NEK Regional Food System

Planning a vibrant local food system for the Northeast Kingdom

Hardwick, VT—In the Northeast Kingdom, restaurants are serving fresh produce, meat, and cheese from farms down the road, school cafeterias and senior centers are dishing up delicious new recipes based on donated and purchased food from local farms, and grocery stores, coops, general stores, and even convenient stores are stocked with Vermont products.

Despite the continued loss of dairy farms in the Northeast Kingdom, the expansion of local food systems—from farms to processors to markets—is helping the NEK move toward a more vibrant economy, and may well be helping our communities to be more food secure.

The Center for an Agriculture Economy (CAE) is working with the Northeastern Vermont Development Association (NVDA) to help identify new opportunities to improve and expand the local food system in the NEK. CAE Executive Director Monty Fischer and Program Director Elena Gustavson hired Erica Campbell in July to manage the project.

Campbell has been reaching out to a variety of people and groups across the NEK to better understand the current state of agriculture in the region. She is developing the most comprehensive-to-date food system inventory in the NEK, that includes farms, food businesses, food processors, distributors, markets, restaurants, schools, institutions, as well as support-system groups. This inventory, along with interviews, surveys, and outreach efforts, is helping the CAE identify challenges as well as opportunities in the NEK and for each emerging food system “cluster.”

The greater Hardwick area is one example of a cluster but clusters also exist in the Newport area and the St. Johnsbury/Lyndonville area, for example. Each cluster has its own unique needs and potential. And in each cluster people are working together in collaboration rather than competition—a key feature with local food systems development.

“I am seeing amazing things around the NEK, and although challenges and barriers exist, there are so many positive and exciting opportunities for our region to expand and enrich the agricultural sector” Campbell says. “The NEK is a highly collaboration place, which is why, along with our rich agricultural background, diversified farms and local foods can be so successful here,” adds Campbell, who grew up in Walden and St. Johnsbury.

Fischer says the project will also assess local food consumption in the NEK, and just how accessible and affordable that is for people. For this project, the CAE also hired a graduate fellow from the School for International Training, Heather Davis, to help develop ways to measure the strength of the local food systems and the impacts of local food systems on various community indicators, including the economy, health, food security, and land conservation.

The project is advised by an NEK Food Systems Committee, made up of individuals from the NEK that represent a variety of interests. This group is helping give diverse perspective to each stage of development of the plan.

The CAE and NVDA will hold three regional local food system summits in January and February, 2011 around the NEK. These sessions will help further refine a vision for food systems and agriculture in the NEK and will help develop goals, strategies, and key actions to take to expand the production and consumption of local foods in our region.

If you have any questions or would like to be involved with this project, please contact Erica Campbell at or at 802-472-5840, ext. 4.

To learn more about this project, visit