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Growing Stronger

Northeast Organic Farming Association of VERMONT (NOFA-VT) empowers Vermont’s farmers through supportive programs, advocacy, and networking events.

In the verdant valleys, mountains, and farm fields of Vermont, a powerful movement has been sprouting for the past five decades, deeply rooted in principles of sustainability and agricultural resilience. Powerful seeds of change have been planted by the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT), an organization dedicated to promoting organic practices, building ecologically and socially-responsible agricultural systems, and ensuring the financial health of Vermont’s farmers. Through their tireless efforts, they are making a significant impact from the ground-up, and catalyzing essential conversations about food, farming, and the future of sustainable agriculture.

Founded in 1971 by a visionary group of farmers, NOFA-VT is a farmer-driven organization in every sense. “Our goal is to support farmers who believe in a better way of farming,” explains NOFA-VT’s Development & Engagement Director, Erin Buckwalter. She touts a methodology that strengthens rural communities while addressing pressing challenges, such as climate change and food accessibility.

To that end, NOFA-VT’s diverse array of programs play a crucial part in supporting Vermont’s farmers and their surrounding communities. Their Resilience Grants Program, which distributes around $150,000 annually, enables farmers to complete projects that enhance their financial, social, and environmental resilience. These grants have funded a broad array of projects, which range from water management systems that prevent flood damages to community-focused “Pay What You Can” farm stands. “A recent ‘Pay What You Can’ farm stand we supported in Athens made fresh, organic produce more accessible to local residents,” notes Buckwalter. “Many people across Vermont may not have the means to access affordable, locally-farmed food. We work with farmers to develop better food systems, which allow  Vermont’s residents to engage with their local farms in a mutually-beneficial way.” 

NOFA-VT’s commitment to strengthening Vermont’s food systems manifests through multiple community-minded programs. The Farm Share Program, a cornerstone initiative, offers subsidized CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) shares to low-income Vermonters, while simultaneously ensuring that farmers receive full compensation. This model creates a symbiotic relationship between communities and their local farms, promoting food equity and sustainable practices.

Furthering their commitment to food accessibility, NOFA-VT’s Crop Cash program bolsters the purchasing power of SNAP card users at farmer’s markets, connecting them to high-quality, locally-grown, organic produce. NOFA-VT’s farmer education programs also play a pivotal role in supporting the work of Vermont’s farmers. From the Farm Beginnings program (which lays the groundwork for new farmers) to the Journey Farmer program (which offers mentorship and advanced training), NOFA-VT ensures that farmers at every stage receive the guidance they need.

As NOFA-VT continues to develop their programming and initiatives, they are working collaboratively with Vermont’s farmers at all levels. Their Farmer Review Committee, comprised of local farmers, ensures that those most affected by statewide and federal agricultural policies have a clear voice and a seat at the table. This approach extends to the organization’s legislative advocacy efforts, which actively involve farmers in shaping policies that affect their livelihoods. “NOFA-VT is acutely aware of the challenges facing today’s farmers,” says Buckwalter. “The rising cost of farmland, health care and childcare, and the economic pressures exerted by large-scale subsidized agriculture directly inform our advocacy.” In 2023, NOFA-VT successfully secured emergency dairy relief funding, supporting the economic viability of local Vermont farms at a crucial moment. Other recent initiatives have focused on providing emergency funding for the immediate financial needs of Vermont’s farmers, who were reeling from the historic flooding and rain from this past summer, offsetting the costs of rising grain prices and inflation. These efforts are grounded in direct communication with farmers, ensuring that NOFA-VT’s advocacy is responsive and relevant.

Over the past five decades, NOFA-VT’s advocacy work has taken shape through a diverse mosaic of grassroots efforts, several of which have been championed by Vermont politicians. U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy played a pivotal role in the development of the National Organic Program. As a direct result of NOFA-VT’s advocacy and consultation, Senator Leahy was able to ensure that this federal program accommodated the unique agricultural landscape of Vermont, which is characterized by its small-scale farms.

Today, NOFA-VT conducts frequent meetings across Vermont, inviting farmers from diverse backgrounds to discuss the challenges that they face. Additionally, NOFA-VT offers training to farmers that strengthens their knowledge in regards to advocacy and legislative processes, 

equipping them with the skills to effectively voice their concerns and influence policy. 

Buckwalter makes a powerful argument for the broader societal benefits of organic farming: “The choices consumers make at the grocery store or farmers market have far-reaching implications. Organic farms are not just food sources; they are active players in soil health, water cleanliness, biodiversity, and the fight against climate change.” As Vermont’s agritourism economy continues to grow, Buckwalter urges visitors to engage authentically with Vermont’s agricultural scene. “Choose to support independent Vermont farms.” This choice, she insists, is vital for the state’s environmental and economic health.

NOFA-VT’s commitment to building a stronger community of Vermont farmers is beautifully manifested through their Winter Conference, which will be held this year at the University of Vermont on February 17 and February 18. The conference will offer workshops and intensive sessions on various agricultural topics. NOFA-VT also hosts fun and family-friendly events throughout the year, such as the Farmer Olympics and summer on-farm pizza socials. These gatherings provide a platform for farmers to connect and share knowledge and for anyone interested to visit a farm, fostering a sense of profound solidarity within Vermont’s communities.

Looking ahead, NOFA-VT’s strategic plan through 2030 focuses on building stronger relationships between Vermont’s farmers and expanding membership. Buckwalter envisions a blossoming network of local initiatives led by farmers, empowering Vermont’s agricultural advocacy. She eloquently describes Vermont as an “acupuncture point” in the sustainable agriculture movement. This metaphor aptly captures the potential of Vermont’s agricultural network to effect change beyond its borders, influencing farming practices and policies on a national and global scale. With a deep commitment to its mission, NOFA-VT stands as a testament to the transformative power of sustainable agriculture. “If we can get farming right, we can get so many other things right,” adds Buckwalter. This belief, deeply embedded in NOFA-VT’s ethos, continues to inspire and drive change in Vermont’s agricultural landscape.

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