Tag Archives: leadership

Farming Beyond Borders: Puerto Rico

NOFA-VT’s Farming Beyond Borders program was initiated by Mimi Arnstein, NOFA-VT board member and farmer at Wellspring Farm in Marshfield to create and support exchanges between Vermont organic farmers and farmers beyond Vermont’s borders in order to increase production, improve environmental sustainability and strengthen financial viability via mutually beneficial relationships and cross-cultural exchange.

Farmers' Market in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
Farmers’ Market in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

We got lost on the way to Tres Vidas Farm in the lush green mountains of Aibonito, Puerto Rico. It was no surprise, since the road got steeper and narrower as it became darker and darker that night. A cow’s bulging eyes flashed in our headlights and a rooster ran across the gravelly road.

This was a change from the impressively restored city of Old San Juan with its remarkable colonial buildings, proud and refreshing in their classic beauty and pastel palette. A change too, from the heavy traffic and stripmalls of the suburbs, which erased any recollection that indeed we were on a tropical island. It was a distance from the urban farmers’ markets where we trusted the farmers’ faces, having no notion of the actual farms themselves. Now that would change.

We woke the next day to a crystal-clear morning and a view all the way to the sea peeking through grass-green mountains. Then quickly we scurried along to focus on the workshops ahead as fifty producers began arriving from all corners of this isla verde with their notebooks and potluck dishes.

Mimi Arnstein presents on sustainable farm business skills to farmers in Puerto Rico.
Mimi Arnstein presents on sustainable farm business skills to farmers in Puerto Rico.

It was a deep honor to present on skills for building a sustainable farm business to this extremely motivated, enthusiastic, and burgeoning community. Puerto Rican producers love their island and they want to address land access, over development, health, community building, environmental conservation, and more through agriculture. Seed producers, vegetable growers, coffee cultivators and organizers attended. Younger and older, more and less experienced, some with land and some without. All were excited to take advantage of a day of workshops and one another, soaking it all up and developing their own answers to fit their goals.

Energy was high and so was tolerance for my lapses into English to explain more complex concepts. Yet I felt proud and part of something bigger: here was the very reason I study Spanish in the time I can steal away from my farm responsibilities and other pursuits, in order to be part of bridging gaps of knowledge, to exchange what I’ve learned and what are my hopes, to be part of a global movement of making change through agriculture.

Walking around Tres Vidas’ fields later that afternoon, with discussions all around about shadecloth suppliers, home built rootwashers, soil tests, cruise ship waste that could be made into compost, tourist market potential and Japanese beetles, I felt at home. We’re all in this together, and how much sweeter that makes walking the road ahead.

[Guest post by Mimi Arnstein, Wellspring Farm]

Food+Co-ops: VT Farm to Plate Network Generates Collective Impact

Timeline of Farm to Plate progress in 2013. Photo courtesy VT Farm to Plate.
Timeline of Farm to Plate progress in 2013. Credit VT Farm to Plate.

Imagine you are in Paris, in a room full of intelligent, informed people discussing the issues of the day. It is the early 1600s and you are in one of the few social spheres that allows for female leadership. You are in a salon. Perhaps there is art on the walls of the gathering room, and a theater performance. When you arrive, you are announced to the room.

Fast forward to 2013, and it turns out you are actually in a breakout session at one of the most innovative food system conferences in the country. This “salon” is exploring what it will take to connect the dots most effectively between producers and consumers of local/regional food. The backdrop is the 3rd Annual Gathering of Vermont’s Farm to Plate Network. Over 250 representatives of the 300+ member Network attended. Members of the Farm to Plate Network encompass all types and scales of agricultural-related production and processing businesses, government entities, educational institutions, distributors, retailers, and dozens of non-profits from food justice to technical assistance providers. This 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. Continue reading Food+Co-ops: VT Farm to Plate Network Generates Collective Impact

Improve Your Farm Business: A program guide

A successful farm requires solid business and management skills as well as the ability to judge when a tomato is ripe or a calf is sick. There are a number of resources in Vermont designed to help beginning (and experienced) farmers cultivate their management, accounting, planning, and organizing skills – and many of them have enrollment deadlines coming up soon!

Jake Torrey of Honey Locust Farm in Bradford, VT, is a 2013 Journey Farmer.
Jake Torrey of Honey Locust Farm in Bradford, VT, is a 2013 Journey Farmer.

One such program is NOFA Vermont’s Journey Farmer program, designed to help beginning farmers succeed by matching them with experienced farmer mentors, providing them with educational opportunities (including free entrance to our upcoming Winter Conference and an educational stipend), and providing personalized technical and business planning assistance. The application period for this program is currently open through December 18. The Journey Farmer Program is for farmers with a few years of experience, secured access to land, and the intention to farm commercially in Vermont.

If you don’t fit that description, or have different needs, there are other great programs available for everyone from experienced farmers looking to expand or diversify, to aspiring farmers and entrepreneurs interested in testing the waters. Continue reading Improve Your Farm Business: A program guide

Talking Farm to School

This pasphotot Saturday, Bear Pond Books in Montpelier hosted author Gail Gibbons and NOFA’s own Education Coordinator, Abbie Nelson, for a short discussion on local foods and their role in schools.

The two women discussed the incorporation of healthy practices into school systems and the importance of agricultural education for our youth. Amongst the crowd were several teachers from Barre Town School, and other educators across Washington County.

Throughout the talk, Abbie focused on the ways that Vermont FEED (a partnership between NOFA Vermont, Shelburne Farms, and Food Works) has worked statewide to get local food into schools. She discussed the importance of young students associating a fruit or vegetable on their plate with where it came from on a farm or in a garden.

Abbie also introduced the New School Cuisine cookbook, which will be released within the month to every school in Vermont as well as every Childhood Nutrition program throughout the nation. This cookbook includes a wide variety of farm fresh, healthy recipes in large serving sizes for cafeteria use. It allows students to associate with healthy foods on a daily basis in the classroom. Lastly, Abbie discussed the Nutrition Education Guide for schools. The Nutrition Education Guide serves as an educational tool for teachers to assess where they can incorporate nutrition education and the best ways to make it work.

BPBGail Gibbons, author and illustrator of over 150 children’s books, also spoke about her influence on child nutrition education. Originally in the film industry, Gail recognized the need for nutrition awareness while working with NBC television programs. After traveling to many different cities across the country for research, she acknowledged that many children did not know where their food came from. Her first book based on agriculture titled The Milk Makers goes into the development of milk in a cow and the processing it must go through to make it to the refrigerator. Other books include The Vegetables We Eat, Apples, Corn, and The Honey Makers. Check out Gail’s website and list of publications at http://www.gailgibbons.com/.

>> For more upcoming events that connect Vermont’s communities and farms, check out the second annual Agricultural Literacy Week, November 18-24.

[Post by NOFA Vermont intern Maggie Callahan]

Food+Co-ops: Farm Viability—Strong Networks & Thriving Farms

As you may have heard, 97% of Vermonters value the working landscape. But what’s the difference between the working landscape and a pretty view? One simple answer is: farm viability.

Enid Wonnacott and colleagues at the 2008 National Farm Viability Conference
NOFA-VT Executive Director Enid Wonnacott (center, in pink) and colleagues at the 2008 National Farm Viability Conference

The state of Vermont is widely recognized for the strength of its community-based food system. One of the core assets in this system is the Farm Viability Program of the VT Housing & Conservation Board, which works to increase the success of Vermont’s land-based businesses.

VHCB recently hosted a national conference focused on farm viability, to share the love. As VHCB Executive Director Gus Seelig noted, “The National Farm Viability Conference was a great success, drawing 200 practitioners from 18 states working to improve rural economy and reinvent a better food system for farmers and consumers.”

Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross added, “The conference underscored the importance of technical assistance to the success of our farming enterprises and the entrepreneurs who run the operations.”

The thing that made this event powerful was the same factor that makes the VT Farm Viability Program so effective: Networks. Just as VHCB partners with an array of technical assistance providers to help farms better plan their businesses, this conference convened a broad range of stakeholders dedicated to a sustainable local/regional food system to “network, develop new knowledge and skills, and visit farms and value-added processing facilities.”

But what did the conference mean to those who were there—both Vermonters and leaders from elsewhere in the US? And what does it say about the opportunity the VT Farm Viability Program provides to Vermont farmers and food system businesses? Continue reading Food+Co-ops: Farm Viability—Strong Networks & Thriving Farms

Food+Co-ops: Connecting the Dots Between Farms & Institutions

There is demand across many institutions in Vermont for local eggs.

This month in Food+Co-ops, let’s look at recent developments in the Farm to Institution market channel. NOFA-VT is a leader in making sense of this market. In 2012, NOFA-VT and VT FEED released Scaling Up Vermont’s Local Food Production, Distribution, and Marketing, a report quantifying demand by VT institutions for certain products, and inventorying statewide infrastructure. Erica Campbell, Farm to Plate Program Director at Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, noted that this report provides the most accurate data available on such demand. See below for how NOFA-VT’s leadership continues on the ground.

Continue reading Food+Co-ops: Connecting the Dots Between Farms & Institutions

Food+Co-ops: Next Generation Leadership

Sarah at Middlebury College Organic Farm  (c) Middlebury College (2013)
Sarah at Middlebury College Organic Farm (c) Middlebury College (2013)

NOFA VT’s Winter Conference is the best-attended gathering of farmers and their allies in Vermont each year. The theme of the 2013 conference was Generations of Innovation. Implied in that theme is the value of next-generation leadership. In this first of a monthly series of posts on the connections between food, co-ops, and community, NOFA-VT member Eric Deluca will focus on youth leadership development. Here are two inspiring stories: one on food and the other about co-ops. They showcase what’s possible in the world of youth leadership development. You’ll see themes like peer-to-peer learning; that’s no accident. You can do this too! Continue reading Food+Co-ops: Next Generation Leadership