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Community and Connection at our 2024 Annual Meeting

February 15, 2024

Our annual meeting on was a great day to connect with our Network at Zenbarn! More than 90 VFN members, farmers, chefs, and partners gathered with us this year for an event focused on building community, with an engaging panel discussion, an interactive workshop, and plenty of open networking time to connect with other event attendees.

The Meeting kicked off with welcome remarks and business updates from VFN's Board President, Cara Chigazola-Tobin. She spoke about our 2023 activities (check out our 2023 highlights here!), and VFN's plans for 2024. This year, VFN is focusing on the community at the core of the Network. Cara reminded the crowd that this is why we're all involved with VFN - to connect with one another and have a good time together!

VFN's Board Treasurer, Jake Claro, reported on our 2023 financials and our budgeting plans for 2024. VFN was not immune to many of the challenges faced by organizations in the food and farm sector last year, but we're excited about the energy among our membership moving into 2024 and are financially trending in the right direction.

Tara Pereira, VFN's Executive Director, shared some updates about VFN's plans for 2024, including hosting member networking events, organizing chef-led farmers market tours, and managing the 10th Annual Open Farm Week. We also announced the date for the 26th Annual Forum Dinner, which will be held on Sunday, July 21 at the Shelburne Farms Coach Barn.

This year's Annual Meeting was held at Zenbarn, an event space in Waterbury Center. Zenbarn's sister business, Zenbarn Farms, is a cannabis farm and dispensary just down the road. Since Zenbarn Farms is widely recognized as a leader in Vermont's cannabis sector, we thought this year's event would be a great opportunity to explore the growing cannabis industry in Vermont through the lens of the farm/chef partnership. We invited several people from the cannabis industry to join us as panelists in this conversation, including Jane Lanza of Family Tree Cannabis Co. and Marlena Tucker-Fishman of Zenbarn Farms. Unfortunately, both Jane and Marlena had to cancel at the last minute due to unforeseen circumstances. Still, we witnessed a great and engaging conversation with the other industry professionals in our lineup:

Commissioner Hulburd moderated the conversation about the intersections of the cannabis industry with Vermonts culinary, agricultural, and tourism sectors. A few points addressed in this discussion include:

  • Eli: Although many cannabis growers and specialty food and beverage producers want to collaborate, current regulations make it challenging to partner with other local producers.
  • Noah: Agritourism is so important to Vermont's tourism and agricultural sectors, and it's important to incorporate cannabis into that as a Vermont agricultural product.
  • Ben: Agritourism on cannabis farms can also be an important way to educate consumers, and connect with customers.
  • Eli: People come from all over to experience Vermont's cannabis farms, and when they visit a farm, they're also eating at local restaurants, exploring local trails, shopping at local stores, and putting money into Vermont's rural economy.
  • Ben: Cannabis farms are also an important piece of the local economy themselves, including buying supplies and products from local stores. 
  • Noah: Vermont's growing cannabis industry is keeping people in the state, and bringing new people (both visitors and residents) to the state. Building community is how we keep the industry sustainable.

After the panel discussion, we enjoyed a fantastic lunch prepared by Chef Jimmy Kennedy and the JDK BBQ team at Zenbarn, using ingredients from Snug Valley Farm, Maple Wind Farm, Jericho Settlers Farm, Cabot Creamery, Blake Hill Preserves, Pitchfork Pickle, King Arthur Baking, Joe's Kitchen at Screamin' Ridge Farm, and The Tipsy Pickle.

Afternoon programming included an interactive sensory workshop, in partnership with the Vermont Grass Farmers Association. Sensory specialist Roy Desrochers from the University of Vermont Extension led attendees through a series of tastings of flavored water, tea, gumdrops to explore and analyze the sensory effects of various flavor profiles. At the end of the session, attendees had the opportunity to sample grass-fed beef from four Vermont farms: Snug Valley Farm, Greenfield Highland Beef, Health Hero Farm, and Bread & Butter Farm. (Although the samples were served anonymously, Janet Steward and Ray Shatney from Greenfield Highland Beef participated in the workshop and had no problem identifying which beef came from their highland cattle.)

We left the rest of the day open for attendees to enjoy snacks, drinks, and networking with others at the event. Attendees enjoyed drinks provided by Snow Farm Vineyard and Winery, Champlain Orchards, Prohibition Pig, TÖST Beverages, Bitter Bubble, AquaViTea, and Upstate Elevator, and snacks provided by Mad River Taste Place, 5th Quarter Butcher Shop, Susanna's Catering, The Grey Jay, and Stowe Street Cafe

It was great to catch up and chat with folks in person while eating food and drinking beverages made locally!

Thank you to everyone who joined us for the 2023 Vermont Fresh Network Annual Meeting! Special thanks to:

Thank you to Flavor Plate for donating their time and effort to the design and co-development of our website.