Urban and Peri-Urban Agroecology in Burlington, VT

Our signature Urban and Peri-urban Agroecology (UPAE) program is built around a long-term, participatory research partnership with four local organizations in Burlington, VT. 

We carry out research, learning, and action with community gardeners, farmers, residents and others to learn about expressions of urban agroecology in Burlington, while collaborating on projects to deepen agroecology in each context.

Urban agroecology is the application of agroecological principles to food systems in urban and peri-urban spaces. Our work in Vermont is a part of a wider movement that views urban agroecology as “a stepping stone to collectively think and act upon food system knowledge production, access to healthy and culturally appropriate food, decent living conditions for food producers and the cultivation of living soils and biodiversity, all at once. Urban agroecology is not a goal, yet an entry point into, and part of, much wider discussions of desirable presents and futures” (Van Dyck et al., 2017, p. 5).  

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Context

In a predominately rural state like Vermont, it may seem incongruous that we are exploring examples of urban or peri-urban agroecology. However, Burlington’s position as a hub of both food distribution and consumption and persistent questions about land access and food sovereignty signaled that the framework of agroecology has relevance and potential here. Our research responds to these circumstances and explores the practices and relationships that emerge.

To date, we have chosen to focus on sites involved in food production, but we are open to expanding to additional segments of the Burlington food system in the future.

“The deep mutual embeddedness of farming and food systems emphasizes that ‘agroecological food’ is not only food which is produced using agroecological agricultural methods, but also food going into a system which is built on the basis of agroecological principles, and where resources are part of full cycles, that is, also going from where food is eaten to where food is grown” (Vaarst et al., 2018, p. 704)

UPAE in Burlington, VT

Our Burlington Urban and Peri-urban Agroecology (UPAE) initiative focuses on the challenges and opportunities of implementing agroecology with four nonprofit organizations focused on food systems and working in or on the periphery of the city of Burlington. Following our own curiosity about whether agroecology was familiar to them, and/or resonated with them, we began meeting periodically and research questions and partnerships among the groups soon emerged. Our first collaborative effort was a comparative study on urban agriculture in the Burlington area and in and around Havana, Cuba funded by a seed grant from the Gund Institute. As part of this, we were able to send representatives from each partner organization to Cuba to attend the ANAP conference, and invited colleagues from Cuba to Vermont through a partnership with the Caribbean Agroecology Institute.
Since then, USDA Hatch funds, with Stephanie Hurley and Rachelle Gould as co-PIs, have supported ongoing research using a principles-based approach to look at expressions of agroecology within each organization. Dr. Maria Juncos-Gautier, a member of the ALC, conducted her doctoral dissertation field research on urban agroecology in Burlington in partnership with the Intervale Center. Several other members of the community of practice have or are working on related topics including Dr. Gabriela Bucini, Dr. Tatiana Gladkikh, Josh Taylor (PhD candidate), Sydney Blume (MS candidate), Avi Bauer (AX Fellow), and Claire Golder (AX Fellow). 

Click the images below to read more about our processes.

Our Work with the Intervale Center
Our Work with
New Farms for New Americans

Our Work at Catamount Farm

Partners

The group of partners that we have assembled represent different models of organized urban/peri-urban agroecology that we see around us. While they each have distinct missions and ways of working, they all operate within a 20-mile radius and are familiar with and appreciative of each other’s work.

New Farms for New Americans (NFNA) is a critical component of refugee resettlement in our community and offers a connection to the land for these members of our community, many of whom come from displaced traditions of agriculture. 
Vermont Garden Network (VGN) is a neighborhood resource with statewide reach involved in cultivating the community garden movement.
The Catamount Farm at the UVM Horticulture Research and Education Center (HREC)  models sustainable agricultural practices and serves UVM’s land grant mission of agricultural education and outreach.
The Intervale Center is a multi-faceted model of what integrated urban agricultural initiatives can include.
Short descriptions of the partner organizations follow, with links to examples of what is resulting from our collaborations with them.

The Intervale Center (IC) is a farm and food non-profit organization in Burlington, founded in 1988 (originally as the Intervale Foundation), with a mission to strengthen community food systems. The IC manages a 340-acre mixed-use campus that includes organic farms, wildlife areas, a native tree nursery, recreational paths, community gardens, a food distribution center (hub), and a suite of other programs and enterprises. They also provide business planning to farms across Vermont, restore riparian buffers in all of Vermont’s watersheds and network with groups from across the country and around the world. The IC operates in a peri-urban context, literally in the backyard of the city of Burlington (about 2 miles from downtown). Sited along the Winooski River, their farm and offices are located in a floodplain that was originally an Abenaki sacred site. This land was being used as the city dump before being purchased and rezoned in the mid-1980s. Now it is an agricultural and recreational destination year-round thanks in part to a calendar of events hosted by the IC, including music and cultural gatherings, educational and volunteer opportunities, a food hub and harvesting/gleaning activities.

New Farms for New Americans (NFNA) is an agriculture program for refugees and immigrants based in Burlington, VT. NFNA provides plots and support for over 275 farmers and gardeners, primarily refugees from various countries in Africa and Asia, to grow culturally significant crops, increase access to food, land and agricultural resources, and learn about growing food in Vermont. NFNA originally supported their participants in growing food for sale in local markets, but the participants were more interested in cultivating for their own consumption. Now the program focuses on family production with exception of a few farmers who have found markets and have interest in producing particular crops on a larger scale.

The Vermont Garden Network (VGN) leads the state’s community garden movement by educating, supporting and connecting garden leaders. Established in 2001, as a non-profit organization, VGN has helped initiate and sustain hundreds of gardens all over Vermont, and has connected thousands of children, teens, and adults to fresh, healthy food and sustainable food production practices. VGN gardens are located in both urban and peri-urban settings, and the network serves as an organizing/support body for community gardens across the state of Vermont. One of the unique partnerships that VGN has established is with the Champlain Housing Trust (CHT). VGN provides technical support for establishing and maintaining gardens at CHT-managed apartments/coops within Chittenden County. The Champlain Housing Trust is the largest community land trust in the United States. Their mission is to ‘support the people of Northwest Vermont and strengthen their communities through the development and stewardship of permanently affordable homes.’
The Catamount Farm at University of Vermont’s Horticulture Research & Educational Center is a 97-acre university farm, in a peri-urban/suburban setting, within the limits of the city of South Burlington, and about four miles from downtown Burlington. Set behind car dealerships and housing developments, HREC is an oasis of green in aerial maps. Catamount Farm is a 12-acres, organically certified area embedded within the HREC. The mission of Catamount Farm is to model sustainable farming practices through a working vegetable and fruit farm that provides educational and research opportunities for the UVM community, including a six-month Farmer Training Program (FTP). The FTP draws participants from all over the country each summer.

Further Reading

Read our chapter “Agroecological Transformations in Urban Contexts: Transdisciplinary Research Frameworks and Participatory Approaches in Burlington, Vermont” (Chapter 14) in Egerer & Cohen’s Urban Agroecology: Interdisciplinary Research and Future Directions (2021)

Sources Cited

Van Dyck, B., N. Maughan, A. Vankeerberghen, and M. Visser. 2017. Why We Need Urban Agroecology. Urban Agriculture Magazine, 33, 5–6.

Vaarst, M., A. G. Escudero, M. J. Chappell, C. Brinkley, R. Nijbroek, N. A. M. Arraes, L. Andreasen, A. Gattinger, G. F. De Almeida, D. Bossio & N. Halberg. (2018). Exploring the concept of agroecological food systems in a city-region context. Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, 42(6): 686-711.