Hunger for Action: NOFA-VT's Erin Buckwalter
By Alexandra Zipparo
Vermont hasn’t had her for very long, but Erin Buckwalter has made quite an impact. Whether she’s teaching at UVM, working with farmers markets, connecting seniors with CSA shares, battling food insecurity, helping farmers reach institutional markets, or running the Bristol Farmers’ Market, there’s no question- Erin’s work is helping to increase the vibrancy of Vermont’s food system.
A native upstate New Yorker, Erin found her way to Vermont less than a decade ago to take an Americorps Vista position in Winooski. Fresh from college, with the hopes of establishing a career based in community organizing and women’s rights, her experience in Winooski was a shape-shifting, eye-opener. It was there, while working with limited-resource youth in an urban farm program that Erin fell in love with working in the agricultural sector.
She joined NOFA-VT in 2011 as Direct Marketing and Community Food Security Coordinator . Her work includes providing farmers’ market technical assistance, programming, and support; managing the Vermont Farm Share Program, and supporting NOFA-VT’s Farm to Institution efforts.
The focus of NOFA-VT’s work with farmers markets has been to provide market managers with tools and technical assistance to help make them more effective. With support from the Castanea Foundation and USDA-Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Program and other USDA grants, NOFA-VT has been working to expand market opportunities for lower income consumers, and to help markets with with evaluation and strategic planning and coordination.
Erin is the coordinator of the NOFA-VT Direct Marketing Conference, which will be held January 13, at Vermont Law School. The annual Direct Marketing Conference provides networking and educational opportunities for farmers’ market managers and vendors, and farmers marketing through Community Supported Agriculture and farm stands. The 2013 Conference will feature five speakers inspired by the TEDTalks format of brief but excellent presentations on "ideas worth spreading", the VTFMA annual meeting, and twenty workshops for farmers, marketers, and farmers' market managers.
Erin’s work with the Vermont Farm Share Program addresses food security by giving access to CSA shares to limited-income Vermonters. A newer part of Erin’s repertoire, Farm to Institution, is part of a regional movement to increase local food purchasing in institutional markets. Joining forces with long time farm-to-school leader, Abbie Nelson, Erin brings additional resources and expertise to the project. Their work recently resulted in a report, Scaling Up Vermont’s Local Food Production, Distribution, and Marketing, which includes a spreadsheet of many of the state’s institutional partners’ needs so farmers can see where the demand is, helping connect them to buyers who are interested in procuring food from local farms.
Currently, they are working on pilot projects that will offer services to farmers who want to scale up production, for institutional markets. They will also be connecting food hubs with distributors, with a goal of avoiding duplication of services, and increasing collaboration and coordination between the two, maximizing outcomes for all of Vermont.
A recent graduate of the Community Development and Applied Economics master program at UVM, Erin has been able to give back, by teaching a couple of classes in that department. Having completed a thesis related to community food security, Erin’s classes cover related topics, and are extremely popular among students.
Even on the weekends, Erin’s dedication to food and farming doesn’t stop, and she can either be found managing the Bristol Farmers’ Market or working with her husband on their homestead farm. Erin notes that her work with NOFA Vermont has really enhanced her ability to manage a farmers’ market effectively, helping her to make improvements where wouldn’t have otherwise. Her own homestead produces eggs and meat, and from her garden she also cans and stores a good deal of food. The line between work and home are blurry for Erin, but it is something she is very glad is possible. Wisdom dictates that we should love the work we do, thus making it feel like no work at all, and Erin seems to have followed that advice well.
Last modified December 21 2012 05:34 PM