Past Projects: New England

Vermont Agricultural Resilience in a Changing Climate


The Vermont Agricultural Resilience in a Changing Climate Initiative (VAR) is a collaborative research initiative which aims to help farmers in Vermont adapt to climate change and values stakeholder voices in directing the research goals. A key part of the initiative’s approach is incorporating stakeholder input to ensure the research is relevant and responsive.  Participatory action research (PAR) is framework for doing research with academic and non-academic partners which explicitly places value on the input and reflections of each partner to inform an iterative process of discovery and change.  This process emphasizes that the results of research be valuable and applicable to the community.

The General Objectives of the VAR Initiative were:

  1. To identify existing farming practices that contribute to climate change mitigation and/or adaptation;
  2. To assess farmers’ interest in pursuing farm management strategies under different climate change and policy scenarios;
  3. To improve existing on-farm practices through agroecology, outreach and policy innovations; and
  4. To provide decision support for policy makers and farmers through extension and outreach programs, print and online resources.





Plant diversity in tree habitats on vegetable farms in Champlain Valley, Vermont
Researcher: S’ra DeSantis

This study was designed to characterize the extent to which farm management practices, biophysical features, and landscape variables affected plant species richness, abundance, and diversity of treed habitats on vegetable farms in the Champlain Valley of Vermont. Results showed that landscape variables were the most influential factors determining plant diversity, followed by biophysical features. Management practices did not influence plant diversity metrics except for species diversity in the overstory, which surprisingly was higher in treed habitats on conventional farms.

Other studies have observed that increasing levels of landscape heterogeneity and treed habitats adjacent to organic farms corresponds to higher levels of plant diversity. However this study found the opposite, most likely because the studied region is situated in a forested matrix, as opposed to an agricultural matrix. Overall, 82 % of the species inventoried in the understory and overstory were native, revealing that treed habitats in agricultural landscapes have the capacity to conserve native plant diversity.


Lovell, S. T., V. E. Méndez, D. L. Erickson, C. Nathan & S.DeSantis (2010). Extent, pattern, and multifunctionality of treed habitats on farms in Vermont, USA. Agroforestry Systems 80(2):153-171.

Lovell, S.T., S. DeSantis, C.A. Nathan, M.B. Olson, V.E. Méndez, H.C.Kominami, D.L. Erickson, K.S. Morris & W.B. Morris (2010). Integrating agroecology and landscape multifunctionality in Vermont: An evolving framework to evaluate the design of agroecosystems. Agricultural Systems 103:327-341.


Participatory agroecosystem design : working with farms to develop multifunctional landscapes
Researcher: Rafter Ferguson

The impact of agriculture on the function and structure of the planet’s ecosystems has received increasing levels of scientific scrutiny over the past several decades, as the dramatic and negative consequences of industrial agriculture are revealed in the declining health of our ecosystems and its inhabitants (including humans). In contrast, the ecological stewardship of agroecosystems has been shown to provide an array of benefits to ecosystem function and human communities. Rafter’s research uses a set of three case studies to propose an iterative, participatory, agroecosystem design process, which brings farmers into collaboration with designers, and equips designers to substantively reconcile production and conservation functions in agroecosystems.


Investigating embedding agriculture within residential areas
Researcher: Dan Erickson

Dan Erickson conducted three separate studies which investigate opportunities for embedding agriculture within residential areas. The first studied developed a process to identify, quantify, and type agricultural opportunities, the second study explored landowner willingness to enroll a portion of their land in a cooperative land management (CLM) scheme, and the third study was designed to visualize and evaluate the effect various land development trajectories will have on the medium term future of the landscape. Because of their widespread applicability, the tools developed in Dan’s research can serve as decision support aids for policy makers and planners tasked with developing sustainability strategies, such as increased food self-sufficiency.

Erickson, D.L., S.T. Lovell & V.E. Méndez (2013) Identifying, quantifying and classifying agricultural opportunities for land use planning . Landscape & Urban Planning 118 (1): 29-39.

Erickson, D.L., S.T. Lovell & V.E. Méndez (2011) Landowner willingness to embed production agriculture and
other land use options in residential areas of Chittenden county, Vermont, USA. Landscape & Urban Planning
103(2): 174-184.