With an agricultural policy perspective, the farm I’ve started and grown has been focused very much on local markets, both direct sales to customers at the farmers’ market, and direct sales to customers through community-supported agriculture (CSA), where people prepay the farmer for a season’s worth of vegetables. Throughout the summer, they get those vegetables all summer and season long. The farmer gets money up front so they don’t have to take out loans with interest from the bank. And the consumer buys into some of the risk of farming. If there’s a crop loss of a certain crop or two, they don’t get that crop. But instead of a farmer losing everything, that loss is distributed, which is a form of insurance by community involvement.
I have pushed Vermont to look at regenerative agriculture as a way to both tackle the climate crisis and sequester carbon, as well as get farmers paid a better price for their product. In particular, our animal agriculture is hugely focused on dairy in Vermont. In fact, we’re the most single commodity-dependent state in the country, with 70 percent of our agricultural dollars still coming from dairy. No other state is over 50 percent. So I would like to see us de-commodify our milk industry.
We have to shift away from commodity pricing, where our dairy farmers have been struggling for five years of pathetic prices. We also introduced a policy this year with CARES Act money called Everyone Eats, in which the state gives restaurants money to put their employees to work to cook meals made with local food, supporting local farmers, supporting the restaurant employees by putting them to work, making meals for people who are hungry. So, the Everyone Eats program is producing 18,500 meals a week through our restaurants using some local products to feed hungry people. Each dollar the state spends is used two or three times.
I gave my swearing-in speech with a farming metaphor. I said, I got thirty heirloom dry bean seeds of a range of varieties, and I gave one to each senator. And I said, on their desk is an heirloom dry bean. Now, some of them were big, some are small, some were all one color, some were two colors, some were speckled, some were yellow, red, brown, white, you name it.
And I said, each one of those seeds has all the genetic potential to be a thriving plant. Every single one has everything it needs right in that little seed to germinate, grow, reproduce, be productive. However, the ability for any of those seeds to live to their fullest potential is greatly determined by the environment they grow in. The metaphor is that our children are exactly the same way. Every single kid, when they’re born, has the potential to thrive.
But we know that some have more enriching environments and more challenging environments. How far we succeed as individuals is in large part shaped not only by our own internal drive, but also, by the environmental conditions that we are put into, by dumb luck.
Our job in governance is to make sure we work to make the environment as wholesome for every single kid as possible. That’s what we’re talking about with public education. That’s what we’re talking about with human services support for families who are struggling, to make sure those kids get healthy food and opportunities.
I feel fortunate that in Vermont, we do some more long-term thinking than a lot of places. But because voting cycles are every couple of years in order to get reelected, you’ve got to make sure you solve today’s problem. In this campaign, we are talking about a number of issues; in particular, how we can create an economy that is climate focused and offers good-paying jobs. If we were to sequester half of the Trump tax cuts to the top 5 percent of Vermonters, we would have about $100 to $120 million a year, which, for Vermont, is a lot of money.
And if we were to put $20 million a year for three to five years into broadband into our rural areas, then the education chaos that is happening with remote learning would help resolve some of that environmental degradation for our kids that are trying to learn that don’t have broadband.
If we had broadband, we would have better-paying jobs in our rural areas through working from home and remote work. That’s just $20 million. Another $20 million a year could go into weatherizing people’s homes — particularly working-class Vermonters, and fixed-income seniors who don’t have the money up front to weatherize their homes. Their monthly bills would go down even if they were paying back some of the money, and we would immediately be putting people to work in $15- or $17-an-hour jobs weatherizing people’s homes, solarizing people’s homes, saving working people money while putting working-class, non-college graduates to work with a stable living.
We could be building efficient, affordable housing in our village centers with an additional $20 million. That would help revitalize our small towns.
That’s a piece of my campaign. We have to get through COVID, but we also have to rebuild the economy in a way that works for the environment. And we have an opportunity to do that here in Vermont.