm keeping the machines running so they can keep planting those seeds," McNaney said.
VTC's Institute for Applied Agriculture and Food Systems is teaching more students like McNaney to do the same. A $3.4 million federal grant through the U.S. Department of Labor helped launch it.
"From dairy herd management to specialty food technicians to bio-digestion technicians that are new industries that will be emerging as a result of changes in technology," said Philip Conroy, the president of VTC.
And changes in Vermont's farming landscape-- an industry, at least when it comes to the number of dairy farms in the state, that has been on a slow decline. That makes Rachel Arsenault, who is pursuing a dairy herd management degree, a little nervous.
"To some degree because it is hard to get into the business. I didn't grow up on a dairy farm, so I don't have a farm to go back to," Arsenault said.
But the conference and the institute as a whole is working to change that by offering new ways to tackle an old trade.
"You can make it successful if you go about it successfully. If you make it efficient, if you are business-minded," Arsenault said.
A good example is panelist Lisa Ransom. She started farming on 30-plus acres in Moretown, but quickly realized there was a need for high-quality compost. Since then, Grow Compost Vermont has taken off.
"Vermont is incredibly innovative both in its legislation and in its young people, and innovative thinking around how we need to keep doing that in order to be sustainable," Ransom said.
This is one of four conferences that will be held on campus, all with the same focus: agriculture, innovation and education. Keeping Vermonters working the land here in the state and attracting others to do the same so the industry can continue to grow.
The next conference is in December, which is being cosponsored by the Agency of Natural Resources.
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