Ava Murphey of UVM’s Agroecology and Livelihoods Collaborative (ALC) and Fatou Batta, Groundswell International West Africa consultant and project partner, share insights from community dialogue at ALC & Groundswell’s “Building Collaboration to Amplify Agroecology Conference.” (Photo: Sara Klimek)
What do two community development professors, a business analyst for a value-added processing firm in Burlington, a saffron grower from Iran, a community supported agriculturalist from Ecuador, and a third year University of Vermont student have in common? A place at the table.
At this year’s Building Collaboration to Amplify Agroecology Conference, hosted by Groundswell International and UVM’s Agroecology and Livelihoods Collaborative (ALC), I was given the opportunity to meet with a variety of stakeholders for a discussion about what integrative agroecology frameworks actually look like. The conference, held at the UVM Alumni House, celebrated the work different agroecologists from around the world are doing to promote sustainable, bio-regenerative agriculture, and improve the livelihoods of all who are involved in the food system.
Representatives from Burkina Faso, Ecuador, Mali, and seven other countries shared how their programs were meeting market demand for products, advancing gender equity, improving community access to nutrition, and addressing global climate challenges. Their stories showed how agroecology, which incorporates ecological and other principles into agricultural production systems, can build more sustainable and equitable food systems from the ground up.
During an afternoon roundtable session, I had the opportunity to meet with a diverse group of individuals to reimagine and redefine what a robust agroecology framework might look like. We were tasked with answering questions about what ecological, economic, and social motivations are embedded within agroecology and how we, in our various roles, can collaborate to advance our shared values and missions.
As someone who does not come from a particularly rich background in practical agroecological applications, I at first struggled to ground myself around a table of people with decades of experience in the field. After all, what could a UVM student contribute to a technical discussion on the nuances of how to define agroecology?
In short, quite a lot. But I gained even more.
Not only did I learn about the projects that other people in my group had worked on, such as the marketing of sugarcane in Honduras to selling Peruvian potatoes to Pepsi Co., but I learned more about the importance of changing how we think about the value of food.
Our group began our discussion of why agroecology was different than traditional agricultural practices with a brief overview of the problems of a global, disconnected food system. We were relatively quick to diagnose many of the problems within our food system as the result of a disconnect between the people who grow the food and the people who consume the food. One of my fellow group members who operates a CSA in his home country commented that, “relationships are the potential.” In a time of geopolitical instability, his CSA was able to feed nearly 40 families and also bring a sense of identity back to his local food system. Instead of monetary trade, he developed a bartering system with those in his community- a value he deems as “immeasurable.”
In a world that stresses the importance of automation and economic efficiency, it is no surprise that we have lost the social capital invested in our food system. Agroecology strives to invest social capital back into food systems through meaningful interactions between community partners, organizations like Groundswell International, and academic institutions like UVM. While the traditional agricultural and economic paradigms have sought to standardize the process by which people interact with their food, agroecology seeks to exchange knowledge, stories, and relationships to optimize success for all.
It’s clear that none of us have the answers alone about how to solve the complex issues of the food system, but by cultivating collaboration and empowering local farmers, we have the potential to transform our current food system into one that is more sustainable and socially just. Within the short conversation I had at my roundtable, with people who were clearly invested in bringing relationships back into the food system, I was challenged to think more critically about what it means to be both a steward of the planet and a student interested in the agroecology field. I was able to connect with people who brought immense diversity in ideas, methodology, and training to the conference, and left with new connections and renewed commitment to the agroecology movement.
Conferences like Amplifying Agroecology offer the unique opportunity to assess the progress that has already been made to invest in the social capital of food systems, and also build a roadmap for what the next chapter will look like.
Sara Klimek is a junior environmental studies major with minors in food systems and nutrition and food science at UVM.
ALC member highlight: Alissa White and Alisha Utter gain recognition for their work and research
In the past month two members of the ALC (Agroecology and Livelihoods Collaborative) community of practice have been featured in various media streams. It is a true honor to be able to share the incredible work these two women are doing.
Alissa White is a PhD student in the Department of Plant and Soil Science. Using participatory action research methods, she explores the potential for farmer networks to support the adaptive capacity of farmers in the face of a changing climate. Alissa was recently featured in an episode of the Eastern New York Veg News Podcast expanding more upon her work surrounding climate change adaptations for growers in the Northeast.
Alisha Utter is also a PhD student in the Department of Plant and Soil Science. Alisha explores the relationships between veganic farming, agroecology, and regenerative agriculture. She does this not only through the research associated with her PhD but also by managing a farm of her own, Arbor Farmstead, with Kyle Bowley. In a recent episode of the USDA’s weekly blog Fridays on the Farm, Alisha and Arbor Farmstead were the main feature. See the story here.
Congratulations to these two amazing leaders of agroecological research and practice. Thank you, Alissa and Alisha, for the inspiring work that you are committed to!
An Afternoon at UVM’s Horticulture Research and Education Center
By Ernesto Méndez (ALC/PSS) and Rachel Leslie (CALS)
Many UVM students take pride knowing that over 25% of campus food comes from local/community-based, fair, ecologically sound and humane food sources. What they may not know is that a portion of that food is cultivated by UVM students just a few miles from campus at UVM’s Horticulture Research and Education Center (HREC).
Last Friday, the Department of Plant and Soil Science hosted a tour of HREC, bringing students, facility and other visitors from across campus to see the facility in action and learn more about its various education and research programs.
“I was surprised by the variety of plants and size of the farm, considering the location,” said plant biology major Mackenzie Laverick, who attended the HREC tour.
Nestled in the peri-urban/suburban landscape of South Burlington, VT, the nearly 100-acre facility revolves around a three-pronged mission of fostering research, education and specialty crop production. Having been purchased by UVM in 1952, the facility has a rich history of research and education in agronomy, horticulture, and more recently, in ecological agriculture and agroecology.
There are 15 research projects underway this year, including research on invasive pests and diseases that affect apples, grapes, and vegetables. For education, the HREC hosts the Farmer Training Program (FTP), a 6-month intensive program for aspiring farmers and food systems advocates, and several undergraduate courses use the farm as an outdoor classroom. Apples, grapes, organic vegetables and broiler chickens comprise the production portion – sold through a CSA, a farmstand, the Old North End Farmers Market and UVM dining halls.
“I know about CSAs, but I didn’t know that a UVM farm had one,” said Molly Mathes, a food systems major who first learned about the HREC through one of her courses and had never been to the facility before the tour. “I think taking a class there would be fun,” she said.
Upon arriving for the tour, HREC director and plant and soil science research assistant professor Terence Bradshaw introduced the farm and its mission. After enjoying fresh apples and carrots grown on the farm, the visitors learned about some of the research projects underway, including plant and soil science lecturer Annie White’s work establishing pollinator habitats at the farm.
Farmer Training Program co-director Rachel Stievater discussed the farm’s educational mission. The Catamount Educational Farm, which comprises approximately 10-acres of the HREC facility, offers students and faculty the opportunity to learn and research hands-on specialty crop production and marketing. Through summer courses at the Catamount Educational Farm, UVM undergraduate students work side by side with students in the Farmer Training Program gaining hands-on experience in organic farming, crop planning and diversified farm management – the foundations of agroecology. Bradshaw concluded the tour with an educational walk through the grape and apple research plots.
“The objective of the tour was to show the farm, and the educational and research opportunities it offers, to members of the UVM and Burlington community who might not know of it,” said Bradshaw. “We were pleased to have students and faculty in attendance from many UVM programs and colleges.”
The Plant and Soil Science Department is working hard with Bradshaw, Stievater, and Farmer Training Program co-director S’ra DeSantis to strengthen programs at the farm.
“We want to continue the good work, but also expand and support other UVM research and education endeavors related to agroecology, sustainable food systems, and landscape management,” said Ernesto Mendez, chair of the department. “More specifically, we believe the HREC provides ample opportunities for High Impact Educational Practices (HIEPs) as well as outreach and non-credit programs.”
ALC and Groundswell International Co-Host Agroecology Conference at the University of Vermont (UVM)
The ALC and Groundswell International are co-organizing the global conference on “Collaboration to Amplify Agroecology“. This event is the result of the formalization of a partnership between UVM’s Agroecology and Livelihoods Collaborative (ALC), in the UVM Plant and Soil Science Department (PSS), and Groundswell International. For several years, Groundswell and the ALC have been collaborating and working on strengthening our partnerships. Both organizations are committed to using agroecology to better understand and transform our current food systems into ones that are more sustainable and socially just. ALC has strengths in agroecology and participatory action research (PAR), while Groundswell conducts bottom-up, local agroecology projects with farmers and communities in Latin America, Africa and Asia.
This event will showcase some of Groundswell’s projects and people, and engage participants in a dynamic and reflective methodology to discuss how to deepen our collaborations in agroecology-related work. We hope participants will be able to collectively learn, network and genuinely connect with each other.
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