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Viable working landscapes, vibrant communities, and healthy ecosystems are the building blocks of sustainable food systems. Small and medium farms are connective tissue, creating a system that is greater than the sum of its parts by linking consumers to producers and promoting environmental stewardship. Our approach considers sustainability through connections between farms, their communities, and visitors within an agritourism framework, including on-farm experiences, direct sales of agricultural products, and farmer-consumer interactions at markets. The goal is to contribute to the understanding, operationalization, and integration of metrics built on the ideals that viable, sustainable, and resilient food systems must support social, economic and environmental goals.

The approach presented in this white paper: 1. Applied a sustainability framework to identify metrics relevant for social, economic, and environmental dimensions across farm, household, community, and statewide scales. 2. Identified existing data sets and current data gaps. 3. Identified linkages and impacts between social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainability across scales and different frameworks. 4. Considered sustainability applied to direct sales and agritourism, with particular emphasis on the social floor required to promote individual, farmer, and community well-being, while protecting the environment by respecting our planetary boundaries.

We categorized priority metrics under primary sustainability dimensions:

Environmental – Open Space, Farm Products, Stewardship, and the Vermont Brand

Economic – Economic Impacts, Consumer Spending, Farm Profitability, Farm Labor, and Farmland

Social – Cultural Ecosystem Services, Labor Opportunities and Conditions, Social and Informational Infrastructure, Sense of Community, Demographic and Cultural Diversity, Good Governance, and Health, Safety, and Wellbeing

Based on our assessment of existing and needed metrics summarized in this white paper, key recommendations to the UVM-ARS Center include: 1. Catalyze and synergize efforts and resources in Vermont to holistically address sustainability. 2. Explore and identify ways the Vermont brand—an important component of the state’s social, ecological and economic identity and culture—supports sustainability. 3. Focus on informational and data needs that are central to understanding and ensuring sustainability in Vermont, including longitudinal producer and consumer surveys. 4. Support a deep convergence of social and natural sciences in addressing sustainability.

The goal is to provide an essential foundation for future research that will place the UVM-ARS Center for Food Systems Research at the forefront of this critical transdisciplinary area.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.