Announcing 2024 IfA Small Grants Cohort

The University of Vermont’s Institute of Agroecology (IfA) is excited to announce the recipients of a new, small grant program: Community-Engaged Research in Agroecology and Food Systems. With funding from the Office of the Vice President for Research, these grants will support a cohort of UVM faculty undertaking community-engaged research projects related to agroecology and sustainable food systems.




“These projects bring UVM faculty and students together from different colleges across campus with community partners in meaningful and impactful action research projects,” Colin Anderson, the IfA’s Associate Director, said. “We are excited to engage with all project partners in this year-long learning cohort. By meeting together throughout the year to share experiences and to learn together, we will deepen our understanding of agroecology and our practice of community-engaged participatory research.”




Beyond the awarded funding, this grant program will offer months-long engagement, bringing together faculty and co-investigators into a shared space of co-learning and reflection. The cohort’s first meeting took place on Friday, May 24 to share research experiences, practice active listening, and discuss the pillars of agroecology. Representatives from all six projects joined the first meeting; their projects include evaluating ecosystem health through citizen science, exploring agroecological practices in traditional working landscapes, linking conservation efforts and food security through agroecology, participatory pre-breeding of culturally significant crops, examining community health and Black agrarian agroecology, and a pilot project with trans, queer, and BIPOC farmers through the UVM Food Justice Lab. These smaller grants are pivotal in enabling innovative research that connects academic inquiry with real-world applications, fostering sustainable practices and enhancing food security across various communities.



Left: Anaka Aiyar, Quinn DiFalco, M. Salim Uddin, and Josh Farley participate in the discussion. Center: Harvest at New Farms for New Americans, Burlington, VT, photo courtesy of Quinn DiFalco. Right: Katie Horner, Krizzia Soto-Villanueva, Andy Kolovos, and Teresa Mares listen while Michelle Nikfarjam summarizes her segment of research for the “Histories and continuities of working landscapes and livelihoods in New England: Agroecological case studies of agroforestry, fiber farming, and hunting” project.

Project Summaries

Building a Baseline: Evaluating Ecosystem Health at NFNA through Citizen Science      

This grant — led by co-principle investigators Quinn DiFalco (CALS) and Joshua Farley (CDAE) — will address a number of concerns with the New Farms for New Americans (NFNA) program, in which intergenerational families, the majority of whom are resettled refugees, grow crops each year at the Ethan Allen Homestead in Burlington, Vermont. While the NFNA is successful, several aspects of the program will be addressed, including conservation and soil management, reduced till land access, climate-smart education, and perennial agriculture. While DiFalco’s and Farley’s project will directly benefit the NFNA — with resilient farming and training opportunities — there will also be an effort to analyze and assess the ecological health of the floodplain.

Histories and continuities of working landscapes and livelihoods in New England: Agroecological case studies of agroforestry, fiber farming, and hunting

How does agroecology help us to bettered understand the histories and continuities in agroforestry, fiber farming, and hunting in the Northeast? Teresa Mares (CAS) aims to find out with their project. Understanding that while the Northeast food system is a mosaic of traditional, technological, and emerging practices for sustaining livelihoods, it’s also grappling with significant ecological, economic, and sociopolitical changes impacting the relationships between people, place, and our animal and plant relations. Mares’ lab plans to trace these impacts across three case studies: subsistence hunting, agroforestry, and fiber farming.

No Monkey Business – Linking Conservation of Gibbons, Agroecological practices, and Food Security among tribal communities living in a bio-diversity hotspot in India
While most of the projects awarded from this grant are focused on agroecology practices in the Northeast, Anaka Aiyar (CALS) and co-principal investigator Divya Vasudev (Conservation Initiatives) strive to develop a framework to understand and strengthen the linkages between agri-food systems, the health of gibbon populations (an Apex biodiversity species), and food security concerns of the forest-dwelling community living in a biodiversity hotspot in a resource-constrained context in the hilly and densely forested north-east of India. Ultimate, Aiyar and their partners want to understand the challenges of agroecological practices, conservation, and socio-economic considerations for local communities and develop a framework where goals for sustainable agrifood systems can be coupled with social–ecological systems and conservation.
Participatory pre-breeding of culturally significant crops, Sorghum and Mungbean

In the global south, participatory plant breeding (PPB) has historically been prioritized and pursued. Daniel Tobin (CDAE) and co-principal investigator Jasmine Hart (CALS) propose to examine the “intermediate zones,” areas with fewer agroclimatic stressors but barriers to end user adoption of improved plant varieties. By collaborating with the BIPOC-led organization, Ujamaa Cooperative Farming Alliance, Tobin, Hart, and their partners will address the lack of literature prioritizing PPB with a culturally meaningful perspective for the diaspora of many cultures found in the US.

Relationship between Black Agrarian Agroecology and Community Health Outcomes: A Place Based Pilot Study Among African American Women

Using a holistic approach with both quantitative and qualitative data, Teresa Leslie (CALS) plans to explore the perceived health outcomes of the African diaspora. Specifically focusing on African American women in the Boston region, Leslie will utilize a community engagement framework to compile deep and embedded insights into perceptions of health and well-being, understanding and experiences with agroecology, and the perceptions and beliefs around the influence of agroecology on food systems and health. Ultimately, Leslie anticipates these insights can inform and establish culturally appropriate health hubs within urban agricultural spaces.

Three UVM Food Justice Lab pilot projects with trans and queer farmers and farmers of color in New England

Agroecology programs at universities in the United States are increasingly focusing on the social side of agroecology, often framed as “food sovereignty” and studied with community or participatory action research. However, many of those universities have yet to integrate and institutionalize these frameworks to their potential. The IfA’s own mission emphasizes this participatory action research method to advance just transformations in food systems. Working within that framework, and understanding that food justice scholarship must be grounded in community practice, Ike Leslie (CALS, UVM Extension) will use this award funding to develop three pilot projects with trans and queer farmers and farmers of color in New England, ultimately establish long-term relationships and support UVM-community collaborations centered on applied food justice, agroecology research, teaching, and practice.

Global Collaborators Convene in Vermont to Work Together Towards Transforming Food Systems Through Agroecology

The University of Vermont’s new Institute for Agroecology (IfA) held its flagship summit, Seeding Transformation, a global forum on food systems and agroecology last week to mark the launch of its global programs. Hundreds of people convened at the Davis Center, while others around the globe watched by live-stream, exploring agroecology’s potential as a transformative solution to regenerate the environment, cool the planet, and provide good, healthy food for all.

With diverse panels made up of academic, social movement and farmer voices from Africa, Latin America, North America and Europe, the conversation ranged from the need for paradigm shifts to grounded proposals for expanding the practice and use of agroecology in the US and worldwide.

“We’re trying to center the University of Vermont as an impact-driven institution, and agroecology is an amazing fit with what already is happening at UVM,” Vice President for Research and Economic Development Kirk Dombrowski said in his opening remarks to the summit. “Vermont is a different kind of place and UVM is a different kind of university. Food systems are absolutely at the center.”

Anna Lappé, Executive Director of the Global Alliance for the Future of Food and national bestselling author and advocate for food justice and sustainability, delivered the summit’s opening keynote, laying out the risks from mainstream high-input, fossil-fuel dependence and unequal food system, while articulating possibilities for positive, impactful change.

“I’m aware that all of us, no matter where are, gather with the specter of the climate crisis all around us,” Lappé said. “I read headlines about the heartbreak[ing floods] in Libya but also here in Burlington, I listened to your farmers at Intervale Community Farm talk about what is was like in July to be harvesting food in the morning and then, several hours later, kayaking across completely flooded farm fields where everything was lost.”


Anna Lappé delivered the keynote at Seeding Transfmorations, speaking about the possibility of combating climate change with regenerative food systems. (Photo by Joshua Defibaugh)

Lappé continued: “But if this time should teach us anything, it’s that we have no idea what’s going to happen next and from that comes a deep and profound sense of possibility and I certainly feel that today, standing here at such a special occasion, the launch of this incredible new Institute for Agroecology at a public, land-grant university in the United States of America.”

Speakers and panelists ranged from leaders here at UVM, farming collective organizers, academics, and educators in the field of agroecology. The first panel, “Big Ideas and Big Breakthroughs Driving Just Transitions in Food Systems,” moderated by Martha Caswell, the IfA’s Associate Director of Community and Learning, featured Blain Snipstal of the Black Dirt Farm Collective, who spoke about “afroecology,”

“Afroecology is the form of art, movement, practice and process of social and ecological transformation that involves the re-evaluation of our sacred relationships with land, water, air, seeds and food,” Snipstal said. “So much of the black experience in the U.S., the agrarian experience, is grounded in the legacies of farmers who are still tilling the land. Part of our process is to rediscover their seeds, their knowledge, their understandings and put them into an organizing process that can galvanize the next generation of producers and organizations working within our context.”

Beyond the panels and keynotes at the Davis Center, dozens of summit participants experienced the local food system in and around Burlington, including visits to the Burlington Farmer’s Market, the Intervale Center, the UVM Horticulture, Research and Education Center, and Shelburne Farms.

Batamaka Somé, an anthropologist from west Africa and Regional Leader in the McKnight Foundation’s Global Collaboration for Resilient Food Systems, traveled from his home in Burkina Faso to attend Seeding Transformations to strengthen his connection to the IFAs global network and to deepen his understanding of agroecology as a transformative pathway to a more just and sustainable food system.

“I’m a social scientist and there are things that I was sure I knew but I was challenged, I questioned myself on issues and I think it was a good opportunity to improve and cultivate my knowledge,” Somé said. He also commended the IfA and the summit for hosting a global audience.

“We live in a world where intolerance is much more seen and we tend to forget it’s the loudest voices from the few that we can hear, but there are the silent voices of the many,” Somé continued. “What has been done here addresses that reality. People have come from all over the world. It’s impressive to see people sharing not just their practices, but also the theories and people from different disciplines seeing how they can get together to advance and solve the issues not just of agriculture but food systems. It’s amazing.”

Summit participants


The IfA hosted the 50 international collaborators for a 3-day planning retreat. (Photos by the participants)

Following the global forum, the IFA team hosted the 50 international collaborators for a 3-day planning retreat to develop joint research, learning and action. The conversations and planning that ensued will inform the IfA’s global programs which are supported by the McKnight Foundation and the 11th Hour Project, among others. Some of the ideas, programs and projects that were discussed and advanced at the retreat included:

        • Supporting agroecology schools in grassroots farmer organizations around the world, including in Vermont.
        • Building a transatlantic partnership with like-minded institutions to cultivate the next generation of research leaders for agroecology and to develop a global network of educational programs supporting agroecological transformations.
        • Influencing policy processes for biodiversity conservation at international (COP15) and national levels.
        • Amplifying the focus on youth, women and feminism in agroecology
        • Strengthening Agroecology in Latin America through building networks.
        • Mobilizing evidence for agroecology for change in policy, practice and to shift narratives that undermine agroecology
        • Centering land access and campaigns to support community-based farming and learning centers
        • Working to change the mechanisms for agricultural and development funding so that they are better designed to support agroecological transformations. 

Stay tuned for more to come by watching the IFA website and social media channels.

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Written by Joshua Defibaugh.