University of Vermont

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Department of Plant and Soil Science

CONTRARIAN CAREER of WIN WAY

Family Accepts Lifetime Achievement Award from Agriculture and Life Sciences College

Young red-haired Win Way wearing neck tie that says Green Pastures
The late Win Way, during his heyday as a UVM Extension agronomist, was called “a burr under the saddle of administrators,” but a prolific writer, speaker and advocate for farmer, home gardener and rural Vermonters from 1954-1986.

Dan Lerner said, “Teacher, mentor, role model, best describes Winston Arthur Way.”

Bob Sinclair eulogized him with the words, “imaginative writer, public speaker, photographer, agronomist, gardener.”

Tom Vogelmann called him “one of the greats from the era of the UVM Extension agents.”

Sid Bosworth described Win Way as “a true Renaissance agriculturist.

Enid Wonnacott wrote, he’s no less than “one of the pioneers of the organic farming and gardening movement.”

More than 150 people gathered on May 11 at the University of Vermont’s Davis Center for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ alumni and friends awards ceremony. And one of the people they paid tribute to was the late Win Way, long-time UVM Extension agronomist, who died January 26 at age 89. Way was awarded a Robert O. Sinclair Cup for career achievement posthumously. Also receiving a Sinclair Cup was Emeriti Professor Lyndon Carew. Bonnie Sologoff and Gilman Dedrick received Outstanding Alumni Awards. Danielle Leahy took home this year’s Larry K. Forcier Outstanding Senior Award. Emma Wall was named New Achiever.

Influenced Vermont Agriculture

Introducing the award presenters at the 20th annual alumni and friends dinner, Vogelmann, dean of UVM’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), quipped that it took two men to deliver the Win Way’s award: Lerner, UVM Extension associate dean and director, and Bosworth, agronomy specialist in CALS plant and soil science department. It was poetic justice because “Win used to joke that it took two of us to replace him (and I wouldn't deny that!)” Bosworth said later. “I guess I replaced him, but so did Bill Jokela.”

Way made significant contributions to plant and soil science. “Win’s grasp of soil fertility resulted in immense savings to farmers and a significant reduction of fertilizers, at a time when chemicals were overused,” explained Bosworth. He was instrumental in getting Vermont’s home garden and agricultural soil testing program under way. He wrote the logic for the first computerized soil testing program. And he even created a folksy looking, now famous “Win Way Wheel” – a device he made to generate fertilizer recommendations.

He promoted the use of the plant birdsfoot trefoil on roadsides and medians, often sowing it himself as he drove down highways. The yellow blossoms can still be seen along some Vermont roads.

With a strong academic background in plants and soils, unprecedented experience and knowledge of Vermont agriculture, Win Way was a true broad thinker and educator. He freely gave advice on all aspects of soils, plant nutrition, manure fertility, crop production, harvest and storage, forages, corn, small grains, root crops, oil seeds, vegetables, turf and forests. He had a “working knowledge of conservation, energy and resource use, appropriate technology, self reliance, alternative agriculture, local food production for local consumption, small and part-time farming,” according to his resume.

Familiar Face of UVM Extension for 32 Years

That resume reads something like this: Win Way grew up in North Hero, where his father and grandfather ran the Irving House (now called the North Hero House) and operated a small diversified farm. It was on that farm where Way gained his early interest in agriculture, plants and soils.

During World War II, he was stationed in Asia for three years. Friends have said that witnessing poverty, hunger and disregard for natural resources in Burma, India and China, he found his calling in soil science, sustainable agriculture and environmental protection.

He received a bachelor’s degree in forestry in 1950 from State University of New York-Syracuse and master’s degree in agronomy in 1951 from UVM. He was an instructor and assistant research agronomist at UVM until 1954, when he became the Extension agronomist – a position he held for 32 years. He retired in 1986.

He often told young people looking for vocations: “I believe that success depends on a complete immersion in one’s job, blending personal and professional life.” He lived by his own advice. During his career, he gave 3,000 presentations to farmers, gardeners and Extension agents – that’s almost 100 a year. He did 500 Across the Fence local television shows (60 shows in one year!), 1,200 radio programs and produced over 70,000 photo slides for various programs. He never turned down a speaking engagement. (He thought it was bad PR!)

For many Vermonters, Win Way was the familiar face of UVM Extension. 

Contrarian to Some, Dangerous to Others

His fans allowed that Win Way was an “independent thinker.” He spurned memberships in organizations, saying, “I would rather be independent so as not to offend others of my Vermont audience.”

UVM Research Associate Professor Don Ross was a grad. student in the late 1970s with a lab near Way’s office. “Win was always seeking better answers to the questions he was asked,” Ross remembers. “I often encountered him in the hall picking the brains of other faculty or he’d pop out and ask you his question of the day. He was a good listener and, of course, he was a great talker.”

He readily spoke up about the high costs of “labor efficiencies (that) come about because of economies of scale,” those costs being greater use and waste of energy, air pollution and wildlife destruction.

Bosworth says that because Way asked tough questions, “he was considered a contrarian by some, dangerous by others.“

He advocated for small farms and locally produced food long before it was popular.

In fact, he promoted agricultural practices that, as Bosworth said, “most universities considered a cult – organic. “Win persisted by inviting organic farmers to give talks at UVM. He helped in the early efforts of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont. In 1976, NOFA-VT invited him to give the keynote address at its conference, and presented him with their first honorary award to the person who had done the most to promote organic agriculture in New England.

Enid Wonnacott NOFA-VT Executive Director, agrees. “At a time when the Extension Service was not talking much about organic agriculture, Win was a strong and steady voice teaching about organic agriculture in his classes, presenting the merits of organic gardening on Across the Fence, and gardening by example.”

Robert Sinclair, former dean of UVM’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the first winner of the award that bears his name, was a life-long friend of Way. He knew the paradoxes that were Win Way. In his eulogy he wrote:

  • “His impatience with the college bureaucracy is legendary, and he was often the burr under the saddle of administrators. But it was this trait that allowed him to work so effectively outside the confines of academia.
  • He loved to talk and had a phenomenal memory of details, but the key to the combination lock on his barn was 000.
  • He was exacting in many endeavors but forgiving of those with fewer talents.

“Win Way was a complex individual.”

Bosworth concluded, “if Win were here today I think he would offer an argument against bigger is better, and modern beats old.”

But during the reception, Win’s son, Kim Way ’78, remarked with a grin that if Win Way were here today, he wouldn’t attend this award ceremony. “He would never attend an event like this,” he was just that contrary about recognition and administration.”

That is just one more reason why now was the perfect time to honor Win Way’s accomplishments.

Kim Way of Dublin, Ohio accepted the award on behalf of the family. Also attending were: Win’s wife, Jane Way of North Hero; son and daughter-in-law Tom and Aldona Way of Winooski; and Kim Way’s wife Karen Way.

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