Policy refers to laws, rules, regulations, standards and business practices that have an impact on the local food system.  An example of a business policy affecting the local food system is when a restaurant makes a conscious decision to buy only local products.  Regulatory policies exist at all levels of government from the Federal to the local level.  Each level of government has policies that affect various aspects of the local food system and there are multiple agencies responsible for overseeing the policies.

Federal policies are overseen by agencies such as the USDA and NRCS, both of which receive funding through the Federal Farm Bill.  The primary agency responsibility for overseeing state-level programs is the Vermont Agency of Agriculture.  At the local level, each jurisdiction has the ability to conduct land-use planning projects and enforce regulations on how land is used, both of which have an impact on the local food system.  Regulations at the local level differ among the various jurisdictions but the regulations are all intended to promote public health and safety.  Vermont-based examples of Town Plan and Zoning Bylaw language supportive of agricultural and value-added agricultural operations can be found in Appendix A of the Vermont Law School Land Use Clinic’s 2012 Facilitating Innovative Agricultural Enterprises report.

In order to operate within the limits of the law, producers need to be aware of the policies that apply to them.  It is important for producers to be familiar with their municipality’s current zoning applications, as applicable.  Copies of current zoning regulations can typically be found on municipal websites, at town offices, and at the local Regional Planning Commission Office.

In addition to state regulatory language intended to guide local municipal zoning bylaws and Municipal Plans, the state also encourages the preservation of working lands through such programs as Vermont’s Agricultural and Managed Forest Land Use Value Program (Current Use Program). The Current Use Program offers landowners use value property taxation based on the productive value of land rather than based on the traditional “highest and best” use of the land. In 2000, the current use value of the land in the program averaged about 20 percent of the full fair market value.[1]

Although the state encourages the preservation of agricultural lands through both regulatory and non-regulatory mechanisms and incentives, many towns throughout the Central Vermont Region struggle to maintain productive agricultural lands due to numerous factors such as the financial ease of developing in greenfields as opposed to infill; agricultural competition and incentives for large scale production within an international market; and local regulatory policies that may discourage agricultural production at varying scales.

[1] Vermont Department of Taxes-2001.