Diane Litwin knew how to grow food. But she wanted to understand the science behind farming.
Litwin, who works for Common Ground, a college-prep charter school, urban farm, and education center in New Haven, Connecticut, wanted to enhance her foundation as an agricultural educator.
After being named interim farm manager at Common Ground in July 2017, Litwin suddenly had more job responsibilities in her new position, which made her keenly aware of the gaps in her knowledge about farming. She decided to take a sabbatical last spring to attend the UVM Farmer Training Program.
“I realized there was more I wanted to learn,” says Litwin, who graduated from SUNY New Paltz with a degree in elementary education. “I knew good farming practices but I didn’t have a grasp on the ‘why.’ I wanted to get that science background and learn the pedagogy behind farming. That’s why I came to the Farmer Training Program.”
Students in the six-month Farmer Training Program get hands-on training at UVM’s Catamount Farm, where they learn how to drive a tractor and grow, harvest, and market vegetables from the farm. Students grow everything from radish and arugula to apples and potatoes. Produce grown by the students is sold to select outlets within the UVM community.
The Science and Pedagogy of Farming
Litwin first became interested in agriculture while she was a student at SUNY New Paltz, where she was surrounded by farms in New York’s bucolic Hudson River Valley. The turning point for Litwin came while she was studying abroad in India. It was there she worked as an intern at a farm, learning for the first time how to plant and harvest vegetables, crops, and dry rice.
After graduating from SUNY New Paltz, she worked for Land’s Sake Farm, the Teva Learning Alliance and Teva’s Topsy Turvy Bus Tour, as well as the Jewish Farm School. She also worked at Massaro Community Farm in Woodbridge, Connecticut, where she learned how to grow vegetables on an eight-acre farm with a 200-plus member CSA and farm stand.
Her hands-on experience and curiosity helped Litwin continue to learn the ins and outs of farming.
“I learned about farming by actually farming,” she says. “I was also making sure to always be seeking out mentors, asking questions, and going to workshops.
At the UVM Farmer Training Program, Litwin is growing her own food and also learning technical aspects of farming—the why.
“It’s easy to get a sense of atrophy if I don’t know why I’m doing something,” she says. “At Farmer Training, I’m learning the science of farming. For example, we just had a two-hour class on storing crops and the correct conditions needed for storing crops. Because of what I just learned, I feel more confident about growing things like winter squash.”
Litwin is growing Abenaki corn at Catamount Farm to pay homage to the region’s Native American roots. She is also growing cabbage, dill, and green beans for pickling as a nod to her Eastern European heritage.
Litwin says she was particularly drawn to the UVM Farmer Training program because it’s led by women—the program’s co-directors are S’ra DeSantis and Rachel Stievater.
She also values how the program teaches students to work together.
“Farming can be very isolating,” she says. “But I feel way more confident because of this program. In the end, I’ll be a better farmer.”
Learn more about the UVM Farmer Training Program.