Local Food, Local JobsJanuary 31, 2018
Vermont has a workforce problem – we have an unemployment rate of 2.8%, well above “full” employment, and this makes us the 5th most employed state in the country. It’s great to be employed, but at the same time, Vermont employers struggle to find the workforce to fill positions needed to grow their businesses. And while efforts are underway to employ that 2.8% (check out the list of resources we learned about at our Annual Meeting workforce development panel) it’s clear that we need to attract more workers to the state.
But wait – wasn’t there just a report released claiming Vermont was the most moved-to state in 2017? True! That doesn’t mean the workforce is growing at the same rate. The demographics of new Vermonters trends towards retired, or nearing retirement age, residents and while we're thrilled to have them here (and often supporting our businesses as customers), they likely are not seeking out work to fill the positions that our Vermont businesses need to thrive. You may have heard Governor Phil Scott’s State of the State address earlier this month where he emphasized the situation . . . Here are some statistics the Governor used in the State of the State:
• We have 23,000 fewer people under the age of 20 than we did in the year 2000;
• There are 30,000 fewer people between the ages of 25 and 45 than we had 10 years ago;
• Outside of Chittenden County, we are just three to four years from having just one worker for every retiree, child or dependent of the state.
There are plenty of reasons why these numbers could, and should, turn around. Quality of life is great here. Our economy is far from stagnant -- we have innovative businesses with national (even international) reputations ready to hire young workers. That’s why the state is investing 3.2 million dollars in Think Vermont, a marketing campaign to attract the next wave of Vermont residents. And the area where Vermont has already earned a reputation for being an exciting, progressive place to make a career? Our thriving food system.
Vermont food culture is a major attractor of visitors and new residents alike – young people want to move here to work for Vermont Fresh Network businesses. In fact, they already are.
We asked the young, new and newly returned to Vermont workforce behind the VFN to tell us their stories – why did they move here? What are the challenges to living and working in Vermont? Will they stay? The response was unprecedented. We heard from over 40 members under 45, eager to share their unique and illuminating experiences. Here's a peek at some of the profiles we gathered, with more to come.
Name: Phill Adams
Work: Farmer, Adams Turkey Farm
Location: Westford, Vermont
What inspired your move back to Vermont? One of the things that inspired me to move back to Vermont was my wife and my desire to live in the state and set roots. Additionally, I felt a strong pull to work on the farm that I grew up on and be part of the business my parents have grown.
What was your biggest fear about returning? The biggest fear about returning was honestly the cost of housing. It is definitely difficult to save for and/or buy a house in the area we are looking to be.
What have been some of the challenges to farming and growing your business here? Some of the challenges include managing the cost of doing business and producing a high-quality product in a market still largely driven by the dollar over quality and freshness. Finding solid and reliable help is also a challenge.
What are some of the benefits of running your business in Vermont? Fortunately, more Vermonters are demanding higher quality and fresher food and in the future, small farms like ours will proudly provide that for them.
Do you think you'll stay? Definitely.
What's one piece of advice you'd offer someone considering a move to Vermont to work in your industry? Work hard and stick with it. The customers that support us are loyal and appreciative of our products and if your heart is in it you will feel that and it will be a source of inspiration and motivation.
Name: Samantha Langevin
Work: Chef, American Flatbread - Middlebury Hearth
What inspired your move to Vermont? Some friends and coworkers, one of whom is also from VT, asked my boyfriend to start a farm with them in Starksboro (now known as Footprint Farm). I had been wanting to move back to the place I grew up and was feeling burned out by my job in education at a non-profit farm and wilderness preserve. It was really a matter of good timing.
What are some of the challenges you've encountered after relocating? Making ends meet, for sure. Vermont is in many ways as expensive of a place to live as Silicon Valley, where I had been previously.
What are some of the benefits and opportunities of living and working in Vermont food/ag as a young professional? The Vermont food culture is one that actively supports local food, making for an incredible diversity of offerings available to anyone who cooks (or eats, for that matter). At one point last summer, almost every single item of food used in our kitchen was produced within Vermont. Even our cooking oil was pressed locally in town. That's incredible! And because Vermont is still a small place, it is possible to have ongoing relationships with the people making this happen, from the guy boiling your syrup to the family growing your lettuce.
What are some big or small changes you'd like to see to make Vermont an easier place for you to work and live? When it comes to big or small changes that would make VT an easier place to live and work, I feel obligated to talk about the way we perceive and treat POC here. VT has to figure out how to be a more attractive place to live for people of color if we want to grow and maintain a thriving economy, food or otherwise. I can only speak from personal experience here, but many Vermonters don't seem to understand the many small (and large) ways that we can all examine how we treat others - racism and discrimination do exist here and it affects how welcome you feel in your own community and the state.
What is some advice you'd give to someone considering moving here to work in your field? Vermont is a small place, and who you know is as important as ever. Get to know people in the field you want to be in.
Do you think you'll stay in Vermont? Yes, though my enthusiasm wanes at the end of February. Luckily it goes back up in May.
Name: Michael Cyr
Work: Marketing Director, Skinny Pancake
Why did you leave the state in the first place? I had worked in food service for 5 years and wasn't sure it was what I wanted to do forever. But I saw people were getting paid to work really interesting jobs in food systems in New York City. So I went out there to hack it out for a while, but didn't consider that the pay bump would come with a huge expense bump as well!
What inspired your move back to Vermont? I left NYC to go on a 2-week road trip across New England - Rhode Island, Maine and of course, VT - I took the subway back to my apartment directly from the airport and as soon as I walked above ground I knew I wanted to get out of the city. I applied for work all over New England, and as soon as I got a job offer in Vermont, I didn't care what it was I just wanted to get back to Burlington!
What was your biggest fear or worry about returning? Finding a decent place to live...
What are some of the challenges you've encountered after relocating? Finding a decent place to live! It's a hard place to purchase a home and put down serious roots. Also, you create professional relationships with people and then the next thing you know, they've left town.
What are some of the benefits and opportunities of living and working in Vermont food as a young professional? The people are the nicest people you'll ever encounter. Everyone is so collaborative and awesome and there's no shortage of fun stuff to work once you get to know the right people.
What are some big or small changes you'd like to see to make Vermont an easier place for you to work and live? Big: public transportation across the whole state, cheaper housing, more employees. Small: a bowling alley
What is some advice you'd give to someone considering moving here to work in your field? Don't worry about pay or the gig being a long-term position - there's so much job growth in this state once you commit to making a go of it.
Do you think you'll stay in Vermont? I can't think of another place worth living.
Names: Alexandra Otte and Garrett Huber
Work: Cider Ambassador and Cider Maker, Eden Specialty Ciders
Location: West Charleston, Vermont
What inspired your move to Vermont? Garrett grew up in South Burlington so we both have always enjoyed coming back to visit Vermont. But, ultimately, what drove our move to Vermont was Garrett and I accepting positions at Eden Specialty Ciders. Additionally, we really enjoy the outdoors so the location was a great perk for us.
What are some of the challenges you've encountered after relocating? Before moving to Vermont, we lived in a condo in the city of Cincinnati with tons of restaurants, grocery stores and bars all within walking distance. Now we live in a house on an apple orchard in rural Vermont. We've had to get used to driving farther and making sure when we're in town to get the necessities. But, this has also given us the opportunity to really enjoy a night out!
What are some big or small changes you'd like to see to make Vermont an easier place for you to work and live? It would be awesome to have a network of other like-minded transplants to meet with. Not sure if this already exists.
Name: Erin Bevan
Work: Chef, Artisan Restaurant Four Columns Inn
Location: Newfane, Vermont
What inspired your move to Vermont? I had been living in Boston for about 15 years and found that I missed the slower pace of life I grew up with on a farm in a small Massachusetts town. I also found that I needed more access to natural beauty. Every day off I had, I wanted to get out of the city and go hiking. I had grown tired of the ultra-competitive culture that had started to dominate the fine dining kitchens. It was feeling like I was feeding chef's egos more than feeding people delicious food. I have friends in the Brattleboro area, and was enchanted by the emphasis on small local businesses that permeates the food scene. It felt more "real" to me than what I was experiencing in the city. So in a matter of a couple months, I moved to Brattleboro.
What was your biggest fear or worry about relocating to Vermont? My biggest fear was having to drive during Vermont winters after 20 years of using public transportation! I still don't like it!
What are some of the challenges you've encountered after relocating? Staffing kitchens in a city like Boston is a whole different ballgame since there are so many eager and experienced immigrants to employ. In Vermont, you have high school kids which can be hit or miss and either way require a lot of training before they can hit the ground running.
What are some of the benefits and opportunities of living and working in Vermont food/ag as a young professional? Being a chef in Southern Vermont is a dream opportunity. The access to incredible meats, dairy and produce is incomparable. So often I have a farmer or a forager walk through the front door with something so fresh and wonderful. I get to hand select my produce down at the farm stand every day on my way into work, or stop off at a farm to pick up pork and shiitake mushrooms. What's truly amazing, is that it is not only my value to make and eat food that is local and sustainable, but that Vermonters demand to eat this way. That's what makes the dream possible.
What are some big or small changes you'd like to see to make Vermont an easier place for you to work and live? One of the challenges all my meat farmers face is finding affordable and high-quality processing facilities to slaughter and pack their meats. It can be one of their biggest expenses in raising animals. That cost is reflected in the price I have to charge for the dish on my menu, which is sometimes difficult for our clientele to understand. If there were more processing facilities, farmers would have more freedom to expand, chefs would be able to choose local meats more often, and consumers would get a price that is much easier to swallow.
What is some advice you'd give to someone considering moving here to work in your field? I'd say that it doesn't get better than Vermont, if you are passionate about farm to table cuisine. Vermont's natural beauty and unique charms, as well as ski mountains, will draw travelers from around the world year-round. With all the farms around, I liken this area to a chef's playground. Let the ingredients inspire you, and you will be successful.
Do you think you'll stay? Absolutely! My lifelong dream has been to connect my small farm upbringing together with my creative drive. As chef of the Four Columns, I have the perfect opportunity to showcase all the bounty that Vermont and even our own property has to offer. Besides, now when I want to go hiking on a day off, all I have to do is walk out my front door!
Name: Suzy Kaplan
Work: Farmer/Owner at Fat Sheep Farm and Cabins
Location: Hartland, Vermont
What inspired your move to Vermont? We wanted to run a small farm but also do so in a location where a lodging business could thrive. Vermont's agricultural tourism industry made it the obvious choice.
What have been some of the challenges to farming and growing your business here? There were a lot of permits and rules and we were not sure if we would be able to get through that process, and do so affordably. It added a lot of cost and uncertainty to getting started. There were a lot of hurdles to getting the cabins up between permits from the state and finding the right contractors, as well as just trying to run a small farm and cabin rental business at the same time. We're trying to find help for next season and to get better software to automate a lot of the cabin booking process.
What are some of the benefits of running your business in Vermont? Vermont is a natural fit for us. People who come to Vermont love staying on a farm with access to fresh food. We don't have to convince anyone to come here to stay with us--they're already coming to Vermont. We just have to offer a fun, unique place to stay for them to enjoy the trip they were already planning to make.
What's one big picture thing you'd like to see change to improve your ability to run your business in Vermont? Making workers compensation more affordable or flexible.
Will you stay? So far, we've had a great response to the business and we're excited to be here for years to come.
What's one piece of advice you'd offer someone considering a move to Vermont to work in your industry? I would recommend working for someone else here first to learn the particular challenges of the business (by the way, we're hiring).