By Cheryl Herrick
A member of the Pasture Program here at the UVM Extension Center for Sustainable Agriculture signs off on his emails with the quote, “To break a paradigm, think big, start small and act fast!” It’s a phrase that comes to mind when we consider the Center’s role in the multi-state Long Island Sound Watershed Regional Conservation Partnership Program (LISW-RCPP).
These cows on a Connecticut River Valley farm in central Vermont are demonstrating “Mob Grazing,” an approach to pasture rotation that increases soil organic matter and in so doing keeps more nutrients in the soil (where they belong) and out of the water (where they don’t).
What the team wants to accomplish is important and enormous: a clean water project on a grand landscape scale. UVM Center staff have joined with organizations across six states to affect an entire regional watershed including the length of the Connecticut River, ending in the Long Island Sound. To get there, over 40 organizations and agencies are working within their own networks to affect change, and reaching out to find new partners.
According to Pasture Program coordinator Jenn Colby, “We’re all working on water quality, but each partner works with a different focus and a different group of clients. Our approach is start with problems that the farmers identify, and put together teams with different areas of expertise to help solve those problems on individual farms in New Hampshire and Vermont.”
The obvious issue and the underlying problems don’t always seem connected. But the same solutions can fix both, Jenn says. “Often, the first time we hear from a farmer it’s because their bottom line is being affected negatively by something. But the root cause is often in the soil, so when we can help balance the soil chemically or add organic matter to improve its health, we help the farm be more productive, make more money on the same acreage, catch more water, and hold more nutrients.”
“What we’ve clearly learned over the years is that farmers don’t have to choose between making money and having healthy soil. We see it time after time—with healthy soil they will make more money.”
We’re starting small, we’re thinking big, because we know that with healthy soil, cleaner water, and financially stable farms, a whole region comes out ahead.
Interested farmers can contact the team to find out if their farm is eligible for this program, and will be connected with someone who can help address their needs either way.
All farmers are welcome. “We have the ability to work with all types of farmers, including crop, vegetable, dairy, and livestock producers,” Jenn says. “Issues of viability, water quality, soil health, production. Whatever it is, we’ve got someone who can help.”
More about the RCPP work, and soil health and water quality:
- Look at the sediment that poured from the Connecticut River into the Long Island Sound after Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 (That’s where all that Vermont farmland washed away to!)
- Website for entire 6-state Long Island Sound Regional Conservation Partnership Program
- Project page on the center’s website
- Water Quality & Agriculture in Vermont: Resources for farmers, land-owners, and agricultural service providers
- For livestock farmers: Building or beginning your grazing operation
- Contact the center’s pasture team for help
-Cheryl Herrick manages communications and the office at the Center for Sustainable Agriculture and lives, writes, and cooks in Burlington.