Why Is Vermont Treating Its Sustainable Poultry Farmers Like Garbage?

Vermont composting rules could kill off the state’s small poultry farmers.


Last week, alarming reports indicated new composting rules could put many small, sustainable poultry farmers in Vermont out of business.

"Until last year, this small group involved in both composting and farming were viewed as farms and overseen by the Agency of Agriculture," Vermont Digger reported. "By next November, they will have to receive solid waste permits from the Department of Environmental Conservation, a change the on-farm composters say will be costly and complicated."

Poultry farmers (er, "solid waste farmers") and composters in Vermont are outraged.

"It's had a huge economic impact on us," Tom Gilbert, owner of Black Dirt Farm in Greensboro Bend, told the Digger last week. "The piece about [us] not being a farm, it would basically be impossible for us to be open."

A report at Seven Days Vermont described composters in the state as "baffl[ed]" as to "why the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets is making on-farm composting more difficult."

Vermont poultry farmer Karl Hammer, a "compost connoisseur" whose practices have had a great influence on many poultry farmers, is also confused by the new rules.

Compost used as poultry feed includes "coffee grounds, tea bags, vegetable and fruit peelings, leftover pasta" and other food items. Poultry feed is generally the greatest cost incurred by farmers raising chickens. Feeding chickens with compost—they also eat the grubs and other bugs that thrive in the compost—helps reduce or even eliminate those costs. Raising chickens on compost can be "entirely feasible" for many small farms.

Vermont officials can't claim the state doesn't recognize the benefits of composting. Quite oddly, in fact, the state is targeting the feeding of poultry via compost at the exact same time the state is banning food scraps in trash to encourage, ahem, "supporting composters [and] local farmers."

So what's the issue? As the Digger notes, poultry operations in the state that feed their flocks on compost have been the subject of a few complaints over the years, generally around water quality and odor. While these are common agricultural issues, the state appears unwilling or incapable of figuring out how to handle these issues.

Hence, Vermont's agriculture department and its natural resources department have sparred for more than a decade over which agency should regulate the environmental and public health impact of the state's farms. (The Digger's report on the back-and-forth between the agencies and the regulatory confusion that is both the cause and effect of that saga is excellent and well worth a read.)

The state's escalating threat to poultry farmers seems to stem from a 2018 agriculture department memo that declared any poultry farm which feeds its own compost to chickens "a solid waste facility" to be regulated by the state's natural resources department. But this change came as "a surprise to [the] natural resources personnel" who regulate solid-waste facilities.

Now, many Vermont poultry farmers caught in the middle of the agencies' jurisdictional skirmish face an existential threat to their farms and livelihoods.

While this Vermont crackdown on sustainable farmers may seem unusual, it's not. Not at all. I devote a large portion of my 2016 book Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable, to issues exactly like what's occurring in Vermont.

As I detail, lawmakers and regulators around the country—well-intentioned or not—regularly introduce lousy rules that force food producers to adopt practices that are bizarre, unnecessary, and costly to comply with. Oftentimes these food producers are small and—just like those under the gun in Vermont—using sustainable farming practices.

The Vermont fiasco is reminiscent of a bizarre Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposal several years ago that would have forced most beer brewers—from the smallest to the largest—to register with the federal government as pet food makers. That's not because the FDA learned cats drink beer. Rather, the proposal centered on the donation and sale of spent grains—literally 'spent' because a brewer used them to make beer—by brewers to farmers across America.

Much like feeding compost to farm animals, farmers have fed spent grains to their livestock since prehistoric times. Even today, many brewers in the United States—from MillerCoors to your local nanobrewery—donate or sell their spent grains to dairy farmers.

"This wonderful, synergistic relationship has helped reduce landfill costs for brewers and feed costs for farmers," I write in Biting the Hands that Feed Us. "It's also helped prevent literally tons of 'food waste,' a term that refers to the roughly 40 percent of our food that is not eaten or otherwise put to use and which ends up in landfills, often needlessly."

In the case of the FDA, beer, and spent grains, the agency backed down. In Vermont, legislative reform has so far proven elusive.

That's a real shame. It's time for Vermont to stop treating its small, sustainable poultry farmers like garbage.

NEXT: Kevin O'Leary Puts His Money Where the Profits Are

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  1. Sounds like a chicken shit rule.

    1. Isn’t Vermont Bernie Sander’s home state? That should tell us everything we need to know.

    2. Quite common actually.

      Many states have passed rules that bar grocery store, food processing, and restaurant food waste be trashed, rather then feed to poultry or pigs. My ag state of Wyoming as well.

      Pigs heads, feet and skin must be thrown in the trash, despite no state or federal reguation requiring it. State inspectors just decided that’s just the way its done.

      Lamb at state-inspected processing must be hung for three weeks, making the fats take on a gamey taste. No wonder a state awash in sheep is NOT eaten locally and most goes into dog food.

      State regs seem to be bound and determined to keep Wyoming ag limited.

  2. Hence, Vermont’s agriculture department and its natural resources department have sparred for more than a decade over which agency should regulate the environmental and public health impact of the state’s farms.

    It seems that instead of attempting to collect more power, each agency is passing the bureaucratic buck to the other. Am I reading the situation correctly?

    1. Sounds like the Ag dept isn’t interested in monitoring water quality near industrial compost facilities.

      Not clear why the famers should be exempt from the rules everyone else has to follow.

      1. Really. Seems as unfair as going to the trouble of electing nazi politicians to pass Kristallnacht laws and being disappointed to learn they only applied to Joooos, eh gnosse?

    2. I don’t think so – it just sounds like Agriculture is promoting food production over environment and Environmental is promoting environment over food production. Where do you strike a balance between costs and benefits of industry? How much pollution are you willing to trade for how many jobs? How do the costs to the environment stack up against the costs of goods sold?

      Government agencies don’t do trade-offs very well. Environmental is charged with cleaning up the environment and if every single human being has to starve to death shivering naked in a cave, well, at least they’re not polluting. And that’s all they care about, costs are not a consideration. It’s why Alaska has laws about fish-processing facilities spewing fish guts out into the ocean – that’s pollution as far as they’re concerned despite the fact that every damn thing in the ocean considers spewed fish guts to be a free lunch. Or the dairy farmers having a beef over being forced to treat leaky milk tanks just the same as leaky fuel tanks or leaky pesticide tanks – there’s a joke about crying over spilled milk in there somewhere but it’s not funny that spilled milk is considered toxic waste. There’s no balancing costs and benefits there. That’s what you get when you’re spending other people’s money.

      1. Yeah man, correct and well written!

        James Bovard (“Freedom in Chains” & other books) documented this kind of crap in great detail during the 1990s. Fucking EPA cleanup sites were (are still?) a joke! Spend billions of $$$ cleaning up “toxic wastes” like the glue in pizza boxes, in landfills!

        Also totally lost in this mess, is that LOW concentrations of toxins are GOOD for us, via “hormesis”! Cleaning up every last molecule of “poison” is not only a waste of money, but actually harms our health! But try explaining THAT to the ninnies, nannies, and tree-huggers!

      2. Wyoming Fish and Game has been bullying specialty ag out of business. Small farmers can’t compete with the massive companies on chicken, Turkey, or pork, but they could find market niches in pheasant, quail, Elk, Antelop, or Bison. The Eco-extremist at WFG claim control, demand licenses based on secret “guidelines” which, even if you meet, you may be rejected do to “other factors.” No rational person invests time and money in starting a business when your permit is based on a wink and a nod to cronies.

        Poultry transport requires a permit, but no at the state issues them nor is there any rules around them. So how do you transport, when the state can seize your goods if you don’t have the permit that they don’t issue.

        Round and round. B”ut that ‘s how its always been done,” and so no one invests or grows.

  3. poultry operations in the state that feed their flocks on compost have been the subject of a few complaints over the years, generally around water quality and odor. While these are common agricultural issues, the state appears unwilling or incapable of figuring out how to handle these issues.

    Why does the state have to handle them, rather than the poultry farmers?

    1. States set rules, that farmers follow.

      State doesn’t have to clean up anything, just tell farmers how to operate.

      Generally folks move to places in Vermont for a Disney version of Agriculture, only to find out that farming is messy and smelly. They are outraged, What, you mean those pretty cows poo a lot! No kidding, snowflake.

    2. I think that allowing the property owners to work it out amongst themselves here would probably be best. If they dislike the odor, the farmers can negotiate with them for the right to “pollute” their property with noisome smells. Set it as a deed restriction so it passes with the sale of the property. Et voila, problem solved. The property owners will want to consider how that affects the resale value of the property to price it accordingly. It’s simple stuff, though.

  4. I’m shocked to learn that the state which keeps reelecting a socialist Senator has costly and burdensome regulations.

    1. Those of us a little closer to VT are somewhat more shocked. Despite electing Bernie as Rep and Senator for quite some time, VT has also generally been a pretty low-regulation place. No gun laws to speak of until very recently. Very limited zoning/land use restrictions. It all seems to be getting worse now, which is sad, but for a long time there was a lot to be said for the state of laws and regulations in VT.

      1. Yet the turkeys are coming home to roost.

    2. I’m shocked. Shocked! Well, not that shocked.

  5. Simple solution; eliminate poultry from our diet and eat more tasty beef.
    As an additional benefit, this may give AOC a heart attack.

  6. “Department of Environmental Conservation” – Equal opportunity haters, now hating animals too!

    1. When you keep in mind that human beings are animals too, that’s quite true. At the heart of the Green New Deal is the idea that the carrying capacity of the planet is about 600 million humans, so we’re going to have to thin the herd by about 90%. Undoing the Industrial Revolution is just a start, eventually we’re going to have to revert to a hunter/gatherer society. And then we’ll eliminate the hunter part and the gatherer part and we’ll be browse animals as we were intended to be. Anybody who sees this as a good thing has to positively hate human beings.

      1. Just keep in mind that if they ever got to 600 million, the number would need to be magically reduced from there.

        These anti-natalist jerks have been a plague on human kind since at least the time of the Cathars and I have no doubt before then as well.

      2. I’m actually fine with a total population of about 1billion as optimal, just in terms of being able to spread out and have a bit of space. But, and it’s a biggy, I want to do it by increasing everyone’s standard of live (which requires maximal freedom and free trade to achieve), and just let women control how many kids they actually want to have. After a couple of centuries of that, we may be paying women to have kids.

        OTOH, the greenies want that 90% reduction fast…. their hero is Mao. Fine, they can volunteer to go first.

        As to hunter-gatherering…. I like to be pretty much at the apex of the food chain, and I’m not sure that the typical bushman or Ozzie aboriginal is.

        1. Sander’s proposal: send an army of abortionists to Africa. That was not received well at all

  7. Didn’t their neighbors directly vote to elect Comrade Bernard Sanders to the U.S. Senate? Did they themselves also vote for looter politicians? Now they will feel on their hides what Col. Sanders did for chickens. Mistakes and expensive regrets are what teach people to vote Libertarian.

  8. “Why Is Vermont Treating Its Sustainable Poultry Farmers Like Garbage?”

    Because the government can!
    Don’t you realize the people of Vermont gave their obvious betters governing them cart blanch to do whatever they please, anytime they please to anyone they please?
    How else are the people of Vermont going enjoy the joys and pleasures of socialist tyranny?

  9. a 2018 agriculture department memo that declared any poultry farm which feeds its own compost to chickens “a solid waste facility” to be regulated by the state’s natural resources department

    So if they were to exchange compost with another farm, they would not longer be using their own compost. thus, they’d no longer be a solid waste facility, right?

    I’m sure the state would be totally cool with that.

    1. These days, anyone who want to engage in business is forced to dig through regulations to find the loophole and workarounds such as you identified just to survive.

  10. i>”A report at Seven Days Vermont described composters in the state as “baffl[ed]” as to “why the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets is making on-farm composting more difficult.”

    Why? It’s their job.

    If you’re confused about why the government is making things difficult for you, you obviously haven’t been paying attention.

  11. As long as poultry fed on garbage and table scraps is clearly identified as such, it’s fine with me.

    I wouldn’t buy it but it’s none of my business if others want to.

    1. And others might specifically want it. Grain fed chicken is rather dull.

  12. Moderate democrat representative Jeff Van Drew from New Jersey has decided to switch parties thanks to the absurd impeachment farce.

    The enraged spittle will be flying at Reason D.C. headquarters over this guy!

  13. “…small, sustainable poultry farmers in Vermont out of business…”

    Anyone care to (try to) define “sustainable” in this context? Or is it just one more bullshit watermelon claim?

    1. Since ALL food is “sustainable”, in this context I think it means more expensive.

  14. These regs are solid waste.

  15. It’s not that complicated. Vermont is dominated by the Democrats. The Democrats are an urban party. Poultry growers are rural.

    So the Democrats have no urge whatsoever to avoid screwing things up for poultry farmers. People who don’t live in cities and do city things are ignorant yahoos who deserve whatever happens to them.

    If they don’t like it, they should move to the city and open espresso bars, like civilized people.

    1. This!

      Folks in NY city simply refer to it as “The City” as if it is the only one in the world. Bostonians are worse, calling their hive “The Hub” (of the Universe).

      The arrogance of city and suburban people is beyond measure. It’s fun to watch their heads explode when they do venture out and see a bit of rural American (in my definition, any large area with population density < about 20 or 30 people per square mile).

      1. Yes, New Yorkers are the most provincial people I have ever encountered.

      2. Trouble is, at this point most people are city or suburban people. They ignore the rural areas because, to a large extent, they can. But it does still bite them in the ass sometimes, which is a good thing.

        I don’t think Bostonians really think of their city that way. I’ve never heard anyone refer to it as “the Hub” in conversation. New Yorkers, on the other hand, really do think they are the center of the universe. Boston has other problems.

        1. Well, thank the writers of the Constitution that the electoral college is in place, or things would be far worse for the few percent who still live on the land.

          1. With out the electoral college the US president would be chosen by five urban centers only.

            Candidates could safety ignore the needs and concerns of the rest of the nation, with society devolving into extreme stratification, such as seen in “The Cloud People” original Star Trek, or Matt Demon’s “Elysian.”

        2. I was born in an “outer borough” and raised out on Long Island. If we visited our relatives in Queens, we were “going into the city.” When our cousins “went into the city” they meant Manhattan. When the NBA Warriors wore “The City” on their uniforms, referring to San Francisco, we laughed. “The Hub” is why there are spokes behind the NHL Boston Bruins’ crest on their sweater.

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