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Vermont Farm to Plate 2020 identifies hemp as one of ten emergent agricultural products critical for Vermont’s future and has made recommendations for investments in hemp research, education, feasibility, and innovation programs. These investments are essential to develop niche food, feed, fiber, and industrial products, professionals, and markets that go “beyond CBD” (VFP, 2020).

This project develops indicators for an important, value added budding crop in Vermont: hemp. For the purposes of this white paper, indicators are “a way to measure, indicate or point to with more or less exactness,” or “something used to show the condition of a system” (Feenstra et al., 2005). We focus on the example of hemp to illustrate how emerging value-added crops contribute to sustainable food systems. We use a set of design principles to ensure the applicability of developed indicators for decision making. This framework, its processes, and measures, are transferable to any nascent crop for evaluating economic, environmental, and social sustainability.

Our objectives are to:

  1. Develop a set of indicators to measure the economic, social, and environmental inputs of hemp in Vermont.
  2. Identify techniques and data sources for mining hemp metrics.
  3. Evaluate the hierarchical levels of mined data and transecting indicators to inform growing discussions of metric integration and forecasting agricultural food sustainability.

Our approach is grounded in the FAO food systems model, Doughnut Economics, which uses the UN Sustainable Development Goals as a foundation to describe “social floors” and planetary boundaries, and the concepts of seven community capitals: political, cultural, human, social, financial, built, and environmental. Our work plan included a two-day virtual workshop with required reading prior to the event, and involved both University researchers and stakeholders representing production, industry, finance, government, and NGOs.

We describe 35 metrics to assess the sustainability of hemp in the Vermont economy, environment and community going forward (Figure 2 and Table 1).

We also make several recommendations to move the collection of food system metrics forward. General recommendations include:

  • Farmer surveys to specifically address challenges facing farmers growing a novel crop. In hemp this is particularly important, as the crop attracts many who are new to farming, and no one has been able to legally grow it at field scale in the US for the past several generations.
  • Community/consumer surveys to collect data on community needs and impacts of novel value added crops (hemp)
  • Collection and curation of spatial data tied to appropriate metrics
  • Allocation of ARS funds for at least one data professional with skills across data types and methods, including individual, spatial, community level, etc.
  • Funds to build out nutrient mass balance and soil carbon stock models for different soil types and production approaches
  • The use of a grower-friendly tracking App with incentives (GoCrop)
  • Development of a dashboard to easily visualize direction and degree of movement toward a desired state

We make more specific recommendations in the Appendix where each metric is described in detail.

Creative Commons License

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