Vermont, a state that isn’t widely known for a large agricultural base, has announced the creation of the Working Lands Enterprise Board (WLEB), a newly appointed board, which will create and execute a plan and timeline to support investment in “Vermont’s working landscape.”

Involvement in the Working Landscape Action Plan (WLAP) includes the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets as well as the Vermont Working Landscape Partnership; the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation; and the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development. It is also endorsed by the Council on the Future of Vermont (CFV). 

More than 97 percent of Vermonters polled by the CFV endorsed the concept of working landscape as key to the state’s future. The 2012 state legislation passed the Working Lands Enterprise initiative with investment funding of $1 million into agricultural and forest based businesses.

“Fifteen Vermonters have been appointed to the Working Lands Enterprise Board (WLEB). The board will direct the funds for strategic investments and be provided with administrative support by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets. The board is charged with 1) the establishment of an application process for and awarding of grants and loans; (2) entering into performance contracts to provide investments and services; (3) identifying workforce needs and programs, strategic infrastructure and investment priorities; and (4) pursuing additional resources for grants and loans.

“The WLEB had its first meeting on August 21, 2012, and is currently in the process of determining the funding criteria for the requests for proposals (RFP’s). The board has set an target date of November to announce the first round of RFP’s. Requests for proposals will target Vermont enterprises and non-profits (both public and private) in all stages of growth looking for mini-grants, infrastructure investments, or investments in technical assistance such as business planning and other services. Participation is encouraged from individuals who have not recently (or ever) received funding from the State of Vermont in the past. Participation is also encouraged from individuals who focus on innovation, such as building pilot programs that add value to farm and forest commodities,” the state has explained.

At a time when money at all levels of government seems to be in short supply, it is interesting that the small state of Vermont has allocated $1 million toward a new emphasis on agriculture and/or forestry. 

The WLAP calls for Vermont to unite in fulfillment of five key actions:

• Build a major campaign to celebrate the distinctiveness of the working landscape that is Vermont.

• Target strategic investment through a Vermont Agriculture and Forest Products Development Fund.

• Designate and support “Working Lands.”

• Develop tax revenue to support working landscape enterprise development and conservation.

• Create a state planning office and activate the Development Cabinet.

“This Action Plan is premised on the fact that the working landscape benefits all Vermonters and all Vermonters must contribute to ensure that it is sustained into the long-term future.