Blog

October 25, 2016

Picture: Grass Waterway Cross-Section Diagram

 

By Jeffrey Sanders, UVM Agronomy Outreach Specialist.

While grassed waterways are nothing new in the world of soil erosion and water quality, their adaptation in the Northeastern United States lags far behind counterparts in other parts of the United States.  In the Midwestern corn belt where memories of the dust bowl and the severe erosion problems of the past are still in memories and family histories, the idea of taking care of erosion issues decisively and effectively are evident everywhere on the landscape.  We do not want the devastating loss of topsoil the Midwest experienced to be our fate in Vermont.  A plane ride over any corn belt state will provide ample evidence of the efforts to mitigate soil leaving fields through the implementation of different practices.  The one that is highly visible and effective is grassed waterways. 

A grassed waterway is a simple structure designed to absorb energy from moving water while holding soil from eroding in areas where water is prone to moving in concentrated flow across crop fields.  The idea is that you fill gullies and flatten out slopes in an effort to remove energy from i.e. slow down the water as it moves across the field.  This area is then seeded down and left in a permanent state of vegetation.  The vegetation acts to hold soil particles from being mechanically lifted and moved off fields while also helping to reduce the speed of the water so it has less ability to cause erosion.  A well designed and implemented grassed waterway will keep water from moving down slope without concentrating the flow into a stream.  It will move the water off the field without allowing it to pick up enough energy to move soil.  Grassed waterways have been found to be very effective at reducing erosion in high risk locations on crop fields. 

While the idea of “giving up” productive ground to install a conservation measure seems foreign to many landowners in the Northeast, it shouldn’t be.  You can tell easily where grassed waterways would be an effective tool in a landowner’s toolbox for keeping soil on their fields.  Wherever you have gully erosion, not much is growing and it is wet and rough (from eroding topsoil), a grassed waterway may be able to fix your issue.  The productive ground in many cases is not all that productive because soils tend to be saturated with frequent water inundation which can prohibit quality crop growth.

In many cases grassed waterways do not need to be much wider than 20 feet depending on the situation.  The benefit to your field, equipment, and the environment easily offset any yield loss from not cropping that area.  Also, in some cases you could install grassed waterways wide enough to crop.  For example, a perennial forage could be seeded using a design which would allow the farmer to turn equipment within the boundaries of a grassed waterway.  The idea is not that you need tall vegetation but that you need a sod base or other vegetation with a good root system to help hold the soil.  If you are looking for the motivation to install one, but to date have just kept filling in that gully every spring, keep a few considerations in mind.

 

Here in Vermont with new regulations passed under Act 64, it is a violation of the law to have soil leaving fields in concentrated areas and entering waters of the state.  More importantly, it makes no business sense to allow this to happen.  The top six inches of top soil on your farm is the most important asset you have, so why let it leave your farm?  You have fertilized and cultivated the soil to grow your crop for your business.  Letting it go down the ditch is just bad business. 

Furthermore, soil erosion creates sedimentation problems in ditches and creates additional work in the field to fill in gullies with more topsoil in an effort to prepare the field for planting.  If you think about the zone of influence, where the concentrated flow of water is causing problems on your field, it is probably larger than the entire grassed waterway would be. The amount of area you need to cover with soil “pulled” back into the gully to repair it just to have it wash out again is no doubt larger than the area of a grassed waterway, which would cure the problem.   

Installation of grassed waterways is a very cost effective method of addressing soil erosion on crop fields.  Many farmers already have the necessary equipment to move and shape the soil so that the grassed waterway will perform adequately.  In many cases a box blade and a Brillion seeder will make short work of a grassed waterway project depending on scale.  For larger gully erosion control, bulldozers are effective tools to move, shape, and level the contour.  Typical construction of a grassed waterway takes between one to two days.  NRCS has sample designs and job sheets that can guide a farmer through the installation for installing a grassed waterway without government assistance.  Google “NRCS grassed waterway design” and click on Engineering Field Tools (EFT) for more information or go to this webpage: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/technical/engin...

Grassed waterways following NRCS design are built to have an average lifespan of 10 years and require little annual maintenance.  NRCS and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture Food & Markets (through its Best Management Practice (BMP) grant program) can also provide financial assistance.  Keep in mind, this may require a more detailed engineering effort depending on the project, but funds are available.

The Farmers Watershed Alliance was awarded a grant from the Lake Champlain Basin Program* to install three grassed waterway projects in the summer of 2016.  These structures were constructed and farmers are very happy with the results. The farmers were actively involved with the projects and worked with their selected contractors to ensure the installations where done in a manner that they could work with.   As the farmers are experiencing, it actually is a common sense solution to a common problem on many Vermont fields. 

Picture: Before construction of grassed waterway showing accumulation of snow in sloped area of field.

Picture: After construction of grassed waterway showing an ideal stand of a conservation mix.                                                                                  

 

*This project was funded by an agreement awarded by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission to the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission in partnership with the Lake Champlain Basin Program.  NEIWPCC manages LCBP’s personnel, contract, grant, and budget tasks and provides input on the program’s activities through a partnership with the LCBP Steering Committee.  The viewpoints expressed here do not necessarily represent those of NEIWPCC, the LCBP Steering Committee, or GLFC, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or causes constitute endorsement or recommendation for use.

 

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October 3, 2016

By Ali Zipparo

**Editors: please note hi-res photos are available here: https://goo.gl/photos/6vtRmNmmneY9niqq6

In honor of Farm to School Awareness Month, which begins October 1st, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets (VAAFM) gathered together today with Vermont Farm to School leaders at Winooski School District to celebrate the impacts of Farm to School programming and to announce new grant funding for Universal Meals in Vermont schools.  Among the celebrants were Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross, State Senators Sirotkin and Zuckerman, Winooski Schools Superintendent Sean McMannon, Farm to School partners, teachers, students, and administrators. Following the celebratory remarks, event attendees were treated to a “local food taste test” featuring Nepalese and Somali cuisine served by Winooski students.

Since 2007, the Vermont Farm to School Grant Program has awarded over a million dollars to more than 100 schools throughout the state to facilitate the integration of local foods in school cafeterias, classrooms and communities, impacting roughly 30 % of all schools in Vermont.  Today, Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross announced more than $130,000 in funding available to Vermont schools  in 2017 to support…

  • Planning and development of new Farm to School Programs
  • Expanding existing Farm to School programs, or
  • New for 2017 - Transitioning eligible schools to a universal meals program, which enables schools to offer all students fresh, healthy meals at no charge

“Vermont is a national leader in Farm to School programming,” said Vermont’s Agriculture Secretary, Chuck Ross. “Our schools spend nearly 1 million dollars a year on locally sourced foods, and we are taking the lead again today as we announce the integration of funding for Universal Meals in our Farm to School Grant Program.  Farm to School Programs help build a culture of ‘Ag Literacy’ in our schools and communities. These programs are an essential part of building the connection between agriculture and the next generation of Vermonters, while also teaching our students to make healthy choices and ensuring food access for all.  Additional support for Universal Meals will allow our schools to expand their depth and breadth of their programming, providing more Vermont students with fresh, local foods every day.

“The benefits of universal school breakfast and lunch are well-documented,” according to Anore Horton, Nutrition Initiatives Director at Hunger Free Vermont.  “Class participation increases, readiness to learn increases, school nurse visits decrease, behavioral referrals decrease, and school meal program finances improve. Vermont legislators recognized these many benefits, and have acted to help more schools transition to a universal model and gain these benefits for their students. We applaud them!”

Today’s event also served as an opportunity to highlight new research from the Vermont Farm to School Network which explores the economic impact of local food purchases made by Vermont schools.  Among other data points, the research indicates that every dollar spent on local food by Vermont schools contributes an additional sixty cents to the local economy.  This research was conducted by the University of Vermont Center for Rural Studies and funded by the Vermont Community Foundation.  

For more information about the Vermont Farm to School Grant Program or to download the Request for Proposals (RFP), visit: http://agriculture.vermont.gov/producer_partner_resources/funding_opportunities/vaafm_funding/farm_to_school

All Vermont schools, consortium of schools, and school districts are eligible to apply for Farm to School funding.  Eligibility for Universal Meals funding may vary.  Program applications must be submitted online through the WebGrants system no later than October 28, 2016.

Vermont Farm to School Grant Program is made possible by collaboration between the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Agency of Education, Department of Health, and the Vermont Farm to School Network.

If you have questions about Vermont’s Farm to School program or the 2017 funding, contact Ali Zipparo at 802-505-1822, or Alexandra.Zipparo@vermont.gov

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September 30, 2016

By Ryan Patch

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets (AAFM) is pleased to announce the first ever Request for Proposal (RFP) for the Ag Clean Water Initiative Program (Ag-CWIP).  This grant program is made possible and supported by the Clean Water Fund—a fund created by Act 64 of 2015, Vermont’s Clean Water Act.  The Ag-CWIP will provide new opportunities for farmers and organizations to undertake projects that will achieve reductions in nutrient runoff from agricultural lands, with a priority for projects which reduce phosphorus losses statewide.  Please visit http://agriculture.vermont.gov/water-quality/farmer-assistance/ag-cwip for the complete RFP Documents.

“The announcement of this program is an exciting new opportunity for the agricultural community in Vermont,” said Chuck Ross, Secretary of Agriculture.  “This program will help support the farmers and organizations who have embraced the call for clean water, and will enable them to enhance and expand their programming to provide education, outreach and implementation on farms throughout all of Vermont.”

The Ag-CWIP will provide funding to farmers, nonprofit organizations, regional associations, and other entities for the development and implementation of locally-led agricultural water quality programs and projects.  Funds will be available in three distinct categories—though organizations may submit applications in more than one category—including:

  • Education, Outreach and Implementation
  • Organizational Development
  • Innovative Phosphorus Reduction Activities

Laura DiPietro, Deputy Director of the Ag Resources Management Division at AAFM, expanded “One focus of this RFP is Innovative Phosphorus Reduction Strategies—we know there are watersheds where significant advances need to be made to meet water quality standards, and this program will help jumpstart and expand new strategies to meet these goals.”  DiPietro continued, “It’s important to note that AAFM currently has an additional $1.8 million available in traditional Best Management Practices (BMP) Program funding for 2017—the BMP program provides technical and financial assistance directly from AAFM to farms to implement conservation practices on farms.  This Innovative Phosphorus Reduction RFP is meant to cultivate new and more effective ways of meeting water quality standards on farms.”

The Innovative Phosphorus Reduction Activity category covers a broad range of activities that result in phosphorus reductions from agricultural land due changes in management or farm inputs. There should be no limit to the creativity of these proposals in that the goal is agricultural phosphorus reduction to waters of the state. Projects will be judged on their effectiveness towards the overall goal of phosphorus removal and/or phosphorus reduction.

If a potential applicant requires clarification of any portion of this RFP, specific questions can be submitted in writing no later than October 11, 2016.  Questions may be emailed to AGR.PhosphorusRFP@vermont.gov.  At the close of the question period a copy of all questions or comments and the Agency of Agriculture’s responses will be posted on the Agency’s web site: http://agriculture.vermont.gov/water-quality/farmer-assistance/ag-cwip.  The Agency expects to post responses to questions received by October 18, 2016.

Applications for this program are due by 4PM on November 3, 2016.

All applications must be submitted electronically to: AGR.PhosphorusRFP@vermont.gov

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September 29, 2016

By Myra Handy, Farm First

The Farm First Program focuses on the human element: farmers themselves. Farming can be stressful.  That’s no secret. Farmers thrive on solving the unexpected challenges of each day, digging deep into personal and financial reserves during the hard times. The freedom of being your own boss brings satisfaction when things are good, yet when times are tough, and the buck still stops with you, that freedom comes at a cost. Vermont’s farmers know all too well the blood, sweat and tears behind Vermont’s lush, productive landscape.

When their personal “bucket” empties, farmers need to be aware of their vulnerability to mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety. Farm First is often the first call Vermont farmers make (anytime, day or night) when they feel discouraged or depressed: 1-877-493-6216.  In addition, we urge those experiencing a depressive episode to talk about it with a trusted friend, family member, neighbor or physician.

Depression is defined as having five or more of these symptoms that last more than two weeks:

• A down or blue mood

• Decreased interest in things you normally enjoy

• Appetite and weight changes–Losing or gaining weight

• Sleep disturbance–Sleeping more or sleeping less

• Psychomotor changes– Feeling keyed up, on edge, tense, limbs feeling like lead

• Decreased energy –Mental or physical

• A sense of worthlessness and/or guilt

• Decreased concentration

• Possible thoughts of death and/or suicide.

Depression distorts reality, often leaving the sufferer feeling like a burden to others. It’s often described as “a fog.” When a person is depressed, thoughts of suicide can occur because the mind is looking for a way to stop the pain. Taking an intermediate step between the thought of suicide and the action is what saves lives: talking to a neighbor, a friend, a counselor, even a stranger, can interrupt a fatal action and begin the path to recovery. People want to help; ask for it. Because we humans are all susceptible to stress, anxiety and depression at times, we are not surprised (and may even be relieved) to hear that someone else is struggling and that we are not alone. The stigma and secrecy surrounding emotional vulnerability can end with each of us as we begin talking about our lives together and supporting one another.

Connecting with a Farm First counselor (free and confidential) helps Vermont farmers find solutions to mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety, family issues and more. Farm First helps solve practical concerns such as difficulty farming with an injury or disability, as well.  Call Farm First 24/7 at 1-877-493-6216 to speak with a counselor, or visit our website at www.farmfirst.org.  If you are having thoughts of self-harm or suicide, please call Farm First or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), a free, 24-hour hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.

Parts of this article were borrowed with permission from an Agri-View, Madison, WI article dated 4/12/13 by Jane Fyksen.

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September 29, 2016

By Jon Turner, VFVC President & Ali Zipparo, VAAFM

On August 25 at the Vermont State House, Deputy Secretary Diane Bothfeld joined members of the Vermont Farmer Veteran Coalition (VFVC), FVC founder Michael O’ Gorman, Farm Credit VP Gary Matteson, and others in a celebration the kick-off of Homegrown By Heroes, a national branding program designed to raise consumer awareness of products produced by military veterans.

The mission of the Farmer Veteran Coalition is to mobilize veterans to feed America, and in Vermont, to provide veterans with educational and internship opportunities, assistance with land acquisition through federal and state programing, peer to peer mentorship, and an appropriate re-integration back into the civilian sector through ecological land stewardship.

Homegrown by Heroes began through the Kentucky Department of Agriculture and granted the Farmer Veteran Coalition to administer the program on Veterans Day in 2013. Since its inception, HGH has assisted over 500 veterans in 48 states to market their product as being from a veteran-owned operation. The Farmer Veteran Coalition currently has over 7,000 members in all 50 states and has given away over a million dollars to help a veteran establish or expand their agricultural operation.

The Farmer Veteran Coalition of Vermont is recognized as being one of the first four chapters of this national organization and has already garnered support from the Vermont Farm Bureau, NOFA-VT, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Vermont AgrAbility, UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Sterling College, U .S . Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Office and Congressman Peter Welch’s Office for veterans who are interested in transitioning into agriculture following their time in service.

Since December of 2015, the FVC-VT received a donation of 3,375 packets of seeds from High Mowing Organic Seeds (which were distributed to veterans in eight different states), pro-vided a keynote address at the fourth annual NEK Veterans Summit, hosted a veterans retreat in partner-ship with Zeno Mountain Farm in Lincoln, Vt ., partici-pated with the St . Michael’s Veterans Garden through the Vermont Community Garden Network and pro-vided agricultural guidance/sweat equity to our farmer veterans which include John Hojek’s Gold Star Roses in West Burke, Frank Hill’s Integrity farm in Grand Isle, and the Bowen family’s Meadowdale Farm in Putney.

VAAFM is proud to support the Vermont Farmer Veteran, and will continue to work with VFVC, VA, and other partners to create more opportunities for Veterans to engage in agriculture throughout the state.

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