A bus tour of Vermont might conjure images of adventurous retirees traipsing around the Ben & Jerry’s factory.

But the Vermont Catamounts tour bus that pulled out of the Davis Center circle on August 16 at 7:45 a.m. carried a group of people in the prime of their working lives – 16 brand new faculty about to embark on their UVM careers.

The occasion was the tour of Vermont’s working landscape that UVM Extension has organized for new faculty every year for the past six years.

The idea is “to help new faculty at the University of Vermont get a sense of how the state operates, what our communities are like and how the university is connected to them,” said UVM Extension director Chuck Ross, who served as tour guide.

“We’ve seen an array of incredible Vermonters today, innovators, leaders and pioneers, all hard-working people who’ve invested in their communities.”

Faculty came from a range of disciplines, including Math and Statistics, Biomedical Engineering, Nursing, Forestry, Education and Computer Science.

In all the tour made six stops showcasing the variety of enterprises that define Vermont’s agricultural sector. Destinations included the Green Mountain Dairy in Sheldon, the Choiniere Family Farm in Highgate Center, St. Albans City School Teaching Gardens and the Down to Earth Community Garden in St. Albans, the Boyden Valley Winery in Cambridge, UVM’s Proctor Maple Research Center in Underhill and the Jericho Settlers Farm in Jericho.

Faculty took a seat on the bus for a variety of reasons.

Valerie Wood, a new research faculty member in the Center for Disability and Community Inclusion, “thought it was really important to understand the relationship between UVM, Vermont and Vermonters” and how the abundance of knowledge at the university is shared with communities. “This was the perfect opportunity through Extension to learn more about that.”

Deb Hinchey, a new faculty member in Biomedical and Health Sciences, had two reasons for taking the tour. “One of my main responsibilities is developing an undergraduate capstone where students will be partnering with communities around issues related to health and health outcomes,” she said. “So I thought learning about local agriculture and meeting farmers and getting to know the landscape outside of Burlington was a good idea from a professional perspective. On a personal level, I’m really interested in food and food systems and where food comes from.”

Computer Science lecturer Jason Hibbeler, who came to UVM from IBM in Essex Junction, said he “learned a ton today because of the way this tour has been structured to take us out from Chittenden County, so we can see what's going on outside of the Burlington area. It’s a fantastic way to start making connections with Vermont.” 

Early Education faculty member Kait Northey echoed a point other faculty made. It’s important to understand “the history of what's happening in the area” – especially the ups and downs of the agricultural economy –"and how that's going to affect the students that we’re teaching and their families, and what they're coming to learn.”

For Emily Morgan, a faculty member in Nutrition and Food Sciences who will start in January, lessons learned were directly related to her field.

“My research interests are really in the local food system and food system sustainability,” she said, “and I thought this would be an awesome way to get a little sampling of what is happening in Vermont, see little bit of landscape and meet people."

She had special appreciation for tour guide Ross. “I think it's really special that we've had the director of extension to show us around.”

The experience was also a valuable one for the food producers who were the objects of faculty interest.

“I appreciate the opportunity to be able to reach out to a wide spectrum of faculty because, having been in school where you’re in your little isolated bubble, I know it's very hard to understand what's going on the community around you,” said Christa Alexander, co-owner of Jericho Settlers Farm, a 200-acre farm producing 25 acres of certified organic vegetables, flowers and herbs.

“If in any way it informs their teaching or their perspective that they share with their students, that's even better,” she added. “I don't farm just because I like growing food. I farm because I truly believe there are better ways to grow food than some of the ways that are being practiced, and I want other people to know about that.”


Jeffrey R. Wakefield