University of Vermont

Center for Research on Vermont

UVM Receives Two $500,000 Grants from the USDA

UVM Horticulture Farm
Two USDA grants to UVM faculty will fund research on how health care reforms impact the farm and ranch population in the U.S. and the development of education programs on food safety practices for small and medium-sized farms. (Photo: Sally McCay)

Faculty in the University of Vermont’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences have received two $500,000 grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The grants are part of a USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture initiative designed to increase prosperity in rural America. 

Impact of health care reform on U.S. farm and ranch population

A USDA Rural Communities and Regional Development grant went to a team led by rural sociologist Shoshanah Inwood, assistant professor in the Department of Community Development and Applied Economics. In partnership with the NORC Walsh Center for Rural Health Analysis, Inwood and her colleagues will investigate how health insurance options and health care reforms impact the farm and ranch population in the United States.

The goals of the project include understanding how health care insurance policy influences farmers’ decisions to invest, expand and grow their enterprises, and how these decisions contribute to workforce vitality, development and security in the food and agricultural sector state by state.

“While there has been a renewed interest in opportunities for economic growth through food and agriculture, many farm families report challenges in managing and growing the farm enterprise due, in part, to the costs of health insurance and health care,” said Inwood.  “This study will provide information on how health care options will impact the farm population and the nation’s agricultural sector.”

Other members of the UVM team in addition to Inwood include Bob Parsons of UVM Extension and Community Development and Applied Economics, Jane Kolodinsky chair of CDAE and director of the Center for Rural Studies, Jason Parker of the Plant and Soil Science Department and Sarah Heiss of CDAE. Project partners include the Northeastern, North Central, Southern and Western Regional Rural Development Centers (RRDCs); University of Vermont Center for Rural Studies; University of Vermont Extension; Center for Rural Affairs; University of Maryland Extension; and the Farm Foundation. 

Increasing awareness of food safety knowledge and design on small farms

A $500,000 USDA Small and Medium-Sized Farms grant went to a UVM team led by Jason Parker, assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Science, to develop education programs for smaller farms that are likely to be exempt from the Food Safety Modernization Act, passed in 2011.  

The first update of federal food safety laws since 1938, the new law includes several parameters that could exempt many smaller farms from its regulations, including size based on gross sales, type of sales (direct, retail, wholesale), distance from farm, and whether a crop is usually eaten raw. The vast majority of New England produce operations will likely be exempt from the law.

The grant will be used to develop a robust produce safety education program to ensure that exempt farms are not at an economic disadvantage in the marketplace. This proposed work will enhance the curriculum of the Produce Safety Alliance, a collaboration between Cornell University, United States Department of Agriculture, and the Food and Drug Administration, by identifying economic and social factors that hinder small and medium-sized farmer adoption of food safety practices and by optimizing education delivery methods based on their learning and information needs.

The goal of this program is to increase produce growers’ food safety knowledge and design supports for adopting scale-appropriate Good Agricultural Practices that will reduce the overall risk of foodborne illness and increase access to local and regional wholesale markets. The long-term project goal is to increase the number of fresh produce growers adopting on-farm produce safety practices in order to improve the economic viability of small and medium-size farms in New England. Expanding produce safety curriculum to exempt growers will enhance or maintain market access for small and medium-sized New England farms. These results may be adapted to enhance the development of local food systems in other regions.

In addition to Parker, the UVM team includes Ginger Nickerson of the Center for Sustainable Agriculture, David Conner CDAE and Florence Becot of the Center for Rural Studies. Other regional partners include Extension faculty at the University of Connecticut, University of Maine, University of New Hampshire and the University of Rhode Island.