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December 13, 2019

A University of Vermont team, led by food systems professor Ernesto Méndez, has been awarded a $660,000 grant from the McKnight Foundation to advance research and sustainable practices across its global Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP), which “works to ensure a world where all have access to nutritious food that is sustainably produced by local people.”

With the three-year grant, UVM researchers will provide expertise and analysis and collaborate with roughly $10M in agriculture projects supported each year by the Minnesota-based nonprofit in 10 nations across Africa and South America, including projects by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and others. The McKnight Foundation’s CCRP program provides research grants focused on ecological solutions and farmer’s engagement, along with convening and capacity strengthening.

“Feeding a fast-growing global population, sustainably and equitably, is one of the urgent challenges we face as a society,” says Méndez, who is a pioneer in agroecology, a field that combines sustainable farming, environmental science, and the human aspects of farming – from food security to social justice.

Méndez and colleagues will provide collaborative trainings in agroecology practices, develop systems to assess project performance at various scales, and share lessons learned with global organizations to advance agroecological practices worldwide. Also important in this work is the ALC’s participatory action research (PAR) approach, which seeks for research to be done with farmers, for farmers.

“Across the globe, organizations are increasingly recognizing what the McKnight Foundation has long seen – that agroecology has potential to help address world hunger, sustainably,” says Méndez, a researcher in UVM’s Gund Institute for Environment and College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He chairs the Dept. of Plant and Soil Science and co-directs the Agroecology and Livelihoods Collaborative (ALC).

Joining Méndez in the cross-campus, interdisciplinary collaboration are two other Gund Fellows: Taylor Ricketts (Rubenstein School of Environmental and Natural Resources) will help measure the benefits and impacts of the projects, locally, nationally and internationally, and Rachelle Gould (RSENR) will help explore the cultural benefits that agroecology provides to communities and consumers.

The grant will also fund at least two new full-time jobs in Vermont, including a researcher to co-lead the project, and a project coordinator position. These positions will reside in the Agroecology and Livelihoods Collaborative (ALC) at UVM.


The Gund Institute for Environment catalyzes research, develops real-world solutions to global issues, and connects UVM with leaders in government, business and beyond. Based at the University of Vermont, the Gund Institute is comprised of 180 researchers and students who collaborate widely, focusing on environmental issues at the interface of four pressing themes: climate solutions, health and well-being, sustainable agriculture, and resilient communities.

The McKnight Foundation, a Minnesota-based family foundation, advances a more just, creative, and abundant future where people and planet thrive. Established in 1953, the McKnight Foundation is deeply committed to advancing climate solutions in the Midwest, building an equitable and inclusive Minnesota, supporting the arts in Minnesota, neuroscience, and international crop research. The Foundation has approximately $2.3 billion in assets and grants about $90 million a year.

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