An Afternoon at UVM’s Horticulture Research and Education Center
By Ernesto Méndez (ALC/PSS) and Rachel Leslie (CALS)
Many UVM students take pride knowing that over 25% of campus food comes from local/community-based, fair, ecologically sound and humane food sources. What they may not know is that a portion of that food is cultivated by UVM students just a few miles from campus at UVM’s Horticulture Research and Education Center (HREC).
Last Friday, the Department of Plant and Soil Science hosted a tour of HREC, bringing students, facility and other visitors from across campus to see the facility in action and learn more about its various education and research programs.
“I was surprised by the variety of plants and size of the farm, considering the location,” said plant biology major Mackenzie Laverick, who attended the HREC tour.
Nestled in the peri-urban/suburban landscape of South Burlington, VT, the nearly 100-acre facility revolves around a three-pronged mission of fostering research, education and specialty crop production. Having been purchased by UVM in 1952, the facility has a rich history of research and education in agronomy, horticulture, and more recently, in ecological agriculture and agroecology.
There are 15 research projects underway this year, including research on invasive pests and diseases that affect apples, grapes, and vegetables. For education, the HREC hosts the Farmer Training Program (FTP), a 6-month intensive program for aspiring farmers and food systems advocates, and several undergraduate courses use the farm as an outdoor classroom. Apples, grapes, organic vegetables and broiler chickens comprise the production portion – sold through a CSA, a farmstand, the Old North End Farmers Market and UVM dining halls.
“I know about CSAs, but I didn’t know that a UVM farm had one,” said Molly Mathes, a food systems major who first learned about the HREC through one of her courses and had never been to the facility before the tour. “I think taking a class there would be fun,” she said.
Upon arriving for the tour, HREC director and plant and soil science research assistant professor Terence Bradshaw introduced the farm and its mission. After enjoying fresh apples and carrots grown on the farm, the visitors learned about some of the research projects underway, including plant and soil science lecturer Annie White’s work establishing pollinator habitats at the farm.
Farmer Training Program co-director Rachel Stievater discussed the farm’s educational mission. The Catamount Educational Farm, which comprises approximately 10-acres of the HREC facility, offers students and faculty the opportunity to learn and research hands-on specialty crop production and marketing. Through summer courses at the Catamount Educational Farm, UVM undergraduate students work side by side with students in the Farmer Training Program gaining hands-on experience in organic farming, crop planning and diversified farm management – the foundations of agroecology. Bradshaw concluded the tour with an educational walk through the grape and apple research plots.
“The objective of the tour was to show the farm, and the educational and research opportunities it offers, to members of the UVM and Burlington community who might not know of it,” said Bradshaw. “We were pleased to have students and faculty in attendance from many UVM programs and colleges.”
The Plant and Soil Science Department is working hard with Bradshaw, Stievater, and Farmer Training Program co-director S’ra DeSantis to strengthen programs at the farm.
“We want to continue the good work, but also expand and support other UVM research and education endeavors related to agroecology, sustainable food systems, and landscape management,” said Ernesto Mendez, chair of the department. “More specifically, we believe the HREC provides ample opportunities for High Impact Educational Practices (HIEPs) as well as outreach and non-credit programs.”