Working on Vermont's working landscape - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Working on Vermont's working landscape

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From the dairy farm to the forest, Lake Champlain and beyond, Vermont's working landscape is a symbol of the state itself. At the Summit on the Future of Vermont's Working Landscape, the farmer and the forester came together.

"There are one thousand members of the working landscape partnership that are dedicated to ensuring that the farm and forest economy is a vital foundation for Vermont's future," said Paul Costello of the Vt. Council on Rural Development.

The partnership is facilitated by the Vermont Council on Rural Development. One purpose is to address issues the state's agriculture industry faces, like Vermont's aging workforce.

"We have an aging workforce in the forest products industries. There are many people looking to retire, but not a lot of replacement going on," said Peter Condaxis of the Ryegate Power Station.

Another issue shared by many at the summit-- the cost to compete, making sure Vermont is on an equal playing field with other states and businesses. And then there are more specific concerns, like the federally regulated price of milk.

"It's all tied up in the farm bill. We believe there should be a supply and demand component with whatever is passed," said Amanda St. Pierre of Berkshire Dairy.

Panel discussions throughout the day touched on these various topics. But in some ways, they are all connected, like the quality of Vermont's waters.

"It all runs into the water, so we just need to keep in mind that the waters are very well connected to everything we do on the landscape," said Ross Saxton, who represents Lake Champlain International.

The Working Lands Enterprise Fund, which is administered through the partnership, backs local businesses looking to expand. Encouraging lawmakers to keep the funds flowing is also a goal. Companies like Vermont Wood Pellet reap the benefits.

"And the result was they invested $16,000 in our company. It was a 10 percent increase in our production and we hired two extra people. Not a bad investment," said Chris Brooks of Vermont Wood Pellet.

Gov. Peter Shumlin helped kick off the event. Several key members of his administration were on hand to listen.

"It is really amazing to see the job growth we are having and the success we are having with the working lands program.  So we just got to keep it going. Keep our pedal to the metal," said Shumlin, D-Vermont.

One of the key questions that remains unanswered is whether the governor will including funding for this program in next year's budget address, something organizers say is crucial for Vermont's working landscape for generations to come.

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