Story By Joe Milliken,
Located at 135 North Main Street in Rutland and administered by the Vermont Grocers Association (VGA), the Vermont Specialty Food Association (VSFA) was first established in 1985 and is the longest running specialty food association in the country.
Originally formed with about a dozen members, some of which you may know including local food mainstays Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry's, Jonathan Altman of Putney Pasta, Ron Mancini of Mother Myrick's and Ann Christopher of Annie's Barbecue, the VSFA has since grown to now include over 130 members throughout the state.
The original mission of the Association which stands true today, is to help plan, develop and promote an effective specialty foods industry designed to increase both the sale and consumption of Vermont state-produced specialty foods and services.
"During the organizations' early years, the specialty food industry had a big cheerleader in the state in Jerry Kelly, the Deputy Commissioner of Agriculture," said Jim Harrison, who is involved in running both the VSFA and VGA.
"Jerry took a personal interest in helping food producers get their product to market and helped Vermont develop a name for quality food."
Established in 1934, the VGA is a statewide association that represents all sectors of the Vermont food industry, helping to connect
700 stores with nearly 250 specialty food suppliers throughout the state.
They have also been an intricate part in the overall success of not only the VSFA, but all phases of the Vermont specialty food sector.
Over the past two decades, the VSFA has worked hard to promote and cultivate what is now recognized as one of the top specialty food sectors in the country, having assisted hundreds of companies and
entrepreneurs in promoting their products and helping their businesses flourish.
Also and because the VSFA is both administered and regulated by the VGA, there is no need for full-time employees or overhead, which is very important in this unstable economy. Therefore, the VSFA is now more valuable than ever with state programs being cut and both large and small companies struggling to stay a float.
"We serve as a conduit for pertinent information to members, access to industry trade shows and events, educational opportunities and member-to-member networking," Harrison said. "VSFA also maintains a web site and directory with listings of each member producer that is passed out at industry shows, sent to retailers and also distributed by the state."
The VSMA also provides an excellent vehicle in becoming connected with a knowledgeable network of fellow Vermont food producers, who all share the same goal of promoting and growing the overall Vermont specialty food sector.
They also strive to support family-owned farms and to promote healthy, natural food products which of course, Vermont has always been well-known for.
Some of the membership benefits include an associate membership in the Vermont Grocer's Association which offers such programs as insurance, credit card processing programs, a subscription to the informative VSFA newsletter Shelftalk, educational seminars, representation at industry trade shows and business listings on the VSFA web site and source book. Also for a limited time, VSFA is offering new members a 50% discount on applicable dues for the balance of the 2009 membership.
Along with assisting in these various food shows, the VSFA also continues to search out other ways to help its' members.
"We continue to explore avenues and services to assist our members including improvements to our web site and possibly the use of new medias," Harrison concluded.
"VSFA members are dedicated to producing great food products. It is a joy to work with and see small producers grow from an idea in the kitchen, to getting their product on the selves and widely distributed."
To learn more about the Vermont Specialty Food Association and its' services, call 802-775-5460 or visit VSFA online at www.vtspecialtyfoods.org.