sheep grazing

What is the UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture?

The Center was founded in 1994 to conduct research and outreach to help Vermont move forward as a leader in sustainable agricultural practices.

Since that time, we have engaged in countless outreach and applied research projects, helped launch new programs within UVM and the extended community, and developed a cross-disciplinary, systems-based approach to addressing needs in Vermont's vibrant food system. We continue to research leading-edge practices and new approaches that help farmers and other food system stakeholders who are seeking profitability, incorporating environmentally regenerative practices, and addressing social and community-based food-related needs. We are a proud part of UVM Extension, and work in close collaboration with other Extension programs as well as many other colleagues on-campus and in the broader community.

Learn more about our recent and current work in our PDF icon2019 Annual Report.  (Or here's a Filetext-only version.)

annual report cover: hands are holding raw wool over a blue metal machine with gears

What Does the Center Mean by "Sustainability?"

Many people talk about the three legs of sustainability as a way of describing the interconnectedness and necessary balance between the economic, environmental and social components of a viable food system. Recently, colleagues have added a fourth element, education, to describe the need for knowledge to be shared today, and passed down to future generations. Because our work has shown us the value of these approaches, we work towards practices that:

  • Address economic needs. Economic sustainability means that farmers are able to be fairly compensated for their work.
  • Assure care for the environment. For example, environmentally sustainable practices tend to build healthy soil, promote water quality, reduce energy use, and/or promote health and biodiversity among plants and wildlife.
  • Provide for recreational, social, intellectual or spiritual needs of those engaged in food systems work, support community needs and connections, and/or address social justice issues.
  • Ensure that information and knowledge are shared broadly with all with an interest in improving our food system

What about Organic?

We are glad to work with any farmers who are seeking to increase the sustainability of their operations, whether they are following conventional or organic agricultural practices, or other approaches.

We observe that farmers who seek to incorporate the practices that build soil health, improve water quality, and build over-all resiliency frequently have operations that move along the continuum towards organic. We also know that an operation doesn't need to be certified organic to follow practices that build soil health and improve water quality.

We see the merit in organic certification, whether at the local VOF or federal USDA level, and also understand that different approaches make sense for different farmers and operations.

Because the perceived cost of certification is sometimes stated as a barrier, we do want to make sure that folks know that 75% of the cost of certification is refundable through the USDA Cost Share Program that was reauthorized under the recently-passed Farm Bill. Contact Dennis Parker at VAAFM at Dennis.Parker@state.vt.us or 802-828-0038 for more information on the program.

 

Who Does the Center Serve?

We are here to serve the people of Vermont and the region through our work across areas of the food system, from on-farm production through the realms of marketing, distribution, food justice and access, nutrition, and more.

We currently have staff and funding to work with:

  • Farmers raising livestock on pasture, or seeking to transition to grass-based farming.
  • Farmers seeking land.
  • Land-owners seeking farmers to lease their land.
  • New farmers seeking assistance to expand their enterprises on their farm.
  • Stakeholders interested in reducing food waste, at both the household and community levels.
  • New American farmers who are involved with New Farms for New Americans program.
  • Farmers who are interested in learning about practices to help them manage potential impacts of climate change.
  • Farmers seeking to address run-off and drainage issues .
  • Potential collaborators and research partners within UVM Extension, in other departments and colleges within UVM, in the region, around the country and around the world.

The Center's "Why"

In 2018, with the help of a valued colleague, the Center's staff and faculty engaged in a process to articulate the deep motivation and values that undergird our work.  These notes are what resulted.

The "Why" of the Center for Sustainable Agriculture:

Because building connections and deep understanding leads to a healthy environment and high quality of life.

 

Our "How?"

• Address access & equity
• Build trust & relationships
• Reexamine perceptions
• Learn, lead & share knowledge
• Ask questions

Notes from our process:

The beliefs that underpin all we do at the Center:

  • Sustainable agriculture occurs when the natural environment, the wellness of farmers and their communities, and economic realities are brought into balance:
    • We believe that it’s possible to farm in ways that are environmentally beneficial, economically sound, socially just, and build farmer and community quality of life at the same time
  • We believe it is possible to improve the quality of life for farmers while also improving the soil and water that is essential to farming.
  • We believe that all people have a right to high-quality, nutritious food and that farmers have a right to make a livable wage producing that food (or non-food products).
  • We  see social and environmental gains as profitable for communities as economic ones.  Our work has focused on fulfilling needs in the state that have not been readily met by other units of Extension or other organizations who might give less weight to social or environmental needs. 

We believe in:

  • Farmers and farming with dignity
  • Social justice across multiple dimensions
  • Community
  • Supporting positive mental health within the agricultural/farm community
  • Judgement-free communication among agricultural partnerships
  • Inclusivity

Our work results in innovation, or out-of-the box thinking/improvements, but a primary motive has instead been to support initiatives that result in the quality of life of those who make changes and  the medium or long-term impact of those changes over possible quick results. 

We see quality of outcomes just as important as the quantifiable outputs/outcomes, and we tend to gravitate towards projects - or developing relationships -  that can substantially improve quality of life in the food system even if it's just a few people or organizations.  A focus on quality often leads us to initiatives that are under served by others, alternatives to the mainstream and sometimes quite innovative. 

We believe in access – to land, to knowledge, to practices that are good for soil and water, to good food, and to assistance in solving problems when they arise.  We believe that a healthy food and farming system includes both small and large operations, and we value the contributions and needs of all. 

We believe that partnerships make us stronger and better.

We believe in bringing people together to learn from each other and share experiences.

We believe that all actors in the food system, from seed dealers to consumers and composters, could increase their participation in all of the elements of sustainability, and ensure a more just food system for all.

We believe that we should never stop learning, and that past habits and assumptions should be challenged and questioned to create a better future.

We believe that learning from farmers is just as important as teaching them.

We believe that *how* we do things is as important as *what* we do.

We value the contributions of all actors in building resilient system.  

We value the contributions of farmers of all scales.  We bring a collaborative, problem-solving approach to our work.  We seek to understand:  Asking Why, and What Now, and How Better?

We believe that climate change is happening and that we should be actively working against it.

 

Interested in knowing more about the Center's work or do you have a question we haven't answered here?  Contact us via email or  802-656-5459 and we'll do our best to help.