Oral History Recordings
Winston Arthur Way
Agronomist, 1954 - 1986
Winston Arthur Way, more commonly known as Win Way by his friends and audiences throughout Vermont, New England, and Quebec, grew up in North Hero, where his father and grandfather ran the Irving House and a small diversified farm. It was on the farm where Win gained his early interest in agriculture, plants and soils, but it was in Burma, India and China, during World War II, where he found his calling as a soil scientist and educator. More...
He attended the New York State University of Forestry at Syracuse University and received a B.S. in Forestry in 1950. In 1951, Win received a M.S. in Agronomy at the University of Vermont and for the next four years worked as an Instructor and Assistant Research Agronomist at UVM. In 1954, Win became the UVM Extension Agronomist working in the Agronomy Department (now the Plant and Soil Science Department) for the next 32 years when he retired in 1986.
These are the broad strokes of Win's career, but to understand this remarkable man and his impact on agriculture in Vermont consider the advice he gave young people looking for vocations: "I believe that success depends on a complete immersion in one's job, blending personal and professional life." For those who knew him, Win was completely immersed in his job, and one of the most prolific authors in Extension. He never turned down a speaking engagement (he thought it was bad public relations), and during his career he gave 3,000 presentations to farmers, gardeners, and Extension agents, an average of almost 100 a year. In addition, he did 500 shows on Across the Fence, including 60 shows in one year; 1,200 radio programs, and produced over 70,000 slides that he used in various programs. For many people in Vermont, Win Way was the face of UVM Extension.
Win was a great believer in the Land Grant mission of doing research that benefited farmers and helping to implement new practices that proved better than the old. He was also a very independent thinker. He spurned memberships in organizations to preserve his academic freedom, noting "I would rather be independent so as not to offend others of my Vermont audience." He was considered a contrarian by some, and dangerous by others, perhaps because he asked tough questions of himself and others. In a personal essay written 23 years after his retirement, he noted that "greater labor efficiencies come about because of economies of scale," but noted these advances come with a cost, including greater use and waste of energy, greater pollution of air, and destruction of wildlife.
In addition to his service to Vermont farmers and citizens through UVM Extension, Win made many contributions to the Department of Plant and Soil Science, and the College of Agriculture as well. Win was a strong, early supporter of soil testing and was instrumental in getting the Vermont soil testing program under way. From the Win Way Wheel, a device he made to generate fertilizer recommendations, to writing the logic for the first computerized soil testing program, Win's grasp of soil fertility resulted in immense savings to farmers throughout the state, as well as a significant reduction of fertilizers, at a time when chemicals were overused in farming practices.
Win was also a pioneer in the field of sustainable agriculture. His experiences in Asia during World War II gave him a first-hand understanding of poverty, world hunger, and the blatant disregard for natural resources. Even in the early days, he was a leader in environmental protection before it was popular. He also recognized and advocated for the need for small farms and locally produced food even before the term "Food Systems" or "Farm to Plate" existed. This was at a time when most universities considered organic farming a cult and did not take it very seriously. But Win persisted by inviting out-of-state organic farmers to give talks at UVM, and he also helped in the early efforts of the Vermont Chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association. In recognition of his work NOFA invited him to give the keynote address at their 1976 conference, and presented him with the first Honorary Award, given to the person who had done the most to promote organic agriculture in New England.
For Win the question was, were the farmers better off today than they were 100 years ago. That is what he cared about.
Sustainable is not going to be sustainable according to the lifestyle we have now...