2020 was the year of all years, so to speak. Last year at this time, Vermont was going about its business; we were toasting 2019, and we were looking forward to the start of a new decade. We made it through deep winter; then came March and our routines ended.
The pandemic forced us to close our schools, restaurants and workplaces. Grocery shopping, formerly mundane, became too much for many. Plans for parties, weddings, graduations and other celebrations that bring joy to everyday life were terminated with one fell swoop.
Our health care workers and first responders took care of us as we tried to weave our way through Covid-19. Lives were lost. We learned more about how to take precautions and treat people who were ill, but the virus did not go away.
We pivoted. Our farmers, producers and those getting food to our table stood tall and fed us, but it was not without sacrifice or disruption. With schools, colleges and restaurants closed, large institutional markets shut down in a blink. Businesses reinvented themselves on the fly to remain open. Websites were built on weekends and e-commerce became more of a friend. Farm stands popped up overnight. Farmers markets and community supported agriculture shares were there for Vermonters, and schools offered universal access to meals.
Agriculture became even more important to Vermonters, and we are grateful there was financial support to fill in the gaps. The Agency has completed fulfilling grants to those who make their living off the land. While the figures are not final, it looks like nearly 1,000 businesses received support from CARES Act dollars, totaling more than $25 million. This funding is critical to the support and, eventually, the resilience of Vermont’s farmers, producers and value-added food businesses. We also assisted with the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing's “Buy Vermont Made” campaign. This promotional effort provided a one-stop online platform to purchase from local shops and Vermont businesses, and will live into the future.
As we close out 2020, we hope for better times. The vaccine is here and every day, more Vermonters are immunized. We are also focused on projects for recovery. We know we need to increase the capacity to process more local meat, and we are focused on improving the dairy economy.
We recently received some outstanding news from Senator Patrick Leahy. The Northeast Dairy Innovation Center, created in 2018 with the help of the Senator, got a boost from Washington. Senator Leahy announced that the Center is funded at $22 million for 2021, a $2 million dollar increase over fiscal year 2020. Vermont hosts one of three Centers, which is managed by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets. This new approach provides technical and financial assistance to help dairy producers diversify their products, examines innovative on-farm production practices and closely looks at emerging market trends with the goal of improving the dairy economy. You will be hearing more about the Center and other successes yet to come in 2021.
We are grateful for all your support this past year, and we are thankful to live in a state that cares about its land, animals and neighbors. We will continue to learn and listen. We wish you peace and prosperity in 2021.
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