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September 23, 2008
Contact: Kevin Coburn, Director of Communications


Farming Practices at Green Mountain College
Receive Boost from Grant

POULTNEY--Green Mountain College’s Farm and Food Project has received a big boost through a $110,000 grant from The Jensen/Hinman Family Fund, an advised fund of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

This funding, which will be matched dollar-for-dollar by GMC, supports research aimed at running the College’s Cerridwen Farm with as few fossil-derived resources as possible—with the ultimate target of using no fossil fuels at all.

“Modern agriculture is heavily reliant on oil and other fossil energy sources—it’s extremely inefficient, with more than twenty calories required to produce and deliver one food calorie to a consumer’s plate,” said farm manager and project leader Dr. Kenneth Mulder. “The capacity to maintain current food production levels while reducing fossil inputs simply doesn’t exist. We’re curious to see what we can discover about how to run farms that are productive and environmentally sustainable.”

Vegetable production on the farm will increase by 60% over a two-year period, with food deliveries to the GMC dining hall doubling during that time. The vegetable production operation will also serve as a training ground for students in utilizing the most efficient, human-powered agricultural tools.

“We think we can model how vegetable production can be done at a scale at which a farmer could make a livable wage, without sacrificing sustainability,” said Mulder.

The funding will also support expansion of the College’s draft animal program, including introduction of draft animal technologies and the training of a second oxen team. This year the spring plowing, summer haying, and much of the “heavy lifting” on the farm was done not by tractors but by Bill and Lou, the College’s resident oxen team.

Research will be incorporated into GMC’s new summer intensive program in sustainable agriculture beginning in 2009. In addition to four student farm managers that work on the farm each summer, GMC will offer a 12-credit program for 16 students. Class projects will play a significant role in transferring classroom knowledge into real world experimentation on the farm. Three undergraduate research assistants will be hired to help in data collection, conduct research, and host scholars in residence. Given interdisciplinary nature of this research, GMC faculty members with expertise ranging from earth science to ecology will contribute their expertise at various stages of the project.

“There’s been some research looking at the feasibility of human- and animal-powered agriculture to break the link between agriculture and fossil fuels. But there are no comparative studies examining the potential of draft animals—oxen in particular—for renewable energy farming,” said Philip Ackerman-Leist, director of the GMC Farm and Food Project and associate Professor of Environmental Studies. “We don’t view this as a ‘back to the future’ pursuit. The project integrates some practices long-since discarded by industrial farming with new knowledge about organic growing and fossil fuel alternatives. It’s more of a past/future hybrid which could serve a model for ‘modern’ farming practices.”

Silicon Valley Community Foundation manages 1,500 philanthropic funds, including The Jensen/Hinman Family Fund. The foundation provides grants through donor advised and corporate funds in addition to its own Community Endowment Fund.


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