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.

Article in Nature Food Published, Featuring University of Vermont’s Institute for Agroecology Co-Directors/Professors

Burlington, VT – In an article published today in Nature Food, a team of international experts delves into the urgent need for democratizing knowledge to revolutionize global food systems. Titled “Knowledge Democratization Approaches for Food Systems Transformation,” the article emphasizes the necessity of incorporating traditional, Indigenous, and place-based knowledges into decision-making processes to address blind spots in current food system policies and actions.

Diverse knowledge sources for sustainable and equitable food systems. Adapted with permission from ref. 12, Copyright © 2021 Global Alliance for the Future of Food.

Burlington, VT – In an article published today in Nature Food, a team of international experts delves into the urgent need for democratizing knowledge to revolutionize global food systems. Titled “Knowledge Democratization Approaches for Food Systems Transformation,” the article emphasizes the necessity of incorporating traditional, Indigenous, and place-based knowledges into decision-making processes to address blind spots in current food system policies and actions. A consortium of experts from diverse backgrounds, including V. Ernesto Méndez and Colin R. Anderson, professors at the University of Vermont and co-directors of the UVM Institute for Agroecology (IfA), shed light on the critical role of democratizing knowledge in transforming global food systems.

 Méndez emphasizes the human significance of this research, “Until now we have privileged western scientific knowledge, and this article urgently calls for us to include different types of knowledge and to recognize the people who have developed it.”

The article advocates for a shift towards participatory and transdisciplinary approaches that integrate a wide array of knowledge systems, including those of Indigenous, scientific, and traditional understandings. By embracing this diversity of practices, researchers can generate contextually relevant solutions and foster more inclusive and equitable food systems. The authors also suggest that this is of primary importance when developing policy that impacts food systems.

Led by Samara Brock from Yale University, the article is an outcome of an international process convened by the Global Alliance for the Future of Food on the Politics of Knowledge that brought together food systems leaders to strategize on advancing research and evidence for agroecology. Drawing from case studies worldwide, the authors highlight innovative approaches that involve local actors in knowledge production and exchange. Examples include farmer-managed natural regeneration in sub-Saharan Africa, the 1,000 Farms initiative in the USA, and the Hua Parakore system in Aotearoa New Zealand. They also provide examples of policy groups who are using this co-creator model to improve outcomes and increase adoption of innovative approaches.

Despite the breadth of disciplines of the authors Méndez points to the cohesive perspective of the paper’s contributors, “It is key to note the diversity of sectors represented in the authorship- we have scientists, practitioners, staff from non-profit organizations and philanthropists- all making an urgent call for us to democratize our knowledge base as the foundation to attain an equitable and sustainable food system transformation.”

The principles outlined in the article emphasize the importance of epistemic justice, intercultural co-creation, and knowledge mutualism and exchange in democratizing knowledge-policy processes. These principles, the authors argue, are essential for addressing biases and empowering marginalized communities in shaping food system transformations.

 About Nature Food: 

Nature Food is a monthly online journal publishing top-tier original research, reviews, comments and opinions on the theme of food, crossing the disciplines of food-related research in the natural, applied and social sciences. With a comprehensive scope, Nature Food provides researchers and policy-makers with a breadth of evidence and expert narratives on optimizing and securing food systems for the future.  

About the Authors:  

The study was led by Samara Brock at Yale and the authors of the article represent a diverse group of experts from academia, research institutions, and civil society organizations worldwide. Their collective expertise spans fields such as agroecology, Indigenous knowledge systems, participatory research, and food sovereignty.

 Samara Brock, Lauren Baker, Amanda Jekums, Faris Ahmed, Margarita Fernandez, Maywa Montenegro de Wit, Francisco J. Rosado-May, V. Ernesto Méndez, Colin R. Anderson, Fabrice DeClerck, Molly D. Anderson, Rachel Bezner Kerr, Brendan Hoare, Hannah Wittman, Amaury Peeters , Peter Gubbels, Cerasela Stancu, Stéphane Bellon , Jonathan G. Lundgren, Swati, Vijay Thallam, Jane Maland Cady, Paul Rogé 

 About the UVM Authors:  

V. Ernesto Mendez is Professor of Agroecology in the department of Agriculture, Landscape and Environment and co-director of the Institute for Agroecology (IfA) at the University of Vermont. His research and teaching focus on agroecology, agrifood systems, smallholder coffee systems, participatory action research (PAR), and transdisciplinary research approaches. He also serves as vice-president of the board of directors of the Latin American Scientific Society of Agroecology (SOCLA).

 Colin Anderson is an Associate Research Professor in the department of Agriculture, Landscape and Environment at UVM, and the Associate Director of the IfA. His work focuses on community- and people-led processes of transformation for resilience, social justice and well-being. Colin is committed to engaged and participatory research, learning and action in his methodology and pedagogy. This is anchored by a commitment to knowledge mobilization, which involves a political and social process of co-producing and deploying knowledge.

About the IFA at UVM:

The UVM Institute for Agroecology (IfA) is seeding more equitable and sustainable food systems. IfA uses a systems approach that addresses the root causes of problems in the food system. We seek to center equity, participation, and social transformation in our research, learning, and action programs across diverse geographies.

For media inquiries or further information, please contact:

Reid Parsons,

Ren Dillon, Director of Strategic Communication, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences,, 802-793-2209



IfA’s publications page:

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Agroecology: A Labor of Love

🚨Click here to read a new commentary by IfA members, Ayana Curran-Howes and Nils McCune for the AgroecologyNow! platform that pushes agroecology to engage with the labor movement, asking the following questions, on this very relevant day:

🐜 What do we mean by work, anyway? The strange separation between “productive” and “reproductive” work, the evolution of exploitation in capitalism, the “humanism” that negates the labor and energy of non-human life forms are all prodded to reconceptualize what we mean by work.

✨ Agroecology’s forgotten origins in the labor movement and more specifically in the farmworker movement’s response to industrial agriculture and pesticide poisonings.

❤️‍🔥 Who’s work matters? We return to our understanding of what work is and why we need an agroecology of care in order to address the interconnected needs of an expanded group of workers: microbiota, women, farm workers, and farm animals.”

Announcing a New Partnership to Support Just Transitions in Food Systems in the Northeast Kingdom

Hardwick Community Garden shared potato bed harvest 2022. In September 2022 community gardens gathered at Atkins Field for a unique potato harvest. This was part of a pilot program to collectively grow a crop using a no till approach. Participants who helped plant, water, weed, and/or patrol for bugs were able to bring them home. They even had enough to send some surplus to the Hardwick Area Food Pantry. The team harvested 225lbs of edible potatoes, weighed after composting the ones that animals got to first! They grew a number of different varieties including the classic white flesh types, a variety of red skins, purple potatoes, and some fingerlings. Photos by Hayley Williams, featuring the bounty of potatoes, and community gardeners Bethany, Bob, Judith, and Katherine!

We are excited to announce that we have been awarded a Seed Grant from the Leahy Institute for Rural Partnerships on Agroecology and Just Transitions research in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom (NEK). This grant will support a cooperative project between the UVM Institute for Agroecology, Center for an Agricultural Economy (CAE), Northeast Kingdom Organizing (NEKO) and Rural Vermont, with the goal of seeding an ongoing program of collaborative research, action and learning.

This initiative will engage with local communities to analyze regional food systems using PAR (participatory action research). In addition to promoting community engagement and collaboration, the project will support a program of community engagement around flagship programs of the CAE (Yellow Barn, Atkins Field and Farm Connex) and NEKO (the Barton Hub).

The NEK, like many rural areas, faces complex issues exacerbated by recent global events, underlining the urgency for innovative, community-led solutions. The goals of the project are to work together to increase the visibility of current food systems work in the area, develop a Food Systems Scorecard to identify critical factors in thriving food systems, and provide in-depth analysis to inform future strategy for regional organizations.

This project is linked to the UVM Institute for Agroecology’s ongoing work to support agroecology transitions in communities around the world through research, learning and action. In this context, we are eager to connect the local with the global, for example through our participation in the international ATTER project – a global network of partners working on territorial food systems and agroecology. We anticipate that the learnings and innovations from the NEK can offer provocative and relevant insights for related efforts in other geographies and, conversely, that our work in Vermont will draw inspiration and learnings from related initiatives elsewhere.

Leahy Institute for Rural Partnership Grant Program

Last week, the Leahy Institute for Rural Partnerships announced the funding of grants totaling over $1.7 million to more than a dozen deserving projects around the state.  Vermont organizations representing a broad spectrum of diverse interests including community school building, clean energy, flood resilience, regenerative agriculture and health care access will be lifted by the first round of grant funding.

Our project will be one of thirteen partnerships funded across the state of Vermont that will be addressing a broad suite of rural challenges.

“Grant funding through the Leahy Institute for Rural Partnerships is a shining new example of the potential for innovation in UVM’s land-grant mission of service to Vermont,” said UVM President Suresh Garimella. “These grants will connect our faculty experts and students to groups with ideas for transformative projects that will make a direct impact for communities throughout Vermont. These collaborations deepen and reinforce the bond between the success of our state and the success of our university.”

Under terms of the grants, UVM faculty experts and students will work with partner organizations through student internships and service-learning experiences. Tricia Coates, Director of the Leahy Institute for Rural Partnerships believes collaboration between local stakeholders and the university will result in lasting relationships that will build long-term capacity.

“We had an extraordinary response when we announced this grant program late last year,” said Coates. “With the help of our Institute board of advisors we selected 13 projects we believe will move the needle on some key challenges facing our communities.”

We are eager to work with the Leahy Institute for Rural Partnerships as a part of this wider effort to strengthen our Vermont communities.

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Agroecology Extension (AX) Summer Research Fellowship

Exploring Sustainable Agriculture: The AX Summer Research Fellowship at UVM

Are you passionate about sustainable agriculture and eager to dive into hands-on research? Look no further than the Agroecology Extension (AX) Summer Research Fellowship at the University of Vermont. This fully-paid, 10-week fellowship offers undergraduates from across the United States the opportunity to immerse themselves in the vibrant world of agroecology in the heart of Vermont.

Program Overview

The AX Fellowship is a collaborative initiative between UVM Extension and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, spearheaded by the Institute for Agroecology situated on UVM’s main campus in Burlington, VT. The fellowship pairs students with mentors involved in diverse applied research and outreach projects, ranging from pest management to ecological landscape design. With UVM providing the projects, mentorship, and research sites, participants bring their enthusiasm and willingness to engage under the warm Vermont summer sun.

Program Goals

The AX Summer Research Fellowship is designed to achieve several key objectives:

Transdisciplinary Learning

Participants gain hands-on experience and develop adaptable research, leadership, and outreach skills by engaging with real-world agricultural challenges.

Career Preparation

The fellowship prepares students for careers and further education in agroecology and extension, equipping them with the tools and knowledge needed to thrive in these fields.

Faculty Collaboration

Fellows are matched with UVM faculty and staff, offering them the opportunity to work within Vermont’s multifaceted agricultural landscape and contribute to new and ongoing Extension outreach projects.

Community Engagement

The program is committed to addressing issues of power and privilege in agroecology and extension. Through collaboration with a diverse network of stakeholders, including researchers, farmers, and organizational leaders, participants explore complex contemporary issues through the lens of agroecology.


While we are a largely white-led program in a predominantly white state, we work diligently to address topics of power and privilege in agroecology and extension. To do this, we collaborate with a broad and diverse network of researchers, farmers, organizational leaders, and academics. We invite them into the program to address complex contemporary issues through the lens of agroecology. In partnering with UVM Center for Cultural Pluralism, UVM Identity Centers and the Living Well Program, we further facilitate students’ connections with campus resources focused on wellbeing and belonging.

Join Us!

The AX Summer Research Fellowship offers a unique opportunity for students to deepen their understanding of sustainable agricultural practices, develop valuable skills, and engage with extension work in Vermont. Whether you’re interested in environmental science, sustainable cropping systems, or ecological landscape design, there’s something for everyone in this dynamic program.

Ready to take the next step in your academic and professional journey? Apply now and be part of a transformative summer experience with the AX Fellowship at UVM.

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Written by Reid Parsons.

Final Call for Proposals: Institute for Agroecology Small Grants

Final Call for Proposals -
Institute for Agroecology Small Grants (2024)

The UVM Institute for Agroecology is now accepting grant applications for the 2024 calendar year. Five grants, ranging from $5,000 to $15,000, will be awarded to community-engaged research projects led by UVM faculty. Projects must be related to agroecology and sustainable food systems, and funds must be used before December 31, 2024. Full information here

Deadline Extension

New Deadline: We have extended the application deadline to 11:59pm Tuesday March 5th 2024, providing applicants with additional time to refine their proposals and ensure their alignment with the program’s objectives.

New Option for Application

Community Partner Option: Recognizing the invaluable role of community partnerships in advancing agroecological research, we’re introducing a new option for signaling community support. As part of your application, you will now have the choice to include either a community partner letter of support, or a list with the name(s) and contact information for your community partner(s). If you opt for the second option and are a finalist, we will contact your partner(s) for a brief conversation.

Grant Details

Grant Objective: Community-Engaged Research in Agroecology and Food Systems, a small grants program, will support a cohort of UVM faculty undertaking community-engaged research projects related to agroecology and sustainable food systems.

Financial Details: Five grants, ranging from $5,000 to $15,000, will be awarded to projects demonstrating strong collaboration with community partners and a commitment to addressing systemic inequities in food production and distribution. Funds are made available from the UVM Office of the Vice President for Research.

Timeline: The deadline for application is March 15, 2024. Recipients will be notified of awards by March 30, 2024. The timeline to spend grant funds is calendar year 2024 (by December 31, 2024).

Eligibility: The principal investigator (PI) must be a UVM faculty member. Co-principal investigators and collaborators can include other faculty, staff and graduate students. An individual can only serve as PI for one active small grant award.

Further Information and Application

For complete grant details and application, please visit this site or click the button below.


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Written by Reid Parsons.

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.

Update from the Field: Soil analysis in the coffee plots

Update from the field: Soil analysis in the coffee plots

Between March and June this year, as part of our soil health project in smallholder coffee plots in Guatemala and Mexico, our team returned to the farms to collect soil samples and some additional data. As in the first visits, we focused on the same two sites within each plot: those that farmer-participants considered most fertile and least fertile. In total, we visited 60 plots in Mexico and Guatemala, collecting 120 soil samples in total. From there, we’ve moved on to analysis, including several analytical methods that we’ve conducted within the cooperative offices. A new post in the blog we’ve created to follow this process details what we’ve been up to over the last few months and a bit more on why we’re doing it. 

Read on newest entry to learn more.

Agroecological education in the Andes: Strategies for community-centered co-learning 

Agroecological education in the Andes

Strategies for community-centered co-learning

Transitions toward just and sustainable food systems are complex processes involving evolving relationships between communities of plants, animals, fungi and bacteria, as well as conscious action by growing numbers of people with shared values. At the Institute for Agroecology (IFA), we focus on transformative learning as the fundamental component of building movements and co-creating understandings that can lead to positive change in agroecosystems, communities, territories and institutions.

Over the past two months the Institute’s Agroecology Support Team facilitated an online International Course on Agroecological Transitions with the participation of adult professional students from Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru.

The six-week course, entitled Agroecology for Life: Problem-solving in Transition Processes, was designed as a primer in Participatory Action Research for researchers, professionals and members of social organizations that accompany communities in processes of transformation using agroecological principles.

Taking full advantage of the tools of digital online education, the course combined lively synchronous discussion sessions with guest speakers, asynchronous forums, videos, readings from popular press and academic sources, songs and Andean prayers asking permission of Mother Earth.

Screenshot of participants engaging in online workshop
Screenshot of one of the many dialogues among participants throughout the course

As a formation (i.e. learning) process created to support the Andes Community of Practice of the Global Collaboration for Resilient Food Systems (CRFS), “the bedrock of this educational effort is the deep context of Andean agriculture, its peasant knowledge systems and indigenous cosmovisions,” according to course co-facilitator and IFA Research Associate Nils McCune.

This context includes the language and culture of Quechua and Aymara peasant farmers in the Andean region of tropical mountains and vertical archipelagos reaching from the Pacific Ocean to the Altiplano desert at elevations above 13,000 feet above sea level, as well as recent sociopolitical change emerging from new constitutions in 2008 and 2009 that recognized the “plurinational” character of Ecuador and Bolivia, respectively. In addition to the colonial language, Spanish, indigenous languages Kishwa and Shuar were recognized as official languages by Ecuador’s Constitution of 2008, while Bolivia’s 2009 Constitution recognized 37 official languages.

Visitors admire a corn and bean plot in Bolivian Andes
An agrobiodiverse plot in Bolivia

Indeed, the institutional context for agroecological transitions is unique in the Andes. Ecuador was the first country in the world to incorporate the Rights of Nature into its Constitution, and Bolivia followed suit in 2010 with the Law of the Rights of Mother Earth, which grants all nature equal rights to humans. Both countries have constitutions that recognize the state’s responsibility to guarantee food sovereignty, the right of peoples to build, control and defend their own food systems according to their knowledge and culture.

This context shows the need for “a more horizontal, humble approach that sees the relativity of academic knowledge and NGO practice, one that recognizes rural communities and food producers as the fundamental pillar of agroecology,” according to Freddy Congo, an Ecuadorean popular educator with the Union of the Peoples of Moreles (UPM) in Mexico, winner of the Rural Vermont’s Agroecology, Education & Organizing Fellowship Award, and participant in the course.

A small group having a discussion seated on the lawn
A meeting of the Andes Community of Practice in 2022 in Puembo, Ecuador

In all three countries, the Agroecology Support Team works directly with universities, research centers and local NGOs carrying out community- and territory-level processes of agricultural research using methods like farmer research networksagroecology peasant schools, as well as seed-saving and agrobiodiversity research.

Knowledge co-creation, mobilization, and exchange among these projects is one of the goals of our work, so a central theme of the course in on fostering participatory methodologies.

quotation mark

We need spaces that connect us in a broad and diverse fabric, in order to recognize the diverse ways of perceiving agroecologies on the road to food sovereignty, the emancipation of our peoples, social justice and the good life. The course Agroecology for Life is one of those spaces, where a variety of ways of thinking, feeling and being people are shared in cooperation, co-construction and co-learning.

Tabaré Tonalli Aquimín Duché García

Postdoc at El Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR) in Mexico and course participant


Georgina Catacora Vargas, the Bolivian agroecologist, president of the Latin American Scientific Society of Agroecology (SOCLA) and guest lecturer in the course, argues that “our methodologies are the lenses with which we characterize and reflect on reality, as well as the reflection of our epistemological position, the way in which we (co-)create knowledge.” Her guest appearance in the course was a highlight mentioned by many participants in course evaluations.

Beyond the conceptual and methodological aspects of the Agroecology for Life course, an emerging property of the effort is the idea of building and consolidating a learning community: a space for mutual respect, cross-pollination, and exchange. As Renato Pardo, a course participant and program officer at PROSUCO in Bolivia, put it, the strength of the course is in the “possibility of sharing experiences with other institutions and other professionals working on similar themes.”

We’ve been so pleased with how the course has turned out, and have experienced and observed so much growth and integration as a result. We’ve also received positive feedback from our partners. In a recent communication, Claire Nicklin, Andes CoP Regional Representative for CRFS, noted “the IFA team did a fantastic job of facilitating a warm and collaborative space for practitioners to meet and discuss agroecological transitions.”

The course was co-facilitated by Gabriela Bucini, Nils McCune and Ernesto Méndez.

Call for Contributions: Policies for Agroecology to Support Healthy and Just Food Systems

Do you have experiences, examples, stories or insights about how  policy can support (or undermine) agroecology? Consider submitting an article to the first issue of the newly named magazine, “Rooted: Agroecology, Cultures and Foodways” [formerly ‘Farming Matters’].

Available as PDF in English, Spanish, French and Portuguese

Rooted magazine is a new platform for the exchange of voices, perspectives and knowledge of food producers and others at the forefront of action to transform food systems through agroecology.

For the inaugural edition issue of Rooted, planned for early 2024, we are warmly inviting you to contribute grounded stories that:

      • demonstrate the potential of policies to support the practice and spread of agroecology for food systems transformation;
      • reflect on how peoples’ advocacy, organizing and political processes are shaping relevant policies for agroecology.

We are especially looking for lessons and insights from real experiences.

How policies matter for agroecology

Agroecology has continued to gain momentum and recognition for its transformative potential to respond to today’s crises and to achieve food sovereignty. There is a growing evidence base about the impact of agroecology, and incidental policy support. Yet there are still many systemic barriers that prevent agroecology from achieving its potential in transformations towards more just and sustainable food systems.

Food systems are complex, and policies influencing them exist at multiple levels (local, national, regional, international) and in different domains. These include access to land and tenure regulations, seed laws, food safety regulations, water use mechanisms, market development, trade rules, state programs for rural women or youth, and regulations regarding social organization, among many other things. They also address community processes, ways of interacting and customary law. Policies are not only state-led. People’s agroecological processes or indigenous governance are equally meaningful forms of policy co-creation.

These (sometimes) disparate policies shape the governance of food systems: the way in which decisions about food and farming are made, by whom and where. Very few examples exist of policies that effectively enable agroecology. When they do exist, meaningful implementation is often lacking. So what can we learn from instances where policies for agroecology do exist and work?

This issue of Rooted aims to gather and consolidate concrete examples of how policies can facilitate the development of agroecological food webs, and enable the transition away from industrial food and farming systems. 

Your contribution

You are invited to contribute your stories and experiences of policies that strengthen agroecology. We are particularly interested in delving into the following questions:

      How have actors in the food system and their experiences been able to shape policies (and their implementation) that support a transformative agroecology?

      How can policies be developed and implemented so that they provide a solid basis for agroecology to thrive without inhibiting the autonomy of food system actors?

      Are there examples of policies that have facilitated the use and spread of agroecological practices or encouraged the social relations that support it? What were the conditions that made these effective?

      What kinds of policies exist that reconfigure the power of corporations in the industrial food systems and support the agency and autonomy of food producers?

      What can we learn from existing policy for the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants at national levels?

      What kind of people’s policies (including processes, proposals, convergences, governance arrangements and vision statements) have been created in support of agroecology and how?

      What are the lessons from these experiences for the practice, science and/ or movement of agroecology?

How to submit your contribution

We invite summaries of between 250 and 500 words. If selected, you will be invited to draft a longer article of around 2000 words. We invite two types of contributions:

1) ‘Testimonies’: which detail lessons from experiences from the ground and reflect on their wider relevance. What did you do? What worked (or not?) and why (or not)?

2) ‘Opinion/ perspective pieces’: these should also be grounded in concrete experiences, but focus on presenting a cutting-edge proposal for the future.

We will give priority to contributions from authors that have been involved in the experience themselves. We will seek to present a balance between knowledge from practice and academic contributions.

No writing experience is required: our editors will provide ample support where desired.

Please submit your summaries (in English, Spanish, Portuguese or French) to:

The deadline for submissions is 10 August 2023.


Rooted is published by Cultivate!, the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience of Coventry University and the Institute for Agroecology at the University of Vermont. We work in close collaboration with LEISA Revista de Agroecología and AS-PTA’s Revista AgriCulturas. We proudly carry forward the long legacy of Farming Matters magazine.

The Time for Agroecology is Now: Weaving a research agenda to support transformative agroecology in the U.S.A.

The Time for Agroecology is Now: Weaving a Research Agenda to Support Transformative Agroecology in the U.S.A.

This blog shares some reflections from the Institute for Agroecology on the upcoming U.S. Agroecology Summit in Kansas City which focuses on developing a roadmap for agroecology research. In the run up to the conference, there have been some important discussions on how to best advance a research program that can support agroecology transitions. We have been reflecting on these discussions and are sharing some of our thinking here in the run up to the conference.

Written by Institute for Agroecology (IFA) team members: Colin Anderson, Martha Caswell, Katie Horner, Ernesto Méndez and guest: Antonio Roman-Alcalá

People carrying a flag at a march
Social movements in the U.S. are advancing agroecology, along with food sovereignty, food justice and wider movements for just transitions to transform food systems.

When we’re out spending time with collaborators in international networks and movements, we are often urged to push for agroecology in the U.S. given its outsized influence on the world stage. They ask, why aren’t we doing more to build out agroecology here at home – in the U.S., the so-called “belly of the beast” – and how can we act, from the U.S., to support the growth of agroecology in other places.

It is true that the U.S. lags behind relative to other places in terms of social movements pushing for agroecology. While there are powerful voices making the case for agroecology in the U.S., it is significantly underdeveloped in policy and in practice, and deeply undermined by disabling factors related to our national political economy.

We have been working alongside our peers in an organizing committee to convene an Agroecology Summit taking place in Kansas City from May 22-25. We will bring together 100 agroecologists from across the country to debate how to advance a research program to support agroecology from within the U.S. 

The participants are diverse but have one thing in common: a belief that agroecology provides the most viable pathway for transforming food systems for social justice and sustainability. Recognizing that there are other spaces where different aspects of agroecology (e.g. practice, movement base building, advocacy, etc.) are being developed, this summit focuses on research in particular. It has been organized by committed scholars who believe in a transdisciplinary approach that brings together the knowledge of social movements, practitioners and researchers. 

To this end, a back-of-the-envelope tally shows a fairly balanced mix of people, including: a) ~30 civil society leaders and farmers (half of whom were nominated by organizations who were invited to participate); b) ~30 researchers who focus their work within the natural sciences and c) ~30 researchers representing the social sciences.  

The Summit includes the participation of researchers, farmers, policy-makers, Indigenous people, funders, students and an intentional spread in geographical representation. Because agroecology values multiple ways of knowing and appreciates that interplay, many participants fit into more than one of the categories listed above. 

Ensuring diverse participation was a priority for the Organizing Committee, who are committed to: a) bringing diverse voices and ways of knowing to the table; b) creating an agenda and process for the conference that allows these diverse participants to share their views; and c) guiding the discussions through a participatory design. 

Despite these commitments, the conference cannot claim to  represent the full diversity of perspectives and interests that engage in agroecological research. This is due in part to the politics of knowledge that encircle our food system, and is also reflective of the fact that the Organizing Committee convening the summit is composed primarily of researchers. Naming the biases that we carry includes recognizing that this convening may replicate the over- and under-representation of certain types of knowledge. Despite this limitation, we feel excited to be in conversation with the many that will come together in Kansas City.

From our view, initiating conversations about the change needed within research institutions is critically important for transgressing the boundaries that often lock us into static thinking and ineffective sectoral approaches. By doing our best to invite plural perspectives, make space for emergent ideas, and implement a participatory design process, we hope to also be laying the groundwork for an intense and generative process of relationship-building, co-learning, and co-production of knowledge across sectors.  

Since these convenings are often planned ‘behind the curtain’, in the lead up to the conference, we want to share some of the discussions and debates we have had in our planning for the summit and our reflections on issues that have emerged in conversation with our peers, partners, and allies: 

  • Linking to Food Sovereignty
  • Taking an internationalist perspective
  • Where is this taking us?

Any hope for agroecology needs to be rooted in the struggle for sovereignty

We know that we desperately need to study, hone and implement farming practices that improve soil health and support agrobiodiversity. These technical and scientific issues are important, yet they are insufficient for realizing socially just and resilient agrifood systems – even if they have been proven effective many times over. Our social movement partners are steadfast in the demand that any summit on agroecology needs to foreground food sovereignty – a concept that has been developed and fought for by peasant, Indigenous and other movements around the world for decades. 

Our position at the UVM Institute for Agroecology (IFA) is that for agroecology to be a viable alternative to corporate-industrial agriculture, we must transform the wider political, economic, and cultural context that undermines the food sovereignty of peoples and communities.  A precondition for agroecology is that people have the right to define their own food and agriculture systems – among other things this means control over seeds, ceremony and land; each of which are critical components of  food sovereignty. That is to say, our efforts to build agroecology must center issues of power and agency. 

Agroecology in the U.S.: An internationalist Perspective

In ongoing discussions on the implications of an agroecology summit in the U.S., we have wrestled with the tension of needing to get our own house in order, while also staying connected to international dynamics. 

This includes naming how economic, cultural, and political systems of power and control in the United States have long undermined food sovereignty and dismantled agroecological food systems around the world. This continues to be the case as U.S. foreign policy, corporate NGOs (AGRA, CropLife), and development agencies expend massive resources and power to promote industrial agriculture businesses and interests, downplaying the destructive implications of these actions. 

We also need to check our hubris. Those who hope to advance agroecology in the US.. have so much to learn from farmers, peasants, Indigenous communities, and researchers who have long been advancing agroecology in the Global South. We risk neglecting their experience and knowledge if efforts to build agroecology are carried out in national isolation. 

This video highlights the internationalist perspective on agroecology, exemplifying the local approaches to agroecology in different parts of the world. It also chronicles the International Forum on Agroecology which brought together diverse organizations and international movements of small-scale food producers and consumers to build a common platform for agroecology, published in the form of a declaration.

The Outcomes – Where is This Going? 

We come to this summit with an intention to continue this learning journey and national conversation-process. We intend to listen carefully, especially to our grassroots attendees and their views on what is needed from the domain of research in the coming years. We aim to amplify the outcomes of the conference and work with those who share a commitment to transformative agroecology that leads to direct action for addressing these needs.

We will come to the summit with an open mind and heart, in the spirit of humility, mutuality and solidarity. We will arrive prepared to listen, share, learn and be challenged through dialogue with the diversity of voices that are about to converge in Kansas City. Onwards!

Agroecology Blooms in Vermont: Announcing the UVM Institute for Agroecology

Agroecology Blooms in Vermont: Announcing the UVM Institute for Agroecology

Apple Blosoms

The roots of agroecology at the University of Vermont (UVM) were set over a decade ago. Since then, agroecology has grown and flourished. With today’s launch of a new Institute, agroecology has come into full bloom at UVM, marking a new cycle of research, learning and action aimed at creating more just and sustainable food systems.

We can’t wait for new seeds to be planted, and for new collaborations to grow with partners in Vermont, the USA, and around the world. Together we will mobilize knowledge for agroecology and food sovereignty to transform food systems and address the multiple crises that stem from industrial food systems: Inequity, the climate crisis, biodiversity loss, diet-related disease, food insecurity, and the degradation of the environment.

To learn more about the Institute for Agroecology (IFA), check out our new website and these two new brochures (1-page; 4-page). You can read a press release about the launch of the Institute here.

Banner of different pictures of farming and food

Our Approach

Our approach to agroecology focuses on understanding and designing food systems to regenerate the environment, cool the planet, and provide good, healthy food for all. Agroecology is rooted in indigenous practices and ancestral knowledge, which are combined with scientific approaches to reimagine how our food systems can and should function. Our approach to agroecology is not only about changing farming techniques, but is also about transforming policy, science, cultures, and economies to bring about more just food systems.

The institute for Agroecology works with and for farmers, Indigenous people, social movements, and communities who are driving change in Vermont and around the world. Through research, learning, and action, we mobilize knowledge to nurture agroecology research, practice, and movements.

We are committed to co-creating more just and sustainable food systems and know that this work must be done in collaboration with those who are most impacted.

The IFA will support the transition towards agroecology through five strategies:

Research: undertake critical, transdisciplinary, and participatory action research to uncover new ideas on strategies for redesigning food systems
Convene: bring together collaborators within and outside of academia to cross pollinate ideas and relationships across local, national, and international networks.
Amplify: develop creative communication and advocacy strategies to influence policy, narratives, hearts, and minds.
Cultivate: prepare the next generation of agroecologists through undergraduate, graduate, community-based, and professional learning programs.
Activate: support local economic, ecological, social and cultural processes to grow agroecology on the ground in Vermont and around the globe.

Join us in seeding just and sustainable food systems. Click here to view our new website and learn how to engage:

Thank you!

Our work is powered by partnerships with farmers, collaborators, communities, and other people who make generous contributions to the Institute and to wider efforts to create a more just and sustainable food system. This support and partnership is critical for our work, both today and into the future. We are grateful to the University of Vermont for administrative and financial support, and for our generous financial sponsors, including from the McKnight foundation’s Global Collaboration for Resilient Food Systems (CRFS) program and a major gift from Schmidt Family Foundation’s 11th Hour Project, announced today.

Learn About Transforming Food Systems through Agroecology: Two Online Fall Courses from the Institute for Agroecology

Interested in deepening your knowledge of Participatory Research?

Want to learn about the principles and practices of agroecology?

This Fall, the UVM Institute for Agroecology is offering two online courses for graduate students, advanced undergrads, as well as activists and professionals seeking creative learning in agroecology. Read below to learn more about these course offerings.

We believe that we learn best from a diversity of sources and a diversity of voices – online participation means you can join us from almost anywhere. Read below about our two offerings this fall (September-December 2023).

These can be taken as a part of the Certificate of Graduate Study in Agroecology (CGSA) or as stand-alone courses.

Participatory Action Research and Transdisciplinary Approaches (PSS 6130)

  • Instructor: Colin R. Anderson (
  • Class meeting times and location: Fall Semester 2023: August 29th – December 12th. 2 hour Weekly online meetings on Thursdays from 12-2pm EST.
  • Registration: To register for credit as a for-credit UVM student, click here. To register through continuing education as a non-credit student click here.

Participatory, transdisciplinary and action research have become internationally recognized as pillars of knowledge production for sustainable and just food systems. Participatory Action Research (PAR) can be described as a process of research, education and action in which participants work together to understand and transform reality.

In this course, students will examine how these approaches can deepen our collective understanding of complex issues and support societal transformations for social justice and sustainability, especially in the context of agroecology. Together, we will encounter the ‘politics of knowledge’ or the ways that power and privilege shape science, academia, innovation, and development, as well as the value of “people’s knowledge”. We will also engage with critical theoretical traditions, such as feminism and decoloniality.

Then we will get practical and focus on the nuts and bolts of doing PAR in agrifood system studies and action. We will examine examples of agroecological PAR projects, to draw lessons learned and to find inspiration. We will shine a spotlight on several methods used within this tradition including, for example, participatory photography, popular education, theatre, indigenous approaches, deliberative methodologies, auto-ethnography and different forms of qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods inquiry. This course develops students’ PAR and transdisciplinary competencies through a systematic engagement with theory, skills, methods, and a critical reflexive self-examination of our role in the research processes.

PSS6110: Introduction to Agroecology

  • Instructor: Martha Caswell –
  • Class meeting times and location:Fall Semester 2023: August 29th – December 12th. Weekly interactive synchronous sessions by zoom – Tuesdays from 12-2pm EST
  • Registration: To register for credit as a for-credit UVM student, click here. To register through continuing education as a non-credit student click here.

This 15-week online course presents an in-depth overview of research and applications in the field of agroecology. The last week students will participate in a virtual experience that engages with our local Vermont partners and their farms.

The course seeks to provide students with both conceptual and practical content, covering the evolution of the field of agroecology, from its origins to the present, as it gains increasing recognition in scientific, policy, social movement and farming spaces. Students will engage in some of the debates agroecologists are now facing, as they grapple with maintaining the core characteristics of the field as it is increasingly applied by a wide diversity of actors. A special emphasis is placed on discussing the different expressions of agroecology as a science, a social movement and a practice. We will consider the intersections of agroecology and transdisciplinarity, as we integrate different knowledge systems to search for solutions to the current challenges of our agrifood systems. And finally, we will explore the use of participatory action research (PAR) and agroecology principles, as an essential approach to agroecological research and practice. 

Reforzando Conexiones y Desarrollando Redes Globales para la Agroecología Transformadora

Ernesto Méndez, Director Docente del Instituto para la Agroecología de la Universidad de Vermont (UVM)
Patio histórico en la Sede Antonio Machado de la Universidad Internacional de Andalucía, en Baeza, España.

Fue hace diecinueve años que pisé por primera vez el hermoso patio histórico de la Sede Antonio Machado de la Universidad Internacional de Andalucía (UNIA), ubicada en la localidad de Baeza. La UNIA es un consorcio de ocho universidades de la región de Andalucía, en el sur de España, que ofrece cursos continuos y a distancia, generalmente desarrollados a través de colaboraciones entre las 8 instituciones. En el momento de mi primera visita, yo era un candidato doctoral que estaba terminando mi grado en agroecología en la Universidad de California, Santa Cruz, trabajando con mi mentor Stephen R. Gliessman. Steve había logrado traer a media docena de sus estudiantes doctorales para que lo ayudaran a enseñar y co-aprender con los profesores y participantes del programa de maestría en Agroecología: Un Enfoque para la Sustentabilidad Rural. Estaba muy agradecido por la oportunidad y profundamente impresionado con el plan de estudios transdisciplinario y la amplia variedad de personas representadas en el alumnado. Fue una muy profunda experiencia de aprendizaje para mí.

Estudiantes de la maestría trabajando en sus presentaciones de grupo.

Unos años más tarde, cuando empezaba como un nuevo profesor de agroecología en la Universidad de Vermont, Estados Unidos, nuestros colaboradores, los profesores Manuel González de Molina (Manolo) y Gloria Guzmán Casado, de la Universidad Pablo de Olavide, en Sevilla, me invitaron a unirme a ellos para enseñar un módulo similar.  Desde entonces, la invitación está abierta todos los años, y voy tanto como puedo. Obtengo mucho al participar en esta colaboración a largo plazo. Interactúo con estudiantes latinoamericanos y europeos de una amplia diversidad de orígenes, desde activistas de movimientos sociales hasta legisladores y jóvenes académicos. También me permite afinar mi enseñanza en español y aprender de diversas experiencias y perspectivas. Este año tuvimos estudiantes de Brasil, Colombia, Argentina, México, Austria, Chile, Ecuador, Alemania, Guinea Ecuatorial y España. También pude interactuar con cuatro iniciativas agroecológicas en Andalucía, como parte de un viaje de campo dirigido por mi colega Gloria.

Concha, agricultora y dueña de El Cortijo del Pino, una finca de frutas y de turismo rural, muestra a los estudiantes una trampa que utiliza para controlar plagas en sus peras, manzanas y albaricoques.

Este año tuvimos estudiantes de Brasil, Colombia, Argentina, México, Austria, Chile, Ecuador, Alemania, Guinea Ecuatorial y España. También pude interactuar con cuatro iniciativas agroecológicas en Andalucía, como parte de un viaje de campo dirigido por mi colega Gloria.  Para el módulo de este año, los estudiantes usaron un marco de principios de agroecología para caracterizar cualitativamente las iniciativas que visitamos, las que incluyeron El Cortijo del Pino, una operación de turismo agrícola y rural; Valle y Vega, una cooperativa agroecológica en la ciudad de Granada; La Retornable, una industria agroecológica centrada en bebidas vegetales locales, y servidas en contenedores reutilizables; y “Salvemos la Vega”, un grupo de defensa ciudadana para salvar el patrimonio agrícola de la Vega de Granada.

El valle de la Vega de Granada, con la Sierra Nevada al fondo.

Aquí discutimos con agricultores, consumidores y ciudadanos preocupados por los desafíos que se han convertido en condiciones cotidianas de nuestro mundo: impactos del cambio climático; barreras para cadenas de suministro de alimentos más cortas; y la invasión del desarrollo urbano en tierras agrícolas, que a su vez limita el acceso a la tierra para aquellos que aspiran a convertirse en nuevos agricultores y agricultoras.

De gran importancia en este viaje fue poder conversar con mi compañero Manolo y mi compañera Gloria. Ellos me compartieron sobre Alimentta, el nuevo tanque de pensamiento que ha surgido recientemente, y que tiene una agenda de acción para la transformación hacia sistemas alimentarios sostenibles en España. Además, y de gran relevancia para nuestro nuevo Instituto de Agroecología (IFA, por sus siglas en Inglés) en la Universidad de Vermont, fueron las conversaciones sobre la necesidad de construir un “frente unido” de instituciones académicas afines que buscan institucionalizar y promover una agroecología transformadora, basada en la equidad, la investigación transdisciplinaria y participativa, y el análisis de factores políticos y estructurales. Además del Laboratorio de Historia de los Agroecosistemas, en la Universidad Pablo de Olavide y Alimentta en España, el Instituto de Agroecología ha establecido colaboraciones con socios de todo el mundo, incluyendo al Centro de Agroecología, Agua y Resiliencia (CAWR) de la Universidad de Coventry, en el Reino Unido, y El Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR), en Chiapas, México.

Fachada de la sede Antonio Machado de la UNIA, en Baeza.

Rekindling Connections and Global Networks for Transformative Agroecology

Ernesto Méndez, Faculty Director of the UVM Institute for Agroecology
Courtyard in the Antonio Machado campus of the International University of Andalucía, in Baeza, Spain.
It was nineteen years ago when I first stepped into the beautiful historical courtyard of International University of Andalucía’s (UNIA) Antonio Machado campus, located in the town of Baeza. The UNIA is a consortium of eight universities from the Andalucía region in southern Spain, which runs continuing and distance courses, usually developed through collaborations among the 8 institutions. At the time of my first visit, I was a graduate candidate finishing up my doctoral degree in agroecology, at the University of California, Santa Cruz, working with my mentor Stephen R. Gliessman. Steve had managed to bring half a dozen of his graduate students to help him teach and co-learn with the professors and participants of the master’s program in Agroecology: An approach for Rural Sustainability. I was very grateful for the opportunity and deeply impressed with the transdisciplinary curriculum and wide variety of backgrounds represented in the student body. It was a deep learning experience for me.
Master’s students working on their group presentations.
A few years later, as I was establishing myself as a new professor of agroecology at the University of Vermont, our collaborators, professors Manuel González de Molina (Manolo) and Gloria Guzmán Casado, from Universidad Pablo de Olavide, in Sevilla, invited me to join them to teach a similar module. Since then, the invitation is open for me to come every year, and I go as much as I can. I get a lot from engaging in this long-term collaboration. I interact with Latin American and European students from a wide diversity of backgrounds, ranging from social movement organizers and activists to policy makers and young academics. I also hone in on my teaching in Spanish and learn from diverse experiences and perspectives. This year we had students from Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Mexico, Austria, Chile, Ecuador, Germany, Equatorial Guinea, and Spain. In addition, I interacted with four agroecological initiatives in Andalucía, as part of a field trip led by my colleague Gloria.
Concha, farmer and owner of El Cortijo del Pino, a fruit and rural tourism operation, shows students some of the traps she uses to control pests in her pears, apples, and apricots.
For this year’s module I had students use an agroecology principles framework to qualitatively characterize the initiatives we visited, which included El Cortijo del Pino, a farm and rural tourism operation; Valle y Vega, an agroecological cooperative, in the city of Granada; La Retornable, an agroecological industry focusing on local vegetable drinks served in reusable containers; and “Salvemos la Vega” a citizens advocacy group to save the agricultural heritage of la Vega de Granada. Each student group assessed the strengths and weaknesses of one of the initiatives, using agroecology principles, and presented their analysis to the rest of the class. We visited the “Vega de Granada”, a rich, fertile valley where agricultural activities increasingly compete with the urban sprawl of the nearby city of Granada, home to the famous Alhambra palace.
La Vega de Granada valley, with the Sierra Nevada mountains in the background.
With farmers, consumers and concerned citizens, we discussed the challenges that have now become a staple of our world- impacts of climate change; barriers to shorter food supply chains; and the encroachment of development on agricultural land, which in turn limits the access to farmland for young aspiring growers. One of the most exciting things that happened on this this trip was to catch up with my colleagues Manolo and Gloria. They were able to share about Alimentta, a new think tank that has recently emerged with an action agenda for sustainable food systems in Spain. In addition, and, of great relevance to our new Institute for Agroecology, were conversations about building a strong united front of like-minded academic institutions seeking to institutionalize and advance a transformative agroecology- one grounded in equity, transdisciplinary and participatory research, as well as engagement with political and structural factors. In addition to the  Laboratory of the History of Agroecosystems at Universidad Pablo de Olavide and Alimentta in Spain, the IFA is discussing collaborations with partners from around the globe, including the Center for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (CAWR) at Coventry University, and El Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR), in Chiapas, Mexico.
Facade of the UNIA’s Antonio Machado campus in Baeza.

Update from the Field: Studying Soil Health with Farmers in Mexico & Guatemala

We’ve added a new update about our work on soil health with coffee farmers to our project blog that tracks our Participatory Action Research process with producer organizations in Mexico and Central America. To read the new field update, please click here.

Two months ago, our tenacious project teams in Mexico and Guatemala visited more than 50 smallholder coffee farms as part of what we’ve come to call the Suelos project (“suelo” is Spanish for soil). These activities are officially supported under a project called “Towards a regional vision for agroecological soil management in the coffee landscapes of Mesoamerica” with funding through a Gund Institute Catalyst Award.

The objective of the project, in short, is to co-produce knowledge about the relationships between the structure of coffee agroecosystems, indicators of soil health, coffee productivity and coffee cup quality. This knowledge will be the basis for articulating a local plan of action for protecting soil health in coffee-producing landscapes.

To read more about our recent visits to the coffee plots (and about our Participatory Action Research process in general), head over to our project blog.

Agroecology – A Promising Alternative to the Biodiversity Crisis in Agriculture and Industrial Food Systems

 Agroecology builds biodiversity into agriculture and food systems and should be a key strategy of global biodiversity conservation. Nature and our lives depend on it.
Written by Colin Anderson, Ernesto Mendez, Patrick Mulvany and Faris Ahmed 
Also posted on AgroecologyNow!

As mentioned in our previous blog post, representatives from the world’s nations are currently gathering in Montreal for the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) on the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The goal of the meeting is to adopt a “Global Biodiversity Framework” which will guide international collaboration to reverse dramatic losses of global biodiversity for the next 30 years. Yet, to our peril, agroecology and agrobiodiversity have been marginalized in these debates. 

I (Colin) grew up on a farm in the Canadian Prairies and am still charmed by the region’s big skies and agricultural landscape. Seas of yellow canola flowers blossoming as far as the eye can see. Wheat fields, gently swaying in the wind, stretching from fencerow to fencerow. Beautiful blankets of color, pleasing to the eye.

These simplified agricultural systems have an alluring beauty on the surface, but they are devoid of the potential diversity of crops and livestock that, when integrated, allow for a more efficient and synergistic use of resources. What’s more, they are hostile towards wild biodiversity through the elimination of habitat, the application of herbicides and pesticides and the degradation of soil health.

Nevertheless, the intensification of industrial agriculture in this image remains the dominant model being promoted globally – a model of agriculture that must be transformed if we are to reverse global biodiversity losses and sustain life on Earth for our grandchildren. That is why the United Nations set up the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) in 1992, and why, 30 years later, with biodiversity losses still accelerating, decisive action by governments is vitally urgent.

Where is agricultural biodiversity in global decision-making about biodiversity conservation?

The COP15 meeting comes during a mass extinction event. A high percentage of global biodiversity, and biosphere integrity, is at risk, and threatened especially by the dominant economic and social drivers of industrial food systems. In short, the stakes for this CBD meeting are unfathomably high.

The evidence from FAO, IPBES and IPCC has clearly established that agriculture and land use change are among the main drivers of biodiversity loss. Large-scale, industrial-style agriculture threatens 86% of the 28,000 endangered species and, in a blow to food security and resilience, these farming systems are responsible for the loss of most of our genetic diversity in crops and livestock over the last century. Currently, only 12 plant species and 5 livestock breeds make up 75% of the world’s industrial food system, with just 3 species (wheat, rice and corn) providing half the calorie intake.  According to the IPBES Global Assessment, these genetically shallow agricultural systems are increasingly vulnerable to pests, pathogens, climate change and other factors.

Notoriously sidelined in UN negotiations, however, is a focus on highly threatened ‘agricultural biodiversity’ – the major sub-set of biodiversity in the areas where people live and work. It includes all the biodiversity, above and below ground and in waters, which supports our food and agricultural systems, provides food, fiber, shelter, clean water, medicine and underpins vital ecosystem functions.

Without deeply transforming industrial food systems towards ones that will prioritize agroecological systems of production, the losses of agricultural biodiversity will proceed unabated, placing the very basis of human existence in peril.

Instead, CBD debates on biodiversity have come to focus on proposals for setting aside large areas of land to conserve pristine nature. The touted 30×30 campaign, for example, proposes setting aside 30% of territories in Protected Areas by 2030. These types of programs, however, often harm and displace millions of knowledgeable, biodiversity-conserving Indigenous Peoples and local communities from their traditional territories.

Such a focus distracts attention from what is happening on the other 70% of land, where there’s a drive to intensify agricultural production using biodiversity- and habitat-reducing homogeneous monocultures. This aligns with the power structures of the industrial agrifood system. It intentionally marginalizes and displaces the people who have the greatest history, sophisticated knowledge, and potential to protect, restore, and enhance highly heterogeneous agricultural biodiversity.

Biodiverse agroecology – a compelling alternative paradigm to build back agricultural biodiversity and confront our intersecting crises

Indigenous Lepcha farmers in Sikkim, India practicing traditional agroecological seed saving and agriculture

Agroecology in Vermont, USA

Women-led agroecology in Kenya

Photo credit: LEISA India

A growing chorus of scientists, institutions, civil society organizations, and small-scale food providers have gotten behind agroecology as an alternative paradigm for organizing and transforming food systems.

Biodiverse agroecology involves the application of ecological principles to the design and management of sustainable agroecosystems, drawing from Indigenous and local knowledge, and directly addressing the political changes needed to transform food systems. It focuses on redesigning agricultural practices, policies, networks and governance, based on a set of principles that emphasize biodiversity, resilience, people’s knowledge, the fundamental role of women and the importance of food sovereignty.

While industrial food systems are destroying biodiversity, smaller-scale agroecological farms are at the forefront of conserving and enhancing agricultural biodiversity, and improving ecosystem functioning, while producing the majority of the world’s food. Peasant, indigenous and territorially rooted agroecology is vital to maintaining agricultural biodiversity, within farm plots and across rural landscapes. These agroecosystems conserve the heterogeneity and variety within species and among species at community and ecosystem levels.

There are countless examples of agroecology emerging around the world. Agroforestry systems enhance biodiversity through incorporating trees and shrubs into cropping or livestock lands, providing resiliency against climate change and improved rural livelihoods. The adoption of intercropping, such as in the Mesoamerican milpa systems, where corn is planted alongside beans, pumpkin, chili, and other vegetables create rich mosaics of biodiversity in farms and landscapes. In India, Amrita Bhoomi trains farmers on Zero Budget Natural Farming – a local agroecological method that needs no external inputs, very little water, and relies on natural processes. These agroecological approaches not only enhance agricultural biodiversity in farmers’ fields but also provides habitat for the biodiversity in the surrounding ecosystems, to the wider benefit of people and the environment (see infographic below).

COP15 Blog_SoilToSkyFlyer_ChristensenFund_400x711

'Soil to Sky of Agroecology vs. Industrial Agriculture' Infographic by the Christensen Fund

Click Image for Downloadable Full-Size Version

By working with – not against – nature, and diversifying our farms, landscapes, fishing waters and the foods we eat, agroecology supports biodiversity, contributes to the majority of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and promotes resilience. All while supporting livelihoods and some of the healthier diets on the planet.

To build up biodiverse agroecology, it is important to transform the enabling environment and confront the power of corporations and agribusiness in maintaining the status quo. This requires prioritizing, in the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, the inclusion of the implementation of already agreed upon actions that sustain agricultural biodiversity. Specifically, we need to scale out peasants’ dynamic management of biodiverse agroecology while respecting indigenous peoples’ and peasants’ collective rights to seeds, livestock breeds, territories and forms of production.

Regardless of the outcomes of this year’s CBD /COP15, civil society actors should engage in broad, coordinated actions and movement building to continue to strengthen agricultural biodiversity in communities and policies. Only in this way can we truly transform food systems, stem the loss of agricultural biodiversity and address the intersecting crises of inequality, diet-related illness, climate change, and hunger.

Centering Agroecology in the Conservation of Biodiversity: UVM joins our allies at COP15 in Montreal to push for change

Centering Agroecology in the Conservation of Biodiversity:
UVM joins our allies at COP15 in Montreal to push for change

This week, a coalition of organizations including UVM’s Agroecology & Livelihoods Collaborative (soon to be the Institute for Agroecology) heads to Montreal to participate in the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15, for short). 

The COP15 convenes governments from around the world to agree to a new set of goals for nature over the next decade through the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and is structured around a range of high-level negotiations and side events.    

Click on the image above to read the policy brief

Our coalition’s mission at this event is to emphasize the critical importance of including agroecology within the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. Agroecology and its focus on agricultural biodiversity is critical to all three pillars of the CBD: conservation, sustainable use, and equity, and must be incorporated in Target 10 of the Global Biodiversity Framework. As substantiated by scientific evidence, agroecology represents an unparalleled opportunity to address the losses to biodiversity being driven by industrialized food systems. In addition to its contributions to biodiversity conservation, agroecology delivers multiple co-benefits: climate change adaptation, food security, ecosystems resilience, sustainable livelihoods and human rights.

With the inclusion of language that proposes concrete solutions, we can transform from damaging industrial global food systems to biodiverse agroecology. To that end, the coalition has developed a policy brief that lays out how agricultural biodiversity and agroecology can be integrated into the Convention on Biological Diversity. We will also hold a side event on Thursday, December 8th, at 1:15 EST called “Missing the Mark? Biodiversity Targets Risk Failure without Agroecology” (see flyer below and click here to register for the meeting online).

How can you get involved?

If you have questions, please contact anyone from UVM’s ALC team (Janica Anderzén, Matt Burke, Maya Moore, Michelle Nikfarjam, Seanna McGraw and Martha Caswell).to

New Edited Book: Critical Adult Education in Food Movements

Critical Adult Education in Food Movements

This book focuses on research that shows the importance of critical adult education for the spread of food sovereignty and agroecology to more people and places. It pays particular attention to the important role that learning, education and pedagogy can play in social transformation for food sovereignty and justice—an approach referred to broadly as “Learning for Transformation”. It reveals common dynamics and principles that critical education for food sovereignty share in different contexts. The book draws together 8 chapters that offer new critical insights about why, where, and how learning for transformation is being implemented,—and what next.

This book contributes to the ALC stream of research on “pedagogy and learning for agroecology”, which can be viewed hereThis book, originally published as a special issue in Agriculture and Human Values, brings further visibility to the contributions of the authors. Over the last three years, the work on pedagogy, education and learning in agroecology, food sovereignty and sustainable food systems continues to grow, with many new contributions deepening our understanding of the ways that learning can be configured in different contexts to advance change. For example, this recent special issue on, Critical and Equity-Oriented Pedagogical Innovations in Sustainable Food Systems Education, includes 14 original research and perspective articles that dig deep into questions on how to tackle inequity and build critical perspectives in/through food system education. A quick search on Google Scholar on education and agroecology (here) or food sovereignty (here) reveals a trove of wonderful papers from around the world exploring some of the evolving contours of this area of scholarship. For those hungry to develop their understanding, theory and practice – we invite you to click through and explore. Should you lack access to any of these articles, please reach out to the authors.

Critical Adult Education in Food Movements
Editors: Colin R. Anderson, Rosa Binimelis Adell, Michel P. Pimbert, Marta Rivera Ferre


Introduction to the symposium on critical adult education in food movements: learning for transformation in and beyond food movements—the why, where, how and the what next?. . . 1
Colin R. Anderson, R. Binimelis, M. P. Pimbert, and M. G. Rivera-Ferre

Transformative agroecology learning in Europe: building consciousness, skills and collective capacity for food sovereignty . . . 11
Colin R. Anderson, Chris Maughan, and Michel P. Pimbert

Farming for change: developing a participatory curriculum on agroecology, nutrition, climate change and social equity in Malawi and Tanzania . . . 29
Rachel Bezner Kerr, Sera L. Young, Carrie Young, Marianne V. Santoso, Mufunanji Magalasi, Martin Entz, Esther Lupafya, Laifolo Dakishoni, Vicki Morrone, David Wolfe, and Sieglinde S. Snapp

Multi-actor networks and innovation niches: university training for local Agroecological Dynamization . . . 47
Daniel López-García, Laura Calvet-Mir, Marina Di Masso, and Josep Espluga

What’s wrong with permaculture design courses? Brazilian lessons for agroecological movement-building in Canada . . . 61
Marie-Josée Massicotte and Christopher Kelly-Bisson

Teaching the territory: agroecological pedagogy and popular movements . . . 75
Nils McCune and Marlen Sánchez

Food sovereignty education across the Americas: multiple origins, converging movements . . . 91
David Meek, Katharine Bradley, Bruce Ferguson, Lesli Hoey, Helda Morales, Peter Rosset, and Rebecca Tarlau

Images of work, images of defiance: engaging migrant farm worker voice through community-based arts . . . 107
Adam Perr

New Edition of Agroecology Textbook Features ALC Co-Authors

Hot off the press! The new edition of the foundational textbook “Agroecology” is now available! Congratulations to co-authors Ernesto Méndez (ALC), Vic Izzo (ALC), Steve Gliessman, and Eric W. Engles, and to Andrew Gerlicz (ALC) who provided editorial support!
This edition focuses on the transformations necessary for achieving a just and sustainable food system, capturing agricultural, ecological, economic, social, cultural, and political elements of agroecology. It includes new chapters of relevant topics, such as ‘Ecological Pest, Weed, and Disease Management’, ‘Agriculture and the Climate Crisis’, and Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture.