Representative Partridge, Chair of the Vermont House Committee on Agriculture and Forestry,is an 18-year member of the Vermont House of Representatives and the Chair of the Committee on Agriculture and Forestry. She is better known to the regular participants of the ERC as one of the two Co-Chairs of the ERC Agriculture and Rural Affairs policy committee, along with Senator Gary Simpson of Delaware. Carolyn has also been a chair of the ERC Annual Meeting Committee, and the Chair of ERC Nominations committee for several years.
Representative Partridge grew up in Hackensack, New Jersey, and moved to Vermont in 1972 after completing her Bachelor’s Degree in Oceanography at NYU. Outside of the Legislature, she is a farmer and seamstress, plus a mother of five and grandmother to one. Carolyn is also a member of her local school board, and past member of her planning commission and several other boards over the years. She is also deacon of her Congregational Church.
We asked the Representative what is the biggest agricultural problem in Vermont today. She replied that it is water quality – in Lake Champlain primarily, but in the Connecticut River as well. She says, “Forty percent of the pollutants going into the big lake are from agriculture run off.” She adds, “The worst pollution in the lake is at the north end, where the most farms are.” Vermont has passed a law that requires that all farms have a nutrient management plan, not just large and medium size farms as in the past. The cost of compliance with nutrient management regulations is anticipated to be approximately $25 million per year to the state, but a large part of this will be borne by the farmers. The Representative tells us that the Governor has committed to no new tax or fee to cover the cost of the cleanup.
Carolyn goes on to say, “Home lawn care and storm water management are also part of the total solution.” Two problems they are experiencing is that people in other parts of the state are not happy about being charged to clean up the lake since they are not contributing to the problem. The cleanup has been driven by a lawsuit against Vermont by the Vermont Office of Conservation Law Foundation.
We asked her what was the biggest non Agriculture problem in the state and she replied, “There are three – the Opioid crisis, funding for education, and balancing the budget.” (Sound familiar to any of the other jurisdictions?)
Carolyn was asked about how the Vermont dairy farms are doing with low milk prices. “We are now down to 800 dairy farms left in the state, and we are worried about losing infrastructure with less than 1000 dairy farms.” Carolyn herself travels one and three quarters hours to pick up parts for her farm equipment. Vermont farmers, like every other northeast state, are disappointed in the failure of MPP. Her committee is looking at ways to bring about farm sustainability.
We asked Rep. Partridge what her best job was. “I love being a legislator, in spite of it being taxing at times, and I love farming, because I don’t need to think while working on the farm.” She does go on to say that, while being a legislator is challenging, she loves the constituent service, even though she cannot make every constituent happy.
When asked what she wanted her legacy to be, Carolyn said, “I am proud of the fact that the ‘Farm to School’ and ‘Farm to Plate’ programs were big successes and have improved the diets of Vermonters.” She is also proud of helping to develop the ‘Working Lands initiative’, which created jobs. And she is very proud of her role in the Vermont law that required labeling of GMOs. Partridge is currently very interested in regenerative agriculture, which emphasizes soil health.
She sums her legacy up as participating in work that results in improving people’s lives. “I love creative thinking, good processes and working together.”
Carolyn Partridge is just one of the many committed and knowledgeable State Representatives and Senators who are passionate about agriculture and rural affairs that you will meet at the 2017 Annual Conference in Connecticut August 13-18.