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Kahler: Food And Energy Innovation

We Vermonters value cooperation, fairness, authenticity, self-sufficiency, and generosity. For the most part, we haven’t lost our connection to the land or to each other as community members, the way many in other parts of America have. I think the underlying attribute that marks the difference between what some are calling the old and New Economy is the increasing importance of relationships and the growing awareness that by connecting and collaborating with others, we’re able to address needed system-wide change faster and more deeply than by trying to go it alone.

The Farm to Plate Network – a diverse group of 250-plus businesses, nonprofits, funders, government agencies and education institutions – work systematically to strengthen all segments of Vermont’s food system. More than 45 organizations make up the Energy Action Network, all working towards the goal of meeting 90% of Vermont energy needs through efficiency and renewable sources by 2050. Both initiatives are engaging a growing number of Vermonters AND causing others around the country to take notice of what we have going on here in Vermont.

Vermont is home to many locally owned companies that are building healthy food systems, re-localizing clean energy sources and creating resilient communities. Aegis Wind installs Vermont engineered wind turbines on a community scale so businesses like Blue Spruce Farm and Bolton Valley Ski Resort can reduce reliance on fossil fuels, utility costs and CO2 emissions. VT Smoke & Cure’s new 5 Knives Vermont-grown pork of products is a creative partnership among Vermont businesses including Greg Finch’s VT Family Farm, VT Livestock Slaughter & Processing, and distributor Black River Produce. Farmers To You brings a piece of our Vermont community to more than 400 greater Boston area families by providing weekly deliveries of Vermont-grown fresh vegetables, fruit, dairy, meat, and grains. By partnering with more than 40 Vermont farmers and food producers, Farmers to You is helping them gain direct access to a market they wouldn’t otherwise have the ability sell into. And ten farms in Grand Isle County are sharing equipment and working out the logistics of growing and harvesting sunflowers which are then pressed into oil that is converted to biodiesel at Borderview Farm to fuel their tractors.

These are just a few examples of innovative products and business approaches that are meeting real needs and leading to real success in the marketplace. Together, they’re a good reminder that our economy is shaped every day by the way we interact with it. By intentionally choosing to live with an attitude of generous abundance rather than self-interested scarcity, and to live within the carrying capacity of our shared planet earth, we can ensure that the best of the old and the most innovative of our new economy will lead to a high quality of life for all Vermonters.

Ellen Kahler is executive director at the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, a non-profit organization created by the Vermont Legislature in 1995 to accelerate the development of Vermont’s green economy.
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