Over 97 percent of Vermonters value the working landscape. The “working landscape” consists of agriculture, food system, forestry, and forest products based businesses. Approximately 20 percent of Vermont’s land is used for agricultural purposes and 75 percent as forestry. The backbone of Vermont’s heritage and economic viability is the working landscape. The 2012 Legislative session brought with it a renewed commitment to Vermonter’s values by passing the Working Lands Enterprise initiative for the management and investment of $1 million into agricultural and forestry based businesses. This year the Working Lands Enterprise Initiative received a $1.215 million appropriation for investments into the farm, food system, forestry, and forest product sector.
The Working Lands Enterprise initiative, Act 142, created the Working Lands Enterprise Fund (WLEF) and the Working Lands Enterprise Board (WLEB). The WLEB is made up of private sector members throughout the supply chains of agriculture and forestry, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Vermont Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation, Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, Vermont Housing Conservation Board, Vermont Economic Development Authority, and Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund.
In 2015, amendments to legislation increased the size of the Working Lands Enterprise Board to 20 members and added a policy role.
Some of the goals of the Working Lands initiative, as outlined in the Findings section of Act 142, are to:
- Stimulate a concerted economic development effort on behalf of Vermont’s agriculture and forest product sectors by systematically advancing entrepreneurism, business development, and job creation;
- Increase the value of Vermont’s raw and value-added products through the development of in-state and export markets;
- Attract a new generation of entrepreneurs to Vermont’s farm, food system, forest, and value-added chain by facilitating more affordable access to the working landscape; and
- Increase the amount of state investment in working lands enterprises, particularly when it leverages private and philanthropic funds.
The Working Lands Enterprise Fund demonstrates the state’s investment in the working lands enterprise economy. The fund is directed by the WLEB and is administered by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets in cooperation with the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation and the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development. The three funding categories (below) are identified by the Vermont legislature in Act 142 and defined by the WLEB. The amount of funds in each category will be determined by the WLEB based on the response and need from applicants.