A Taste of Vermont in Washington, D.C.
The Center for an Agricultural Economy’s dedicated farm and food delivery service, Farm Connex, was invited to participate in the 16th annual Taste of Vermont event, in the nation’s capital, on November 9, 2023. Previously established at the suggestion of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), this year’s event was held by the Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility (VBSR), with special guest and host, Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
Above photo by Meryl Friets | aerial shot of Washington, DC, from flight into DC
Taste of Vermont brings Green Mountain State farmers and food producers directly to Washington, DC., to share the variety of local Vermont food with members of Congress, discuss any important issues affecting their work, and share stories and connect with other producers. It is also an opportunity to showcase the social responsibility and values of Vermont businesses. “This year’s event showcased not only Vermont’s rich agricultural heritage and strong food and beverage economies, but the socially responsible business practices that have helped Vermont producers grow into global markets,” said VBSR Executive Director, Roxanne Vought. “In our 33rd year, we are the oldest socially responsible business organization in the nation and home to the highest concentration of Certified B Corps per capita in the U.S. Bringing that leadership to Taste of Vermont alongside Senator Bernie Sanders represents an unparalleled opportunity to further our vision: a just, thriving, and transformative economy that works for all people and the planet.”
Photo above by Corey Hennessey | The Russell Rotunda, Russell Senate Building, Washington, D.C.
Taste of Vermont was held at the Russell Senate Building, and over 30 local Vermont food businesses made the trip to DC to display and serve their products. VBSR tasked Farm Connex with transporting all of the products for Taste of Vermont, giving the food producers peace of mind that their goods would arrive safely at the event.
Photo below by Ken Connolly | L-R: Bernie Sanders (I-VT); CAE Board Member, Libby Mullin; CAE Deputy Director, Corey Hennessey; Farm Connex Logistics Manager, Meryl Friets
CAE Deputy Director, Corey Hennessey, and Farm Connex Logistics Manager, Meryl Friets, attended Taste of Vermont alongside CAE board member, Libby Mullin. The day started with a roundtable discussion led by Senator Bernie Sanders, who was joined by Senator Peter Welch (D-VT) and local Vermont farmers and business people. Senator Sanders asked attendees about the challenges they are facing specifically as farmers and food business owners, but also as engaged community members . A very poignant discussion was centered around the connection between economic and humanitarian issues. Businesses spoke to the challenges of employee retention, the high cost of providing healthcare to employees, the struggle to provide a living wage, the housing crisis, and how these issues perpetuate systemic problems like the opioid epidemic. Photo below by Ken Connolly | L-R: CAE Board Member, Libby Mullin; Peter Welch (D-VT); CAE Deputy Director, Corey Hennessey; Farm Connex Logistics Manager, Meryl Friets
As the producers shared their stories, it was apparent that these interconnected issues are universally at the forefront of communities across Vermont. With the addition of the unprecedented July flooding, this year has been very challenging, yet Vermonters have proven their resilience as they continue to do amazing work on a daily basis. Senator Sanders acknowledged these hardships, framing them through the lens of healthcare, mental health, and general financial challenges for working people. Corey Hennessey was able to share how some of these issues affect the work we do at CAE, with a recent incident at Atkins Field in mind: “It was a profoundly humbling experience - having the opportunity to listen and be heard by other community & business leaders as well as Senators Sanders and Welch. We’re all facing significant challenges in our respective socioeconomic landscapes, but I also see our experiences as a source of mutual strength and inspiration.”
Photo above by Meryl Friets | Roundtable discussion: Vermont farmers, food producers, and VT congressional delegation
The food producers also prompted a discussion about the general corporatization of the food system and how that creates specific challenges, including distribution and stocking costs, for small farmers and food businesses who cannot compete with the larger corporate models. The availability of food and food distribution on both the producer and consumer side is yet another difficulty that some Vermonters face on a daily basis. Farm Connex, a core enterprise of CAE, strives to make food delivery and distribution equitable for small farmers who are not able to afford larger food supply chain options. In effect, it helps keep local food within the local economy, delivering goods from small, local farmers and producers to consumers at local institutions and outlets.
Photos below by Corey Hennessey | L: Amy Huyffer, Strafford Organic Creamery | R: Nurbu and Family, Sherpa Foods
The main tasting event had an audience of around two hundred people, and was enthusiastically received in Washington: some Congressional members and staff expressed that they had anticipated Taste of Vermont for six months or longer. Although this larger Congressional audience was not part of the roundtable discussion, Senator Sanders highlighted the resilience of Vermont business and agriculture to the main event crowd: “These are tough times, and I must say it is nice to see so many friendly faces in Washington, D.C.,” said Sen. Sanders. “I know how much our small businesses have struggled since the devastating floods. You have shown resilience and resistance, and I am enormously proud of all the work you do in agriculture and in business. This event not only celebrates our state’s rich agricultural heritage, but it showcases the work ethic that exists all throughout Vermont. I want to give a huge thanks to VBSR for not only hosting the event, but for ensuring their business model is not only about making money, but about the environment, about how you treat workers, and about how we treat each other. I also want to thank every single Vermont business in attendance – this wouldn’t have been possible without you.”
Photos by Corey Hennessey | Above: Stefano Pinno & Alessandra Rellini, Agricola Farm/Monti Verdi Salumi | Bellow: Jenny Price, Butterworks Farm
Meryl Friets summarized the enormity of scale, but also the heartening atmosphere of the event: “Seeing a whole gaggle of Vermont producers in this beautifully ornate room was a sight to behold. This event has been happening for many years, but with the responsibility transferred to Senator Sanders and his team, I truly believe they knocked it out of the park this year! Senator Sanders spoke again at the tasting and gave a thoughtful speech that encompassed many of the things discussed in the roundtable but also touched on the amazingness of having us all in a room together. It was truly something worth celebrating!”