Vermont's Meat Inspection Program:

"At Least Equal To"

By Joni Bales, VT Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets

Since 1967, the Vermont State Meat Inspection program has been providing daily inspection services in each Vermont meat processing and slaughter establishment. These inspection services occur on every day these establishments produce meat products bearing the State of Vermont mark of inspection.  There are currently seven commercial state slaughter establishments, and five commercial state meat processors.  Additionally, Food Safety Specialists provide periodic sanitation inspection at 31 custom slaughter and processors (meat produced as custom are for the personal consumption of the owner and marked “Not for Sale” to the public).  Periodic sanitation reviews are also done at the more than 1800 retail meat establishments.  Retail vendors include all locations that sell any form of meat or poultry, including the obvious grocery stores, farm stands, even gas stations and hardware stores. 

Vermont’s unique agricultural economy makes the state meat inspection program essential.  We are a state of small and local growers and producers and need a structure to accommodate this.  Increasingly, the farming and processing of our nation’s meat and poultry is being concentrated in just a few companies.  This is not the case in Vermont.           

Locally packaged meat products require high safety standards for public consumption, and is essential for small Vermont meat and poultry farmers.

The ability of small slaughterhouses and processors to be inspected locally enables farmers that have just a few head of cattle or pigs, or a few hundred chickens, to get those products into the marketplace and enhance the income of their farm.  For meat and poultry to be sold in this state, it must be processed and slaughtered under inspection.  (There is an exemption for small poultry producers).  It is a uniquely Vermont experience for a customer to be able to drive through the countryside and see functioning farms, meet the farmers, see the animals, or produce right there in the field or barn, and then be able to buy the meat and poultry at the farm stand or a nearby grocery, after it has been processed, packaged, and labelled under inspection. To put it in perspective, when it is said that Vermont producers are small by comparison, Vermont slaughterhouses are processing a few dozen livestock or a few hundred poultry per day, usually 1 to a few days a week. This is in comparison to few thousand livestock or a few hundred thousand poultry in the very large establishments of the south and mid-west!

The state inspection program can best be described as “interlaced” with the Federal Meat Inspection Program which is operated by the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), part of USDA.  There is a formal cooperative agreement between the state inspection program and the federal inspection program.  All Food Safety Specialists that work in the state program go through the rigorous six - month USDA training process alongside their federal counterparts.  They attend a mandatory one-month training seminar on Inspection Methods conducted by the USDA, as well as classes specifically detailing inspection procedures at livestock and poultry slaughter establishments.  The methods and criteria for inspecting state and federal establishments are almost “exactly” the same.  This is no coincidence, as it is required under regulations dictated by the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Poultry Products Inspection Act that give inspectors their authority.  All state meat inspection programs must ensure that state meat and poultry processors follow regulations that are “At Least Equal To” the rules outlined for Federal establishments. 

The USDA FSIS conducts two types of audits on state programs to verify their “At Least Equal To” status.

  1. Annually, the USDA audits all records, inspections, reports, test results, etc.
  2. And every three years, the USDA conducts an actual on-site review of all the state establishments and state offices. They must accept Vermont’s system to retain the “equal to” status.  The USDA provides a 50/50 match for funding of the Vermont Meat Inspection program to provide these services.  If Vermont did not have its own meat inspection program, all meat and poultry slaughterers and processors would have to be inspected by the USDA FSIS. 

In addition to its state-inspected establishments, Vermont also has 12 USDA inspected slaughter establishments, and 15 meat/poultry processors.  Some of these establishments have a full-time inspector employed by the USDA.  This is especially true at slaughterhouses that operate year-round. 

State and Federal slaughterhouses must have an inspector present the entire day; from the moment the first animal is presented for inspection until the last carcass is stowed in the cooler.  Processors must have an inspector present for a portion of each day that they are processing.  These establishments do everything from smoking bacon and hams, making beef jerky, making frozen pizzas, to cutting up whole sides of meat into retail cuts and packaging them.  Another part of the cooperative relationship between the state’s meat inspection program and the federal program is that the state inspectors are frequently utilized to inspect at federal establishments where there is no full-time federal inspector, or to cover when that inspector is on leave.  This further illustrates the need to have an “At Least Equal To” status; otherwise, Vermont Inspectors would not be able to fulfill this vital role.

The role of the Vermont Food Safety Specialist is multi-faceted, but they are a resource to ensure farmers and meat processors can legally get their product into commerce, and ensure the consumer is protected.  The mission of the program is: “To protect the health and welfare of consumers and the public by assuring meat and poultry products produced are wholesome, unadulterated, and properly marked, labeled, and packaged.”

More September 2022 Edition Articles

2023 Vermont Farm Show Canceled

Board works to meet needs of VT Ag with revitalized 2024 Show

Board Seeks New Members and Leadership 

By Kyla Bedard, Vermont Farm Show Board of Trustees  

Due to circumstances related to and created by the coronavirus pandemic, the Board of Trustees of the Vermont Farm Show, Inc., has canceled the 2023 show and is assessing how to ensure the event successfully serves the state’s agricultural interests in the years to come.  

In a recent meeting, the Board unanimously agreed that the Vermont Farm Show should return in 2024, after a period of critique, evaluation, and review to ensure the event evolves with current needs and wants of the Vermont agriculture community in the 21st century.  The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (VAAFM) is coordinating a focus group with agricultural sector stakeholders to help meet this goal. 

Since 1930, the purpose of the non-profit Vermont Farm Show and its Board of Trustees has been to promote Vermont agriculture through meetings of agricultural associations, farming industry displays, exhibits, and demonstrations of innovative methods to grow food in ways that benefit the farmer, the environment, our communities, and society. Today, more than 90 years later, those objectives may be attained in vastly different ways than when the Show first brought people together.                   

The 2022 Vermont Farm Show was canceled....another victim of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Agriculture in Vermont is changing rapidly, and the Vermont Farm Show needs to change, too, to better meet the needs of the agricultural community with the resources available,” reflected Glenn Rogers, who served several years as a floor manager of the Vermont Farm Show and as past secretary and current treasurer on the Board of Trustees. 

After holding the 2020 Show in January of that year, just prior to the beginning of the pandemic, the 2021 and 2022 shows were both cancelled due to ongoing health and safety concerns with COVID-19. “We want to recognize both Board President Dave Martin and Glenn Rogers for their work to hold those shows during the pandemic despite having to cancel.  We are grateful for their long service and commitment to the Vermont Farm Show,” said Vermont Farm Show Vice-President Kyla Bedard.  

The Trustees of the Vermont Farm Show are looking for new Board members to help manage future Farm Shows and contribute to the mission to reimagine the Show.  “The Board is committed to using this time to create the best experience for all Vermonters and our agriculture community.  We also want to use this opportunity to grow our Board and invite anyone interested in envisioning the 2024 Farm Show to join us,” said Bedard.  Per Board bylaws, Dave Martin has stepped down as President after a 3-year term.   

“The Board also will use this time as an opportunity to find someone who is passionate about Vermont agriculture in the 21st century to lead us through this time of transition,” said Rogers. The Trustees are open to finding ways for the Vermont Farm Show to connect with new audiences, such as consumers, food-enthusiasts and all types of Vermont farmers.  

Bedard offered, “We hope that with the support of a coalition of partners the Vermont Farm Show will return in 2024, re-envisioned and revitalized to better serve our Vermont agricultural community and provide connections and education for consumers.”  

Please contact Kyla Bedard if you’re interested in joining the Vermont Farm Show Executive Board or Board of Trustees by email at or by phone at 802.234.1060.

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NE-DBIC Funding Opportunities!

By Kim Burns, VT Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets

As we come into the colder months, The Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center (NE-DBIC) is excitedly preparing for multiple funding opportunities that will serve dairy farms and processors in our region. Be sure to frequently check the NE-DBIC website for additional information and to stay-up-to date on these opportunities in the coming months. 

Grants for Dairy Farms 

  • On-Farm Milk Storage & Handling Grant (Now Accepting Applications): This grant program provides dairy farmers with funds that support the purchase of equipment and supplies to improve milk storage, handling, and energy efficiencies. Applicants will be able to select from a list of eligible equipment. This request for applications will be open until Oct. 6. Grants will range from $15,000- $50,000 with a 25% match commitment. Match waivers are available. 
  • Dairy Food Safety & Certification Grant: The NE-DBIC will be offering grants to support food safety projects including specialized equipment purchase, supplies, food safety training, and certifications. Priority will be given to projects that are utilizing food safety improvements to access new markets. This grant will be released in October. Grants of $10,000 - $40,000 with a 25% match commitment.  
  • Dairy Farm Innovation Grant: Projects funded through this grant will fund a wide range of projects across farm production and business operation models that support the implementation of community- and climate-forward production strategies. The scope of this grant will take a whole farm system approach and increase collaboration with other farms or dairy sector stakeholders. This grant will be released in October. Grants will range from $10,000 to $75,000 with a 25% match commitment required. 

Grants for Dairy Processors 

  • Dairy Food Safety & Certification Grant: The NE-DBIC will be offering grants to support food safety projects including specialized equipment purchase, supplies, food safety training, and certifications. Priority will be given to projects that are utilizing food safety improvements to access new markets. This grant will be released in October. Grants of $10,000 - $40,000 with a 25% match commitment.  
  • Existing Dairy Processor Expansion Grant: This grant will be split into multiple funding tiers to accommodate processors of all scales. Projects will focus on acquiring specialized equipment needed to increase the processing capacity of regionally produced milk and other activities to support expansion to meet demand. This grant opportunity will be released in January.
  • Dairy Processor Innovation Grant: Projects funded through this program will support long term business investments that increase dairy processor business consumer appeal and marketability of value-added dairy products. Project areas can address sourcing, product development, transportation/distribution, marketing/supply chain, operations, employee welfare, consumer experience, utilization of materials or systems that reduce carbon footprint, and beyond. This grant opportunity will be released in January. 

Service Provider Funding 

  • The Dairy Farm Cohort Technical Assistance Program is expanding. Service Providers will be able to submit proposals to develop cohorts of dairy farmers to address relevant areas of technical assistance their regionBuilding on the success of eight current cohorts funded by NE-DBIC, service providers can submit proposals for projects up to $150,000. Topics can focus on grazing, forage enhancement, innovative farm practices, marketing, and/or other areas of support for farmers. This RFP has a deadline of Sept. 16.  
  • Dairy Farm Production Education funding will also be available for service providers and dairy producer associations to develop events, webinars, educational series, or conferences to increase farmer-focused production and business viability education. Proposals accepted for projects up to $35,000. This RFP also has a deadline of Sept. 16. 

Questions? Contact Kathryn Donovan: or Laura

More September 2022 Edition Articles
West Farm in Jeffersonville

Working Lands Grant Enhances Farm Operations

By Ollie Cultrara & Kim Burns - Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets 

Farmers are creative about choosing methods and infrastructure that fit their unique operations. In this series, the Produce Program at the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets features tools and practices that Vermont fruit and vegetable growers use to enhance food safety, increase efficiency, protect product quality, and improve employee satisfaction. This month we’re featuring West Farm, a 10-acre organic vegetable and herb farm in Jeffersonville. 

Hands-Free Handwash Sink 

West Farm bought a hands-free sink in 2021 to replace their previous makeshift handwashing stations. The hands-free design allows the crew to turn on the water by pushing on the pedal in the front of the sink with a knee or leg. It is hooked up to an on-demand water heater for warmer water in the colder seasons. 

Why It Works 

The farm chose a hands-free sink for two reasons. First, during the production season, the new sink allows employees to wash their hands without spreading dirt or other materials to the surfaces of the sink that other people must touch. This way, the sink stays cleaner and is easier to maintain. Secondly, the hands-free setup makes handwashing between tasks quick and effective. The sink is in a central location inside the wash and pack barn that makes it more accessible. Crew can easily wash their hands before heading out to harvest, before packing produce inside, after returning from a break, and in-between other tasks.  

Note: the sink isn’t plumbed to a drain, so the farm uses a bucket to collect used handwashing water. This keeps that water off the floor and away from foot and equipment traffic that could otherwise track through the water and spread potential contaminants. 

Field-Packing Setup 

West Farm recently implemented a new field packing practice where they field pack into waxed cardboard boxes that are placed inside of large plastic totes. The key difference between the setup and the previous one is the usage of the large plastic totes, colloquially known as fish totes. The fish totes are made of durable plastic and when the waxed cardboard boxes are placed inside, they can be dragged between rows while the harvester field-packs. The totes are easy to clean with a daily rinse and an occasional thorough scrub. 

West Farm places wax boxes inside a plastic fish tote to keep the
boxes clean when packing crops in the field.

Why It Works 

The fish totes provide a barrier between the ground and the bottom of the wax boxes during harvest. Even in areas that aren’t “dirty,” the totes prevent any unnoticed contamination, such as deer droppings, from contacting the cases or produce. This is especially important for field packing greens that are iced and palletized in the field. Any debris stuck to the bottom of a box could otherwise potentially cross-contaminate multiple cases as the ice melts. Another benefit is that clean boxes improve the quality of presentation to customers. While it is a little less efficient for packing out larger cases (e.g., kale), the farm finds the trade-off worthwhile. 

For more information about on-farm food safety and resources for fruit and vegetable growers, visit  


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