Our Daily Bread – Sustainable Strategies for Small Grain Production in Vermont

Project Brief

In the past several years there has been a surge of interest in the construction of a robust, secure, sustainable regional food system in Vermont, resulting in an explosion of local food system development in the state.   This is due to a confluence of a broad range of concerns and constituencies; the protection of farms and the working landscape, food security, linkages between nutrition and health, and paths towards sustainable economic development.

A new agricultural landscape is forming based on the proven viability of small scale production and relationship based distribution and use networks.

Alongside these developments has been an ongoing statewide conversation regarding “next steps” – conversations driven by concern about the piecemeal nature of these developments, as well as by a desire for building community and a comprehensive support strategy across the state.  The network that comprises the Vermont local food system encompasses a diverse set of organizations and communities, operating at a wide range of scales, each with a somewhat different focus.  Nevertheless, a consistent set of concerns and issues has emerged from these conversations.   One of the more clearly articulated needs is for infrastructure, broadly defined as food storage and processing facilities, support for value-added-production and distribution networks.

The project objective is to develop a model, a framework for growing an ecosystem of businesses in the food systems arena – a broad, theoretical agenda – and to illustrate this framework using applied examples drawn from applications to development in the grain sector in Vermont.  The project will take a staged approach, working from the overall system level to the business level, with the goal of supporting the development of a sustainable food system via the following:

–          Mapping out the network, in terms of connected value chains, of a segment of the grain sector, looking at existing capacity and potential demand

–          Identify gaps in terms of “pinch points,” or missing infrastructure components

–          Develop strategies to fill those gaps, concentrating on ownership and financing models that are an appropriate to a sustainable local food system, in particular addressing issues of scale and integration with land and community

The Big Question

So the big question – I talk about this in the Capstone Fair Video – phrased in a general way is: What goes in the space between large scale commodity production and the small scale direct-to-consumer based systems?

Here is the chart, up close. This critical question, underlying much of transition to a sustainable economy, is particularly pertinent to food systems.

In the context of food systems the question becomes: How do we scale up so as to provide a significant proportion of the population with a significant proportion of their diet sourced regionally without recreating the commodity based industrial agriculture?

The Big Question

The Capstone Fair (Video)
Each fall, the MBA class puts on a Fair, presenting our project work to date.

The Capstone Fair was well attended, lots of energy.  We set up much like your standard poster session, talking about our research projects with the crowd.  Quite a broad range of projects.

The video below captures some of the excitement, and me giving a run-down on the project.

The Defense
Once the project is completed, we give a talk presenting the results before our advisory board. In my case, the talk was open to the community. Here are the slides from the presentation