ALC visualizes and displays its community of practice
Last week, the ALC community developed a new display board to highlight their work and research around the globe. Every member created a profile including a brief bio and description of their work and academic interests. The profiles were displayed concentrically surrounding a world map with strings and pins connecting research locations with the ALC members carrying out the research. This visual was decided on by the community of practice as an effective way to highlight the global reach of collaboration and research within this group. The diversity of insight that this perspective brings to our community is invaluable. In all, the ALC members that participated totaled 23 and represented 8 nationalities from around the world, including the United States, Mexico, El Salvador, Finland, Puerto Rico, Ecuador, and Italy.
In creating this display board, we felt that not only were we informing and educating the greater UVM community about our work and interests but we also got to know each other even better. There are a few new faces in the ALC community and it was an important exercise in inclusion and welcoming for all those involved. Come take a look at our impressive community of practice and our new display, outside of Jeffords 232!
Re/New Alliances: Working towards farmer-scholar collaboration for food sovereignty in North America (this blog is a re-post taken, with permission, from the AgroecologyNow! website)
by Jahi Chappell, Saulo Araujo & Ernesto Mendez
The Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (CAWR) at
Coventry University (UK) recently hosted a workshop to “collectively
strengthen relationships, learning/analysis and collaboration for people
who are involved in research and knowledge work that advances movements
for agroecology and food sovereignty”. We are grateful to have
participated, and for the deep and thoughtful organization and
facilitation that allowed us to move this objective forward. As scholars
and organizers seeking to strengthen agroecology and food sovereignty
in the North American context, we used the workshop as an opportunity to
discuss potential actions for the future. This blog sets out some of
this thinking and highlights the need for renewing collaborations
between academic researchers and grassroots movements groups, based on
building trust and mutual understanding.
Read the first blog in this series on Indigenous Peoples by Carol Kalafatic here.
What is the relevance of agroeocology and food sovereignty in the North American context?
As a region, North America has always played a key role in the
implementation of food and agriculture policies worldwide. The
governments of Canada and the United States, for instance, have opposed
language around food sovereignty and agroecology in international
treaties and processes at the United Nations. Despite the views of
supposedly “efficient” food and agriculture policies in North America,
grounded on the trade agreements of NAFTA, the agricultural sector in
the region has been dominated by large agribusinesses producing commodities,
and not food. As a result of these policies, thousands of small-scale
and indigenous farmers from Mexico have left their plots to work in the
fields of the US and Canada in subpar living conditions, and many
working under the stress of being undocumented.
Farmers and fisherfolk in the US are also living under constant
threat of losing their land and boats to banks and other creditors.
Instead of providing a fair share to food producers, the current
policies only benefit banks, and international agribusinesses. Because
of these conditions, every year — since the 1970’s — fewer are able to
stay on the land, with farmers representing less than 2% of the US
The alternative political, ecological, and even epistemological
worldviews offered by agroecology and food sovereignty present key tools
for organizing and analyzing more equitable and just alternatives in
North America. In particular they provide effective ways to challenge
both the internal and external colonizing legacies of North America.
How have these movement(s) in North America advanced so far?
The real solutions to the growing food insecurity in North America
can be found, on the ground, across the region. However, these
initiatives receive little attention from policy makers and scholars.
Yet agroecological practices developed by small-scale farmers and
fisherfolk represent hope – a way to simultaneously end hunger and to
“cool the planet”.
From this perspective, alliances between grassroots groups,
supporting non-profits and scholars play an essential role to ‘scale
out’ — by supporting the leadership of food producers – and ‘scale up’ —
by building enough power to press for better policies. It is in those
spaces that rural and urban communities are working to build a path to
scale out agroecology towards food sovereignty in North America,
learning from the on-going work of following the same steps as others,
such as those aligned with La Via Campesina International and other
global social movements. These coordinated global efforts are at the
front and center of the struggle of millions of families worldwide, for
material gains (access to land and resources, healthy foods, and
stewardship of land, water and biodiversity) and immaterial necessities
(defending farming and fishing as a way of life).
Some of the initiatives that have been taking root in North America
include the People’s Agroecology Process, a grassroots-led space which
is currently formed by African American and Native American groups and
farmer and farmworker organizations from the US, Puerto Rico and Canada.
For the past ten years, the US Food Sovereignty Alliance (USFSA) has
brought together rural and urban organizations for the advocacy of food
sovereignty and agroecology. And the Agroecology Research and Action
Collective, a broadly defined scholars’ group, is dedicated to
coordinating respectful and effective efforts between researchers and
How are scholars contributing to advancing agroecology and food sovereignty in North America?
In the U.S., agroecology has a long history within academic
institutions. Steve Gliessman, Miguel Altieri, Sunny Power, Deborah
Letourneau, Dick Levins, Ivette Perfecto and John Vandermeer (among
others), have represented pioneering agroecological thinking, based
within U.S. universities, since the 1970s. (And other U.S. pioneers who
may not have called themselves “agroecologists” are increasingly
recognized, from George Washington Carver to Booker T. Whatley and Owusu
Bandele.) However, the linkage between these scholarly efforts was not
historically linked to social movements in the U.S. More recently, a new
wave of agroecology scholars has sought to more intentionally make this
connection; an effort that resulted in the creation of the Agroecology
Action Research Collective (ARC).
The creation of ARC was spurred by conversations about an
“Agroecology Forum” in North America, and strong encouragement from
grassroots allies to “get our house in order” so that supportive
scholars can act collectively, and more effectively, in solidarity for
change. What are we willing to commit? What are our political
commitments? And how do we make sure we can be relied upon to show up,
and be collectively responsible, to frontline allies? These are several
of the questions ARC was formed to answer.
Since its creation several years ago, ARC has engaged in the
following activities: 1) convening sessions in academic forums for
dialogue between grassroots actors and scholars; 2) Attendance at
coalition spaces such as the USFSA Meeting; 3) Creation of a document of
principles and protocols for engaged scholarship in agroecology; and 4)
the composition of an Open Letter on how a Green New Deal can
incorporate agroecology. Several groups have already reported making use
of ARC’s principles and protocols, with some seeking to adopt them for
their own work. In monthly calls and several working groups, ARC
continues to lay the foundations for ethical and effective solidarity
and action for agroecology and food sovereignty in the U.S.
What is the importance of scholar-grassroots organization collaborations?
For too long, institutions in academia followed a path defined to
protect the interests of few. Universities were built on ancestral lands
of indigenous people whose chances to enjoy the fruits of study and
reflection with others under the imposed systems were almost null.
Further, farmers, fisherfolk, indigenous people and pastoralists, whose
labor and knowledge is the basis of all sciences, have often had this
knowledge and labor captured, unrecognized and uncompensated, through
academic extractivism. It is unjust and intellectually inconsistent with
science’s supposed principles to take advantage of such knowledge and
labor. In other words, it is past time to advance free, prior, and informed consent for the nonmaterial world.
The most important academic institutions are public and/or heavily
funded by taxes. Hence, the creation of all knowledges should be the
path to the benefit of all. It is the duty of all to redirect the path
of academia towards the building of a dignified life, grassroots
democracy and the Rights of Mother Earth.
What is the way forward?
There is urgency for the emergence of a broader coalition of allies
to advance food sovereignty globally. Farmworkers, farmers, fisherfolk,
indigenous people, scholars and consumers are building alliances towards
that goal. Their organizing efforts such as ARC, USFSA, Climate Justice
Alliance, HEAL Alliance, La Via Campesina and many others are important
political actors as well as building blocks of a path to reclaim land,
food, rights and knowledge from neoliberal policies and institutions.
A broader alliance between rural and urban people is also urgent and
necessary. The challenges imposed on us by the current ecological,
economic and political crises are destroying ecosystems, entire nations
and life on Earth. There is no other option left besides a stronger
commitment to build power from the bottom up and across nations.
Steadily, communities are finding that our differences are also our
strengths, and the urgency to defend our collective future outgrows our
challenges to build unity.
Such unity has never been more urgent, as we face continued climate
change and destabilization, and the global rise of authoritarian
populism. Organized proponents of agroecology and food sovereignty have
already made common cause with other social movements, such as the World
March for Women and the World Forum of Fisher Peoples, and some voices
from labor and anti-hunger groups; but much work remains to be done to
bridge the divides among the oft-disunited groups offering complementary
alternative visions to the domination of global capital. While there
have been opportunities for collective reflection and strategizing, a
whole new level of involvement is called for. Some of the actions
available to take in the United States include scholars, such as those
in ARC, “showing up” (when invited) to already-existing spaces, such as
convenings of the US Food Sovereignty Alliance; Farm Aid; MOSES (the
Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service); and continuing to
seek creative ways for empowered grassroots voices to not just speak,
but be listened to, in academic-convened spaces.
The CAWR meeting brought together scholars and grassroots actors to
plan concrete action and collaboration, supporting “dialogues of
knowledges”, mutual respect and accountability, and building power
together to take on the challenges before us. One participant commented
that it was way past time for scholars to stop using the phrase “giving
voice to the voiceless,” because the voices of so many grassroots actors
have been present and struggling for food sovereignty and agroecology
for a long time. Rather, the problem has been that these voices have not
been listened to, and in many cases, have been violently opposed. The
workshop helped to reaffirm the challenges and joys of working across
differences, undermining “privilege”, and the need for building power
together towards an agroecological future for all.
 Free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) has been an important element of struggles for indigenous rights, as well as debates and resistance around “land grabs”.
Agroecology and Livelihoods Collaborative (ALC) part-time Program Administrator
The Agroecology and Livelihoods Collaborative (ALC) is a community of practice within the Department of Plant & Soil Science (PSS) at the University of Vermont. The ALC utilizes an approach grounded in agroecology, participatory action research (PAR), and transdisciplinarity. Our goal is to better understand and seek solutions to the issues facing our food system. The ALC program administrator reports to the ALC co-directors, and works closely with the core team to manage communications and internal operations for the ALC, as well as support the planning and implementation of the ALC’s research and educational initiatives. The program administrator will also provide some support to the PSS program, and will be a point of contact for ALC students, and other collaborators both within and outside of the university. We seek a motivated individual interested in agroecology, food systems and participatory action research (PAR), who has outstanding organizational and interpersonal skills. A detailed description of the position is provided below. For a pdf version of the position description, please click on the following link: ALC Program Administrator Revised Ad Jul 19.
communicating with students interested in pursuing the CGSA
serving as the point-person for communications with the College of Continuing and Distance Education (CDE), which supports aspects of the CGSA.
organization, coordination and logistics for the weeklong, face-to-face summer course
The ALC program administrator oversees external communications for the ALC and provides support to the PSS department. This task requires collaborating with other faculty and staff to develop, implement and actively manage outreach and visibility strategies for the ALC and PSS (35% effort). This includes:
maintaining websites and regularly updating social media accounts
developing outreach, informational, recruitment and event materials
supporting the creation of presentations that align with UVM templates and guidelines
The ALC program administrator provides organizational and logistical support for all ALC programming (15%). This includes:
creating and maintaining information management and organizational systems
coordinating facilities access (including A/V technology) and vehicle use
managing purchasing and vendor relationships (this includes assistance with travel arrangements, plane tickets, etc.)
supporting the management of program funding, and cross-departmental financial collaborations
The ALC program administrator maintains partner relationships by communicating with ALC students and partners (farmers, representatives of NGOs, academic and industry collaborators) (15% effort). This includes:
coordinating and facilitating weekly ALC meetings.
organizing and facilitating weekly staff meetings
coordinating researcher/collaborator meetings with ALC collaborators
responding to inquiries for information
The ALC program administrator contributes to fundraising efforts for the ALC (15% effort). This includes:
identifying appropriate funding opportunities
participating in grant writing
managing grant submission processes
supporting the cultivation of corporate and individual donors
1-2 years of administrative experience.
Strong public relations, interpersonal, and organizational skills.
Interest and proven experience in being a truly collaborative team member.
The ability to work well—whether by phone, email, writing, or in person—with a broad range of constituents, both internal and external to the university.
Demonstrated initiative and resourcefulness.
Willingness to be flexible.
Ability to manage multiple tasks, meet deadlines and use creative problem solving to handle the unexpected.
Detail-oriented, with strong organizational and problem-solving skills.
Sensitivity to issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion.
The ability to plan, prioritize, and balance the workload of several projects, simultaneously, in a fast-paced environment.
Experience with UVM’s business and financial applications and systems.
Familiarity with UVM’s administrative organization and academic programs.
Web development experience with WordPress and Drupal.
Spanish language proficiency.
This is a part-time position, 20 hours per week, at $18 per hour. We regret that we cannot provide benefits.
Please send cover letter and updated curriculum vitae/resume to Ernesto Mendez (Ernesto.Mendez@uvm.edu). Any questions about the position can also be directed to him.
Special Issue, in Spanish, on “Participatory and Activist Research in Agroecology”, with a contribution by ALC co-directors
A new special issue of the journal Agroecología (Spain), on Participatory and Activist Research in Agroecology, is now available as open access, online. The issue brings together a diversity of experiences from around the world, with a focus on participatory action research and activist scholarship in agroecology. It was guest edited by Daniel López-García, from Fundación Entretantos and Mamen Cuéllar-Padilla from the University of Córdoba. ALC co-directors Martha Caswell and Ernesto Méndez co-authored a paper on participatory action research with collaborators from the Community Agroecology Network (CAN) .You can access the issue by clicking on the following link: https://revistas.um.es/agroecologia/issue/view/18131
Martha Caswell assumes the Co-Directorship of the University of Vermont’s Agroecology and Livelihoods Collaborative (ALC)
The University of Vermont’s (UVM) Agroecology and Livelihoods Collaborative (ALC), which started as my research group in 2006, has been growing and evolving, along with our main fields of action- agroecology and participatory action research (PAR). As we continue to reflect on our work, and continue to learn and grow, it is also important that we solidify the ALC’s governance structure. In this light, I am pleased to announce that, starting July 1, Martha Caswell, currently the ALC’s Research and Outreach Coordinator, has taken on a new role as the ALC’s Co-Director. This new position formalizes leadership responsibilities that Martha has already taken on in both our U.S. and International initiatives, and across our educational, research and outreach activities. Martha and I envision sharing our representation of the ALC, in an equal capacity, in many of our current initiatives and partnerships. This change is well deserved, as Martha has been co-leading with me for several years now, and had already stepped up to this role, albeit unofficially. You can find more information on Martha’s background below, and in a recent interview she gave on agroecology for UVM, here. Dr. Vic Izzo, the ALC’s Education Coordinator, will continue in his critical role as the third member of the ALC leadership team. I strongly believe this new structure will allow us to better accomplish our mission and strengthen our collaborative processes with all of you. Please join me in congratulating Martha !
About Martha Caswell, ALC’s new Co-Director
What’s working well? What’s not? What can we learn from the dynamics of inclusion and exclusion? Whether we are talking about communities, landscapes or agroecological practices, these questions have always been at the core of my work. My curiosity has taken me from large urban areas of the US to small coffee-growing communities in Latin America. With a background in policy, I have programmatic experience with public health, housing, food justice, migrant communities, climate change resilience, livelihood diversification strategies and food security/food sovereignty. I have moved between working on the ground in communities and looking at the issues from a distance; Participatory Action Research (PAR) allows me to combine my commitment to grassroots work and applied research. My early career focused on issues related to urban poverty. Now, most of my work is with smallholder farmers, using agroecological principles to address livelihood, sustainability and production challenges. I have experience in both international and domestic community development, multi-sector collaborations with governmental agencies, academic institutions, corporate entities, non-governmental organizations, farmer cooperatives, neighborhood associations and community stakeholders.
Two months ago today, our friend and colleague Martha Caswell was featured in UVM Is for her work in agroecology. Published below is that article by Erica Housekeeper.
Countries around the world, from Senegal to Brazil and the Netherlands, are embracing agroecology to achieve a more sustainable food system and adapt to climate change. But one place where agroecology has yet to go mainstream is the United States.
Martha Caswell, research and outreach coordinator for the UVM Agroecology and Livelihoods Collaborative (ALC)*. understands that there are challenges that accompany the growth in agroecology. However, she also sees its promise as people around the world are fundamentally rethinking and redesigning food systems, based on agroecological principles.
Agroecology aims to increase the ecological benefits of farming, and bring forward the experience and knowledge of farmers and other food system actors to study and find tangible solutions to some of the toughest challenges facing our food systems. Conserving crop diversity, improving soil health, achieving food sovereignty, and decreasing the distance between producer and consumer are just a few of the principles of agroecology.
“Because of the way agriculture in the United States has been consolidated, a lot of people don’t know where their food is coming from,” she says. “What will it take for that pendulum to swing back?”
UVM’s Certificate of Graduate Study in Agroecology
Caswell and the Agroecology and Livelihoods Collaborative (ALC) are offering a 15-credit Certificate of Graduate Study in Agroecology (CGSA) designed to examine potential pathways toward the sustainable transformation of the current agrifood system by integrating economic, social and ecological perspectives. The first course provides an introduction to agroecology, including an online portion dedicated to theory and framing the issues, and then a week of experiential learning at UVM, focusing on visits to highlight agroecology in action on Vermont farms.
Also highlighting the principles of Participatory Action Research (PAR), the low-residency certificate program guides students to identify critical questions and practice new methods for integrating data from farmers, academics, activists, and policymakers. This approach is used to understand agrifood system issues, as well as search for alternatives with real promise to help resolve issues on the ground.
“One way to start thinking about agroecology is to consider how nature would approach agriculture,” she says. “You’re still looking for high-quality production and caring about yield, but you’re also thinking about maintaining synergy with the natural world.”
A Social Scientist, a Transdisciplinary Approach
Caswell majored in American Culture at the University of Michigan and earned her Master’s in Public Policy with a focus on poverty and inequality at the University of Chicago. She was hired by UVM in 2012, to work as a research specialist for the Department of Plant and Soil Science and took a permanent position with the ALC the following year.
“This isn’t a career path I thought I would be on when I was in graduate school. I’m a social scientist in the middle of the Plant and Soil Science department, but agroecology needs to be transdisciplinary,” she says. “We’re trying to figure out how to look at the ways the various components of agrifood systems interact. Ernesto was trained as an agronomist and is now an agroecologist, I’m a social scientist, and Vic is an entomologist. The good news is that through our community of practice we’ve also attracted students who want to think about things from multiple angles.”
“Agroecology is based on principles, and after working with these Vermont organizations, they have seen that agroecology is something they are already practicing. Now we are looking at where they can deepen what they’re already doing and identifying the best ways to move in that direction,” she says. “At the international level, we see more of a tipping point. But the food system within Vermont also lends itself really well to the idea of agroecology.”
Part of the challenge with agroecology in much of the United States is that industrial farming is a dominant force, she says.
“The agrifood system in the U.S. is definitely structured to favor the industrial model and most policies don’t favor small farms,” she says. “That leaves smallholder farmers in the U.S. trying to figure out where they fit in.”
Progress in Agroecology
A bright spot is that agroecology is starting to open space for women to be recognized for their contributions, she says.
While men have traditionally been motivated by higher yields and income potential, women have focused on protecting against risk, maintaining biodiversity and providing nutritious food for their families.
“The people who have been credited with the first wave of agroecology are all men,” Caswell says. “But recently women have stepped up to say there is no agroecology without us and women are finally being recognized for the work they have always done.”
This happens at the farm and at the University. A recent organization by the name of Alianza de Mujeres en la Agroecología-Alliance of Women in Agroecology (AMA-AWA) is working to support this internationally. Helda Morales, Professor at ECOSUR in Mexico and one of the founders of AMA-AWA, recently visited UVM and invited Caswell to join.
That shift to highlight women’s accomplishments in agroecology, at the farm and the academy, is something Caswell hopes students will find inspiring. If she could give students one piece of advice on how to make progress, it would be that collaboration and listening are necessary for success.
“Be confident in what you know and also aware of what you don’t know. Be ready to listen and try to work on things together,” Caswell says. “When we’re convinced there is only one way, then we are much more likely to end up at a dead end. But when we open up to multiple options, we have a better chance of getting to where we need to be.”
– The “UVM Is” series celebrates University faculty, educators, and the campus community.
Spring has finally sprung in Vermont and the first course of the Certificate of Graduate Study in Agroecology is underway! Thirteen students startedthe course,PSS 311:Introduction to Agroecology, last Monday , bringing with them a multiplicity of perspectives from around the world. This session’s participants hail from Ecuador and El Salvador; New York, New Jersey, Boston, and Rhode Island; Ohio, Wisconsin, Mississippi, and the UK. And, of course, Vermont. For the first three weeks of the class, students will study in their home foodsheds, participating online and establishing a strong basis of knowledge in agroecology as science, movement, and practice. In June, they will gather in Vermont for a week spent sharing ideas in person and experiencing agroecology in action. They will visit, work and share with 4 of the ALC’s partner farms: Catamount Educational Farm, Diggers Mirth, Stony Pond Farm, Bread and Butter Farm, and The Farm Between. Some participants are in the middle of their graduate studies, while others bring years of experience on farms or working internationally for non-governmental organizations. We are incredibly humbled to get to share this summer with such a diverse group of agroecologists – stay tuned for more updates from the field!
ALC’s Coffee farmer Cooperative Partners share experiences of diversification project at Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) Expo and UVM
Leticia Velasco and Rigoberto Hernández Jonapá, collaborators from the CESMACH coffee cooperative (based in Chiapas, MX), visited the Northeast in mid-April. ALC members Martha Caswell, Janica Anderzén and Ernesto Méndez met up with Lety and Rigo in Boston, where the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) held its annual Expo, from April 11-14. The team presented findings from Smallholder Coffee Diversification Project at a panel and participated in an academic poster session.
The Expo brings together a diversity of actors in the specialty coffee sector to share the latest trends in the coffee industry. However, we and our colleagues noticed that key contributors to the coffee value chain were largely missing – the smallholder producers. While vendors were showcasing expensive machinery and baristas were competing to make the best latte, the producers were visible mainly in pictures on banners and in brochures. Lety noted that although it was interesting to see the Expo, she was a little disappointed with what she saw. “Buyers are not looking for friends, they are only interested in our product”, she commented after the Expo.
Despite these feelings of disillusionment, we were heartened by the words of Todd Caspersen, Director of Purchasing and Production at Equal Exchange, who joined us as a panelist. Todd shared that he sees this kind of research project, with multiple partners, as an interesting way for Equal Exchange to engage outside of the “transactional relationship” with farmer groups. He sees this as very important and discussed the importance of “building our muscles” as we look for solutions to challenges, such as climate change, which threaten the future viability of coffee production. The team also enjoyed moments of solidarity with other smallholder producers, as we learned about the current campaign being carried out by members of the Símbolo de Pequeños Productores (SPP – the small producer symbol). The focus of this campaign is setting a price for coffee that covers costs of production and provides some profit to producers. The difference between the SPP and other labels (i.e. organic or Fair Trade) is that the prices and the standards are set by representatives of smallholder cooperatives themselves, rather than by people and organizations based in consuming countries in the global north.
After the Expo, the team headed to Burlington. ALC hosted a panel at UVM with participation from Ernesto (ALC), Rigo and Lety (CESMACH), Marcela Pino (Food 4 Farmers) and Nate Van Dusen (Brio Coffeeworks), where panelists discussed their perspectives on livelihood diversification for smallholder coffee farmers. The guests also shared their experiences at an ALC lab session, and in an event hosted by the Brio Coffeeworks at their facilities. In addition, Janica (ALC PhD candidate) shared her research in the diversification project at the UVM student research conference.
All of these events presented great opportunities to learn about the producers’ experiences and perspectives, and to discuss how researchers and NGOs can support farmers’ organizations in implementing diversification strategies that can help farmers face challenges such as low prices, climate change, and food insecurity.
– Janica Anderzen, ALC PhD Candidate at University of Vermont