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December 16, 2010
Kevin Coburn, Director of Communications

GMC Farm & Food Program Receives Grant for Sustainable Agriculture Research

POULTNEY, VT--Green Mountain College’s Farm & Food Project has received a $93,000 grant from the Yavanna Foundation. The funding will be used to further develop the College’s fossil-free agriculture initiatives, including the hiring of a full-time post-doctoral researcher for two years and purchase of research equipment.

A 2008 grant to GMC from the Jensen/Hinman Family Fund supported a two-year research project aimed at operating the College’s Cerridwen Farm with as few fossil-derived resources as possible while providing new curricular opportunities for students. This funding resulted in a 200% increase in farm production (including a 100% increase in food delivered to the GMC dining hall), expansion of the College’s draft animal program, installation of renewable energy systems on the farm, and establishment of a research program in human and animal-powered agricultural systems.

The new round of funding will support a full-time researcher who will help coordinate and document current research projects while furthering the curricular efforts of the GMC Farm & Food Project. The two major energy-focused research projects at GMC include the high-tunnel greenhouse program, which is examining the viability of solar thermal root-zone heating technologies for farmers in the Northeast, and the College’s new Long-Term Ecological Assessment of Low Energy Farm Systems (LEAFS) research initiative. LEAFS will compare and contrast three different low-energy vegetable production systems: a “conventional” organic system powered by an 11HP walking tractor; a human-powered, fossil-free biointensive system that will not use outside amendments; and a bio-extensive, oxen-powered system coupled fueled by oxen-harvested hay and a management-intensive pasture system. The research may provide powerful new insights into methods that farmers of the future can utilize to achieve sustainable crop yields with little or no fossil fuel inputs.

“Agriculture is an essential component not only of our economy but also of our life-support systems, but there is no clear path to sustainability once we remove fossil fuels from the current equation,” said Philip Ackerman-Leist, director of the GMC Farm and Food Project and associate professor of environmental studies. “The reliance upon fossil fuels at all levels of the food chain is a quandary that has all of us in the GMC community—-faculty members, students, and our regional farmers—-working together to pioneer methods of agricultural production that might make sense in a food system gradually weaned from petroleum-based resources.”

The Yavanna Foundation grant will also help the College expand its multidisciplinary research programs and build on its nationally-recognized curriculum in sustainable agriculture and sustainable food systems. The resulting research from these various projects is intended to provide powerful new insights into methods that farmers of the future can utilize to ensure quality yields with minimal fossil fuel inputs.

“Modern agriculture is heavily reliant on fossil energy sources—it’s extremely inefficient,” said farm manager and project leader Dr. Kenneth Mulder. “We’re curious to see what we can discover about how to run farms that are productive and environmentally sustainable.”

Green Mountain College was recently named the greenest college in the country by Sierra magazine. In 2011, GMC will be the first college in the nation to reduce its carbon footprint by more than 50% and then become carbon neutral. Support from organizations such as the Yavanna Foundation has helped to build the college’s reputation as a national leader in combining sustainability education with applied research and implementation projects on campus.

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