Tag Archives: innovation

UVM Food Systems Summit

NOFA Vermont is proud to be a featured partner of the UVM Food Systems Summit. Almost half of our staff plans to attend – if you’d like to as well, registration closes today at midnight. If you’d like to attend after that point, call call UVM Conference and Events Services at 802-656-5665. Walk-in registrations will be accepted on a first come, first served basis.

Who should own and control the food system? How much additional food production capacity do we need and where? How do cultural values influence food practice? Food systems scholars and leaders will address these questions and more when they convene at the University of Vermont (UVM) June 17-18 for the third annual UVM Food Systems Summit to share research and engage in dialogue on the pressing food systems issues facing our world.

With a vibrant local food economy, Vermont is a hot spot of sustainable food system development, and a prime location to explore the innovative models that are providing solutions to the multitude of social, environmental, health and economic problems arising from our broken food system. During the day and a half conference, sessions will address the following themes: the biophysical constraints we face for food production globally, the impact of our geopolitical context on our food system, and the implications of behavior and culture for our food system.

“UVM is a leading academic institution in the transdisciplinary study of food systems, and Vermont is a national model in alternative food system development with its network-based, systems-approach,” said Doug Lantagne, director of the UVM Food Systems Initiative. “Our goal is for food systems researchers, leaders, practitioners, and engaged community members to come together at the summit and expand their knowledge, network with peers to generate future collaborations, identify needs and prioritize future work.”

The summit will transcend the boundaries of academia by incorporating food systems efforts happening outside the ivory tower. Unlike traditional academic conferences, the summit is designed to optimize engagement between scholars and practitioners outside of academia. As such, the summit is open to the public, and the organizers are seeking participation from nonprofits, government, farmers and food producers.

Three keynote speakers will each provide a one-hour talk as well as participate in a panel discussion at the end of the summit: Rosamond Naylor, director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment at Stanford University, Eric Holt-Giménez, executive director of Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy, and Nicholas Freudenberg, Distinguished Professor of Public Health at City University of New York’s School of Public Health and Hunter College.

Panel discussions will feature research and examples of how local-level responses are responding to globalization in the food system. To promote dialogue among all participants, all sessions will include time for Q&A and engaged dialogue with the audience. Participants will enjoy local foods and drink during a Taste of Vermont reception.

[post from Alison Nihart, UVM]

Build Your Flood Resilience at Our Summer Workshops

Flood damage from Irene, Middlebury VT, 2011.

You rebuilt after Irene. Your pastures grow lush and green, despite the sand that smothered them after the floods. Your new chicken tractors are lighter than the ones that the current toppled and twisted. Your sales are looking good.

But sometimes you wonder: Is rebuilding the same farm system really the answer? You know that more intense rain – more frequent rain – is part of the new normal of climate change. What could you do to make your farm more adaptable, more resilient to increased flooding?

In an effort to help farmers answer these questions, NOFA-VT is partnering with conservationist groups and UVM Extension. Together, we’re offering two Summer Workshops about concrete ways you can build your flood resilience.

Both events focus on strategies Vermont farmers like you are using to deal with increased flooding. At each workshop, we aim to give farmers a chance to talk together about what’s working (and what’s not) on your farms. There will be an opportunity to talk about how farmers are funding and getting their resiliency projects implemented. We’ll also take time to think about what next steps we can take to be Vermont strong in building our resilience to flooding.


Cover Crops to Cope with the Effects of Flooding on Soil Fertility

Where: Intervale Center, Burlington, VT
When: September 17, 4-7pm (rain or shine!)
Cost: $10 NOFA Members; $20 nonmembers
For more information: (802) 434-4122, lynda@nofavt.org
Please click here to register!

Winter Rye cover crop germinating at Adam’s Berry Farm. (Photo by Lindsey Ruhl)

You know cover crops are good for soil fertility – but did you also know they can be a critical and practical tool for flood resiliency?

As the effects of this summers’ early season flooding lingers in the fields, come learn about strategies to mitigate the long term impacts of soil saturation. Lindsey Ruhl, Master’s Candidate in Plant and Soil Sciences at UVM, will take participants into the field to look her research sites and experimental cover crop plots in the Intervale. She will present on cover crops that have demonstrated ability to alleviate specific effects of soil degradation associated with flooding such as fertility loss, compaction, and mycorrhizae colonization. You can see the progress of Lindsey’s research on her Flooded Soils blog. This event will be part field tour and part discussion over light refreshments and snacks.

Riparian Buffers for Farmland Flood Resilience

Where: Intervale Center, Burlington, VT
When: September 24, 2-6pm (rain or shine!)
Cost: Free
For more information: (802) 434-4122, lynda@nofavt.org
Please click here to register!

Streamside buffers can protect crops and improve water quality.
Streamside buffers can protect crops and improve water quality. Image courtesy Liz Brownlee.

Do you farm along a waterway? Are you involved with conservation projects in your community? Join us for a field day to learn how to build farmland flood resilience.

This NOFA-VT field day show will showcase a tried and true tool for dealing with flooding on farms: the planting of streamside buffers. Planting trees along streams and rivers can absorb floodwaters, protect soils, and keep drinking water clean. Learn how buffers work, what plant species work for buffers and where to find them, and what programs can fund plantings on your farm or in your community. Hear from two farmers about their experience with planting buffers. Explore a mature buffer planting at the Intervale on a walk into the field with staff from the Intervale Conservation Nursery and tour their nursery as they take your questions about native tree plantings.

This is unique opportunity to talk with farmers, conservationists, and researchers about the challenges and opportunities for building more resilient Vermont farms.

The Summer Workshop Series continues through mid-October; click here to see all upcoming workshops!

[Blog post by Liz Brownlee, Lindsey Ruhl, and Lynda Prim]

Making Connections with the Vermont Food System Atlas

The Vermont Farm to Plate Network is weaving together all components of Vermont’s food system to strengthen the working landscape, build the resilience of farms, improve environmental quality, and increase local food access for all Vermonters. It’s made up of over 250 organizations (including NOFA-VT!) encompassing farm and food system businesses, educational institutions, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies working together to implement the state’s Farm to Plate Strategic Plan—possibly the most comprehensive food system plan in the country and the first in New England.

Coordinated by the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, both the Farm to Plate Network and Strategic Plan can be accessed in full detail at the Vermont Food System Atlas—a new, online collective food system inventory.

Vermont Food Systems AtlasThe Vermont Food System Atlas features thousands of agricultural resources to help connect Vermont farmers to food processing businesses, specialty food producers, educational institutions, nonprofit organizations, consumers, and state government. Farmers and agricultural producers can use the Atlas to build economic partnerships based on production, distribution, marketing, and outreach goals. The Atlas also features thousands of food system resources including stories, videos, job listings, data, and a map searchable by people and places, region, keyword, and food system categories. Continue reading Making Connections with the Vermont Food System Atlas

Farm Across Curriculum

The 2013 NOFA Winter Conference held a series of seminars throughout the weekend long event in February. One of these seminars entitled, “Farm in School” functioned to teach educators the link between school gardens and service learning/curriculum.

The seminar began with an explanation that, contrary to popular belief, school gardens are not just to teach students how to cultivate and yield their own crops. The education extends far beyond the greenhouse/garden and into the classroom.

Steve Colangeli, the head of the Middlebury High School Garden Project explained to a room full of educators that school gardens can be beneficial in all subject area. This idea of “farm across the curriculum” makes school gardens more appealing to school budgeting. Colangeli provided attendees with a list of subject areas and how they are related to school gardens.

-Biology: cells and reproduction
-Ecology: food chains, energy and limiting factors
-Environmental Science: Sustainable agriculture
-English: journal writing, farm to school letter writing
-Math: Financial Literacy/ Business, Algebra and Geometry
-Art: sketch diaries and painting
-Social Studies: New World/Old World Foods

In additional to curriculum inclusion, Colangeli discussed the link between school gardens and service learning. For those of you who don’t know service learning is a method of teaching that combines formal instruction with a related service in the community.

School gardens allow students to fully immerse themselves in their school’s community. For example students can supply their cafeterias with local greens while learning how to run sustainable businesses. Colangeli explained that at certain times during the school year Middlebury High School is able to source 100% of their cafeterias salad bar from their garden. The service learning aspect can be taken a step further in that high school students are doing field trips to middle and elementary schools to teach the students the importance of sustainability.

“In the end,” Colangeli concluded, “it is all about teaching these students to be better community members”. This activity in the community is what service learning is all about, it teaches students how to apply the skills they learn in the classroom to real life scenarios and if you ask me that experience is invaluable and something few high school students get to experience.

Guest blogger: Ally Gravina

School Gardens for Every Budget

Greenhouse at Middlebury Union High School
Before attending the seminar “Farm in School” at the 2013 NOFA Winter Conference, I assumed that only fancy private schools could afford school gardens. I figured that, in a time where arts and physical education were being cut from budgets school gardens were a last priority.

At this event I learned that yes, school greenhouses can cost upwards of $60,000 but they can also be as “cheap” as $7,000. I also learned that for schools just starting out and unwilling to use thousands of dollars of school budgeting for a new project there are alternatives to greenhouses.

One alternative is outdoor seed beds. Creating your own low tunnels or row covers with remay or plastic mimics a cost efficient greenhouse effect. For example, this overlay creates an environment for seeds similar to 500 miles south of wherever the garden is planted.

Another option I didn’t know about before attending the conference was the Lowes Toolbox for Education Grant which has given over $25 million to 5,000 schools in only six years for projects like school gardens and greenhouses.

This seminar taught me and educators throughout the state that “we don’t have it in our budget” is no longer an excuse for why every school shouldn’t have a school garden or greenhouse. These gardens and the experiences students gain from them are invaluable and well worth the school budgeting. No matter how big or how small.

Guest blogger: Ally Gravina

WC Speakers: Joe Bossen of Vermont Bean Crafter’s Company

Joe Bossen, founder of VT Bean Crafter's
Joe Bossen, founder of VT Bean Crafter’s
Six years ago, after attending a NOFA conference, Joe Bossen was inspired with a new idea. He wanted to start a business that was not so much profit driven, as it was a “nourishing experience”. That’s where Vermont Bean Crafters Company came into play. This time, at the 2013 NOFA Winter Conference, Bossen was the one providing in the inspiration in his TED style speech, where he explained how Vermont Bean Crafters Co. is the combination of passion and innovation working together to fill a void in Vermont’s agricultural community. At VBC, they choose what products to create based on a) what’s being consumed, b) what’s being poorly executed, and c) what’s available locally. From this framework, they’ve developed tasty, local products, including veggie burgers, refried beans and falafels.

In addition to increasing the availability of local products to the community, Bossen believes that the schools are also in need of more nutritious, local foods. So in spring of 2012, Bean Crafters teamed up with Burlington High School and created Falafel Fest, where they provided white bean and chickpea falafel samples to the students, which was a major hit.

“You can’t just put new inputs into a broken system,” Bossen explain. “You have to get kids excited about it”. This idea can resonate throughout the entire Vermont food system – providing a local option isn’t enough to make a change, you have to motivate people to be on board. Bean Crafters, and other local agriculture businesses have the responsibility to “be activists and create this type of culture,” where we “re-imagine daily reality”. Bossen stresses the amount of untapped potential in agriculture, reminding us how much we can do with just one simple product, like Bean Crafter’s does with beans, in order to create this new food revolution. He reminds us to “think about inputs over outputs, and quality over quality,” and continuously strive to innovate and grow both as individuals and as a community.

Guest blogger: Kristy Ryan

WC Speakers: Maria Reed & Scout Proft from Someday Farm

Scout Proft, owner of Someday Farm.
Scout Proft, owner of Someday Farm.
On a long dirt road in remote East Dorset, Vermont lies Someday Farm, a diversified farm stand that is 25 years in the making. But Someday Farm is more than just a farm – it is also one of the thriving community supported agriculture (CSA) connected farms in the state. Scout Proft, one of the owners of Someday Farm, was one of the scheduled speakers for the TED style talks at the NOFA-VT Winter Conference, but was unable to make it. However, Maria Reed, a Someday Farm partner, stepped in for Proft and delivered an awesome speech that was both educational and inspirational.

“Scout and I have determined we were separated at birth,” Reed joked, as she began to dive into the passions that she and Proft share for farming and innovation. I found Reed’s description of what innovation means to Someday Farm and why they do it to be the most meaningful piece of the presentation, and would like to highlight a few key areas that I think can resonate with farmers throughout the state.

Reed introduced the topic of innovation with one simple question: Why do we innovate? There are countless answers to this question, but there are three main reasons that Someday Farm focuses on, and examples of each:

1. Maximize land usage and increase productivity.

-They strive to use each building to its full potential, for example, using the sugarhouse to dry herbs in the summer when it’s not being used for sugar.

-They barter with and lease from another farm in the community that shares their mutual dreams and goals to increase productivity

2. To keep themselves “refreshed, challenged, and engaged”

-Consistently growing new crops and adding new livestock to see what works. For example, they started with green beans, and have since added bib lettuce and mesclun greens (previously uncommon in Vermont!), asparagus, bees, chickens, and more.

3. For educational purposes. “We view education as a product; a service we can provide to the community”.

-Started a program with the local schools

-Started a community farmstand

-Have hosted and trained young people for 20 years now.

Reed’s speech on behalf of Scout Proft and Someday Farm showed how a strong passion and commitment to do what you love combined with a little innovation can lead to a thriving farm that benefits the community on so many different levels. This can range from an increase in availability of fresh, local food, to educational purposes, and just having a community hub to come to and share knowledge and passions. Continuing to innovate and and grow Vermont communities is “more of a responsibility than a challenge”, Reed states. “We all need to demand Vermont products everywhere we shop.” And of course, “support NOFA!”

Guest blogger: Kristy Ryan

NOFA Newbie

Upon entering the 2013 NOFA Winter Conference, a pleasant aroma of earthy fragrances greeted me at the door. Fascination took hold of me, as I comprehended the organic sanctuary before me. As a NOFA Conference newbie, I attended with an open mind (and palate), and a desire to immerse myself in the world of agriculture and localvores. A range of foodies milling about boasted a generous diversity of farmers, college students, localvores, gardeners, and scientists, all breathing inspiration. Behind the heaps of the Carhart, flannels, and my personal favorite, scruffy faced attendees, an underlying connection buzzed among conversations and demonstrations. A passion for innovation and sustainability, with a hunger for knowledge. Among this crowd of curious individuals, each person contributed their own unique form of expertise to the NOFA experience. A space created for researchers to bridge the gap with a vegetable farmer, or a homesteader to learn the tricks of the trade from a pro was truly a beautiful thing. Business owners mingled with inquisitive locals, including the owners of CowPots, a business that makes plantable pots out of composted cow manure. With the entire family present, they nearly convinced me to join the family business on a trip to the field of cowpies.

IMG_0361 IMG_0357

Lunchtime once again activated my senses with the hearty local tastes of steamy Sheppard’s pie and unique flavors of white bean cassoulet. The meal would not have been complete without a round of apple crisp to satisfy my sweet tooth. Sitting amongst new and old friends, toes tapped to the “soulgrass” tunes of guitar strumming, box drumming group Rootybagas. Attendees enjoyed a warm lunch atmosphere with few moments of silence. A conference bursting with scents, sounds, flavors and most importantly dialogue.

Guest blogger: Laura Friedland