Thursday, October 28, 2010

Observations from the Global Food Security Conference in Montreal

Heather Davis is the Center for an Agricultural Economy's Graduate Research Fellow. She is monitoring local food systems in both the NEK and Hardwick as well as focusing on gathering community input about Atkins Field at Cooper Brook. Recently, she was in Montreal at the Global Food Security Conference and we asked her to write about her experience and thoughts about her time there. 

Food and agriculture have been hot topics in recent years, and this past week I had the opportunity to dive deeper into international food security issues at the Third Global Food Security Conference at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. The focus of this years conference was on nutrition and water challenges as it relates to global food security.

After what was described at the conference as three decades of neglect of international agricultural development programs, recently there has been renewed interest in and recognition of the importance of these programs, as well as connecting agricultural development to improved nutrition outcomes. It is estimated that one billion people on this earth are hungry and the United Nations Millennium Development Goal #1, regarding slowing and reversing the growth of hunger and poverty, is not being met in most countries. In light of this, however, some of the work that I was exposed to at this conference demonstrates the exciting and positive projects, research, and innovations that are happening to address these challenges around the world.

In the past, it had been assumed that increased food security and improved nutrition would automatically follow when there was increased economic growth. It is now understood that the picture is much more complex than this. Whose economic status is improving? Are women targeted in these projects at all? What is the debt burden that small farmers are taking on and what is the impact of this debt? Are there high levels of mechanization of agriculture and what impact does this have upon, not just productivity, but the labor force? What crops are being grown: subsistence and/or cash crops? What is the balance of all of these issues (and more!) that really helps to improve peoples’ lives, food security, and nutritional status?

As was emphasized during the conference repeatedly, in development much attention is now upon small-holder farmers (<5 acres) and women, who are the majority of these small farmers in the world. Supporting women who farm, and not just focusing on farm income, but assuring that the crops that are grown are diverse, nutrient-dense, and are consumed within the household has been shown to translate into better household food security and improved nutrition.

Dr. Timothy Geary, director of McGill’s Institute of Parasitology, spoke to the importance of addressing water-borne pest and parasite problems because these can interfere with nutrient absorption as well as human productivity. Dr. Noel Solomons from the Center for Studies of Sensory Impairment, Aging and Metabolism in Guatemala spoke about research his organization has done that demonstrated that a high microbial environment (unsanitary conditions) negatively effects child and infant growth. Dr. Victoria Quinn, of Helen Keller International, spoke of the successes her organization has had in promoting small gardens and poultry production among women and how that has translated into improved nutrition for their families.

Of course, the picture is still much more complex than this. Soil health is one thing that was not addressed which I think is very important to pay attention to. How can we have nutrient-dense crops when we are farming on nutrient-starved soils? The complexity of addressing issues of food security, both domestically and internationally, illustrates another point that was reiterated throughout the conference: the need for inter-agency, inter-disciplinary coordination in our efforts to eliminate hunger.

Few would argue that hunger is an acceptable thing in this world. No one enjoys the thought of children, or even adults, who are stunted, wasting or dying due to the lack of food - we are more humane than that. So, let’s take the resources we have and the incredible progress we have made through research and experience and make reaching the Millenium Development Goal #1 a reality, then moving beyond that to making poverty and food insecurity a thing of the past.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Invitation to Tour the NEW Vermont Food Venture Center!


Invitation to Tour the NEW Vermont Food Venture Center!

Hardwick, VT-- October 25, 2010--Before the Vermont Food Venture Center ( seals up for winter construction, they are inviting the public to tour the facility on Saturday, November 6, 2010 beginning at 10:00am in the Hardwick Industrial Park.

Although still under construction, the one hour tour will be an opportunity to view the facility as well as meet the project managers and key members of the construction team. "We want this facility to be a resource for the community, so we want to share the project with them early on,” says Louise Calderwood, interim VFVC Project Manager. "We want people to see the space and to inquire about future programs and opportunities so that they can begin utilizing the VFVC as soon as it opens this spring.”

Many of the people who usually work behind-the-scenes will be "up front" to accept questions about the food processing and storage opportunities at the VFVC as well as comments, and feedback. One these individuals, VFVC architect Harry Hunt has confirmed that "every aspect of the design of the Vermont Food Venture Center in Hardwick is geared towards support of this community’s vision for a locally based sustainable food system.” He says that “the architecture is tailored to meet the needs of the food producers who will work [t]here and is not really intended to make a visual impression. It is built with intelligent design-- plain, simple, and useful." Anyone who comes along for the tour will certainly get the picture!

This is an excellent occasion for individuals and/or businesses that are interested in or curious about becoming clients of the VFVC to check it out! The Hardwick Industrial Park is located on Junction Road off of Route 15, next to Vermont Soy.


Louise Calderwood, Interim Project Manager

Vermont Food Venture Center

Tel: 802-586-2239, e-mail:


Students Cook, Community Eats

Youth cooking for the community. How nice is that? Last week, students from Craftsbury Academy and Sterling College, teamed up to provide "the goods" for United Church of Craftbury Common's monthly Community Supper, which happens the 3rd Wednesday of every month--this year, falling on October 20th.

Kindergartners and 1st graders came together to make pies, while 4th graders tried their hands at kneading breads and high school students will be pressing cider. Sterling students are putting their hands and minds to work in making the meal itself which will consist of beef stew and lentil soup.
I, Eliza, CAE intern, had the joyous opportunity this morning to go over to the elementary school and witness the high-energy, "organic" process of 4th graders reveling in the processes of yeast, the feel and taste of dough, and the muscle required for kneading. Andy Messinger, Sterling senior, started off the class very appropriately with a mini-lesson on the anatomy of the grain kernel and the difference between whole wheat and white flour. Noise, color and the energy were abundant as the group dutifully washed their hands and then broke into randomly assigned groups of 3. Each group was given warm water and chance to scoop out 4 teaspoons of yeast into the water. The whole class was entranced by the yeast, and comments ranged from "it smells like eggs" to "look at them growing!". They then worked together very equitably to mix in the white and wheat flour whilst stirring the mixture all together. Add a dash of salt and then the real fun began as they all rolled up their sleeves and had a blast kneading the dough. Judging by the glowing faces and enthusiastic remarks, there was no doubt that fun was had.

I learned that the pie making with the kindergartners was an equally delightful experience, and feel sure that fun will be had by the older students as well. I hope many of you made it to the meal last Wednesday and tasted the labor of love, fun, laughter and learning that went into this month's community meal. 

Eliza Mutino
Sterling College, 1st Year
CAE Intern/Work Learning Program

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Wwoofing Tale

To introduce myself, I’m Eliza, an intern at the Center for an Agricultural Economy (CAE) and a new student at Sterling College and to the Northeast Kingdom. I’d like to take some time to describe what an awesome experience wwoofing can be and to share a bit about the experience I had this summer working on two organic farms in southern Italy for two weeks. Despite its brevity, I came away from the experience with a appreciation for what it takes to truly live both lightly on the land and earn a living off of the land.

The program that helped facilitate my visit is World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), in which participants work on farms across the world. Wwoofing is defined as an exchange of volunteer work on the farm for which one receives food, accommodation and the opportunity to learn about other organic growing methods and livelihoods. Many countries maintain their own agricultural databases which farmers opt into and which anyone who pays a small fee can have access to for one year. The list contains a brief description of the farm as well as information about logistics of the hosting process, expectations, location, and contact information.

And so, list in hand, butterflies in stomach, I picked up the phone and dialed Italy. I chose to call two farms, one in Cilento National Forest in the Campania province of Italy, home of a intentionally "peasant" farmer and the other a family farm in the Lazio province, to the northeast of Rome. I was nervous to be diving into such a big adventure, making plans to live and work and play with total strangers and all using my improvised hybridization of intermediate-level Spanish with a smattering of Italian vocabulary. Fortunately, both conversations went over well and the hosts welcomed me warmly to their farms.

So, one month later, there I was, saying goodbye to my parents with whom I had just spent time visiting Italian relatives and saying hello to bright-eyed Albino. His farm comprised of 3 hectares of fruit orchards integrated with gardens, a small vineyard, chickens, and olive trees. The majority of what he ate came from his land, and the rest was bartered for or bought with money from the odd jobs he worked on the weekends. This system of bartering combined with his abundant charisma led to a wide-reaching network of friends throughout the neighboring hillsides. I was lucky enough to meet many of them. An example of a typical exchange might be freshly picked fragolini (wild strawberries) from his farm for the children of family friends in exchange for (equally) freshly made bread using an ancient wheat grown and milled on the friends' farm. Or a delicious lunch and some tomato plants in exchange for porcini mushrooms foraged on the way over for a visit. And they weren’t just ordinary tomato plants, but plants grown from seeds received at Terra Madre from Vandana Shiva. Planting them was a magical experience, especially with the knowledge that as I planted, my good friend was interning at Navdanya, Shiva’s organization, all the way in India. Talk about a global movement. I left the area with happy memories of the beautiful waterfall in town, mouth watering fragolini (now I know where food chemists get their inspiration!), mountain views, fresh spring water, and the good humor of the people. I was invited back to see the tomatoes in full swing in late August. I laughed, thanked Albino, and said I didn’t think I’d be able to be back that soon.

A full day of travel to Lazio brought crashing down on me a 180° turn of values and work ethics. No longer was 3 hectares supporting 1 man, but 5 hectares were supporting 2 adults and 3 children ages 6-10. The farm was much more production oriented and run as a Bed & Breakfast for supplementary income. Guise, the mother, had her PhD in botany and was great with raising herbs while Filippo applied his skills to marketing. The children filled the farm with joy as they played games and vied for their parents’ ever-adoring attention. No longer were mid-day strolls into town for gelato or hikes just to see the area the norm. I experienced a new type of joy, one that was much less vacation-like. I worked sun-up to sun-down, weeding and transplanting strawberry patches, potting herbs, harvesting herbs (aromatic herbs were their mainstay), watering the garden, helping at market, and installing a drip irrigation system. Meals brought infinite content as they were so simple, so fresh and so well-earned. Leaving, after a full week of hard work, I felt like I had made a really strong connection with this family. They were extremely grateful of all my work and invited me back anytime, including to babysit the farm at times when they were away at conferences.

 I left Italy wishing I could have neighbors wherever I went that were as beautifully kind and who lived as close to land as those I met wwoofing. Already, in coming back to my home in New York state and here for school, I’ve realized that such people exist in many parts of my own country, including in Orleans county, as locally as Bonnieview Farm. The WWOOF network in the United States boasts opportunities as limitless as those abroad and it’s heartening to know they’re there and increasing in numbers for whenever you’re in the mood to brush up on or learn from scratch about everything from the relative leisure of a bachelor’s homestead to the intensive cultivation of a tight-knit family scrambled with abundant aromatic herbs.   

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Vermont Food Venture Center is Shaping Up!


The Vermont Food Venture Center is Shaping Up!

Hardwick, VT- October 19, 2010—The construction of the Vermont Food Venture Center is well underway and is preparing to open its doors in the spring.

The Vermont Food Venture Center (VFVC), a shared-use incubator kitchen, has been operating from its Fairfax, VT location since 1996 and will be opening its doors to food processors at the new Hardwick location in early spring. Not only will the new facility be fully equipped for processing and producing value-added products, but with the expansion will come business consulting services and skill-development programming for clients.

A strong foundation for the area’s emerging food economy has been established by local businesses and organizations, and with the construction of the new facility, the VFVC is following suit. With the exterior walls of the building up, and the insulation and plumbing nearly complete, the electricity and roof will soon follow. The construction team, which includes architect Harry Hunt, the contracting group, Professional Construction, Inc and VFVC Construction Project Manager Steve Pitkin, is committed to quality and best practices. As Mr. Pitkin said earlier this week, “to improve the energy efficiency of the building, [we] changed a few elements of the design which may have slowed the construction somewhat, but the improvements are well worth the slight delay.”

As the building goes up, more work continues to happen behind the scenes as Louise Calderwood, VFVC’s Interim Project Manager works with Heidi Krantz, the Small Agricultural Business Advisor for both the Center for an Agricultural Economy and the Vermont Small Business Development Council, to develop tours and workshops to share with clients. Says Ms Calderwood, “I am fully aware that both the VFVC’s current and future clients need to hit the ground running as soon as those doors open in the spring. Heidi and I, along with the VFVC Advisory Committee, are developing the necessary pieces so that VFVC clients can succeed.”

With a space designed to accommodate a wide array of interests and products, the Vermont Food Venture Center will be an energetic addition to the growing entrepreneurial spirit of the Hardwick area’s food and agricultural businesses. For more information about how to join the Vermont Food Venture Center or to discuss its future programs and opportunities, please contact Louise Calderwood at 802-586-2239 or email her at

Louise Calderwood, Interim Project Manager
Vermont Food Venture Center
Tel: 802-586-2239, e-mail:


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Pies for People, Soup for Supper-PRESS RELEASE


Announcing the 3rd Annual Pies for People/Soup for Supper

Hardwick, VT-October 13, 2010-The Center for an Agricultural Economy (CAE) and Sterling College are excited to announce the third annual Pies for People/Soup for Supper event, an area wide collaboration of farms, schools and agricultural producers that creates and delivers local food to local people during the holiday season.

With the squash harvested from the fields at High Mowing Organic Seeds and purée created in Pete’s Greens’ kitchen, volunteers from the community will gather once again for two nights of baking and cooking in the Sterling College Kitchen on November 16th and 17th.

This project, a working partnership between CAE and Sterling College, along with many others, is a collaborative effort to meet the needs of a community using locally grown and donated produce, funds, facilities and services. Many individuals and organizations in the greater Hardwick community over the years have generously donated to the food pantry and other community service organizations, and it is our hope that the Pies for People, Soup for Supper program will be an inspiration to others in the months ahead. Individuals, farms and producers who would like to donate to or volunteer for this event are encouraged to contact Elena Gustavson at the CAE, by calling 802-472-5840, ext 2 or emailing at


Elena Gustavson, Program Director
Center for an Agricultural Economy,
Tel: 802-472-5840,ext 2 email:


Tim Patterson, Director of Media Relations,
Sterling College,
Tel: 802-586-7711, ext 124, email:


A Global Work Party in the Northeast Kingdom, is an international campaign, whose mission is to "inspire the world to rise to the challenge of the climate crisis-to create a new sense of urgency and of possibility for our planet".

On October 10, 2010,, with the help of millions of people around the world, organized a global work party, where communities worked on projects that would help them cut carbon and build toward a "clean energy future". The event was also about putting pressure on our leaders to pass policies meant to make real change towards clean energy and reducing emissions.

Sterling College-Craftsbury Common, VT
credit to Ethan Darling of Albany, VT
The number, 350, represents the upper limits of the parts per million (ppm) of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) that our planet can withstand so as to prevent both human and natural disaster. Currently, we are at 392 ppm, a number that scientists say is the highest concentration this planet has ever seen. Ever.

This means atmospheric changes that will, if it hasn't already, the affect our human and natural world. It means swaths of land lost to rising seas; rapid, possibly permanent changes in weather patterns; increase in disease; loss of habitats which result in loss of animal species; drought.

So, what did we do on 10.10.10? We had a party.
All over the area-Hyde Park, Albany, Stowe, Elmore and Johnson, events were happening from trash collecting to wood chipping to "dormstorming". In Hardwick, there was a 3pm rally at Hazen Union where politicians like Shap Smith, Lucy Leriche and others participated as well as performances the Woodbury Bluegrass Highlanders and Yanks in the Attic. In Craftsbury, Sterling College and musician Chris Dorman organized a giant leaf raking of the Common area, trail building and grain threshing workshop to be followed by a celebratory concert and live webstream of Chris' album Sita.

Hardwick, VT

So, did we save the polar bear on Sunday? No. Will global warming likely continue? Yes. Did many of us share a sense of purpose, community and hope? Absolutely.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

National School Lunch Week

The School Nutrition Association has deemed this week as National School Lunch Week to bring awareness around the importance of healthy school lunches for productive and happy students.

Here in Vermont, we are fortunate to have two incredible organizations that focus on awareness, education, implementation and integration of fresh, healthy foods in our school systems.

Vermont FEED, a collaboration between Shelburne Farms, Food Works at Two Rivers and NOFA-VT works with schools and communities to raise awareness about healthy foods and nutrition as well as the role Vermont farms and farmers play in making that happen.

Green Mountain Farm to School (GMFTS) works towards promoting beneficial relationships between farms, schools and communities both economically and educationally.

If you are interested in getting healthy, local, farm fresh food in our educational system, contact these organizations to see how you can get involved.

And, as a great resource, also check out the Center for Ecoliteracy's pdf guide to the framework needed for a healthy school lunch, Rethinking School Lunches.

Happy eating!!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

An Array of Autumn "Ag-tivities"


Tuesday, Oct. 5th-Thursday, Oct. 14th: Queen of the Sun: What are the bees telling us?
Vermont's theatrical premiere of this film on alternative views on the global honeybee crisis. Oct. 5th @ 8pm at Montpelier's Savoy Theater Week of 10/8 in Burlington, more information at

Saturday, Oct. 9th: Harvest Potluck at Chandler Pond Farm @ 3pm.
Featuring hay rides, good food, live music and old fashioned games. Interested in getting your hands dirty? Join them before the potluck from 1-3pm for their annual garlic planting. Wear work clothes. 528 Burroughs Rd., South Wheelock, VT, 802.626.9460

Sunday, Oct. 10th: Free Live Concert for at Sterling, feat. Chris Dorman @ 7pm.
Chris will release his new album, Sita, in conjunction with the global work party on climate change. Dunbar Hall, Sterling College, Craftsbury Common, VT

Wednesday, Oct. 13th: Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) Training for Cheese Makers and Raw Milk Purveyors, 9am-4:30pm
Very timely course given increased requirements for certified HACCP plans. See NOFA-VT for more details.

Thursday, Oct. 14th: Real Facts of Marketing and Selling Raw Milk in VT Webinar @ 7pm.
Hear from a dairy farmer on the ins-and-outs of producing and marketing raw milk in VT. More info at NOFA-VT. Based wherever you are!

Friday, Oct. 15th-Sunday, Oct. 17th: 4th Annual NE Animal Power Field Days (all day)
This event is dedicated to working draft animal enterprises supporting local communities and a land-base economy. Includes workshops, equipment demos, working demos, exhibitors, local food, swap meet and more. Call 802.234.5524 or visit for more information. Located in Tunbridge, VT.

Friday, Oct. 15th-Saturday Oct. 16th: Hardwick Fall Film Festival
Independent Vermont filmmakers explore the underlying values in agriculture. See our BLOG for more details.

Saturday, Oct. 16th: Apple Pie Festival from 9am-3pm
Games, pie baking contests, local entertainment, raffles, local artisan crafts, and award winning homemade pies for sale. Cabot School Gym, 25 Common Rd., Cabot, VT

Monday Oct. 18th-Monday Nov. 8th: Vermont Master Composter Course from 6-9pm
Registration ends Oct. 8th, afterwards is a $10 late fee! Cost is $40. Learn everything from the intricacies of vermicompost to how to reduce ghg emissions through your compost pile! Located in Montepelier and other locations in VT. Check out the master composter site for more info.

Thursday, Oct. 21st: Last CAE tour of the season! @ 10 am
Join us for a tour of the local farms and meet the people that make the greater Hardwick area host to such a vibrant agricultural economy (and most recently, feature of a book!). Cost is $50/person, accompanied children 10 years and younger are free. More details at our site.

Thursday, Oct. 21st-Friday, Oct. 22nd: Vermont School Nutrition Assoc. Fall Conference (all day)
Partake in a variety of workshops and take home new skills and ideas. Doubletree Conference Cente, So. Burlington. Vermont FEED

Saturday, Oct. 23rd: Biochar: A "New" Tool for Forest Management? @ 9am
Learn about how biochar from forests could be used in New England to improve degraded soils, reduce amount of carbon entering the atmosphere and serve as a fuel source. $10/person. North Woods Stewardship Center, 154 Leadership Dr., East Charleston, VT. 802.723.6551 or to register.

Monday, Oct. 25th: What's a Coolbot? Low-Cost Storage for the Winter Market and a NOFAvore Social. 5pm
How to set up a Coolbot system and other low energy walk-in cooler ideas. Will also discuss winter market growth potential. Pre-registration required. Details from NOFA here. Blackwell Roots, Cabot, VT.


Nov. 1-Nov. 3rd: 2010 Women in Sustainable Agriculture Conference
Ranchers, Farmers, Educators, Ag Service Providers and Activists unite to build production and business skills, share strategies, and forge new connections to support farm women in the NE. Farilee, VT. Check out the Women's Ag Network for more details. Fees range between $100-150.

Nov. 11th: Practical Poultry Production @ 7pm
Learn the facets of "all things chicken". Great for if you're thinking of including chickens in your farming operation, for either meat or eggs. More details here.