Cultivating Community

As the service-learning liaison I am in charge of fostering the blossoming (pun-intended) relationship between our participants and a cohort of Spanish 101 students at UVM.   The Spanish 101 Composition & Conversation course, which explores the history of human migration from Mexico to the US, is designated as a service-learning class by the UVM Community-University Partnerships & Service-Learning (CUPS) office. As a service-learning class, the course is intentionally designed to offer a unique experiential learning process that seeks to draw strong connections between the classroom and our local communities.


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UVM Mascot “Rally” visits Huertas fundraiser (Shaw, 2015)

This semester I had the pleasure of working with an incredible group of 27 students that ranged from first-years to seniors.   It was the second semester that this specific Spanish 101 course has partnered with Huertas, and as the service-learning liaison I facilitate student visits to the home of Huerta participants. This semester’s group helped with the execution of a very successful on-campus fundraiser in which Mexican-inspired desserts and Huertas t-shirts were sold. The students also took advantage of the opportunity to share information about Huertas with their UVM peers. The class successfully raised over $300, some of which was used to purchase some much-needed garden tools. Despite this spring’s not-so-cooperative weather, several of the Spanish 101 students were additionally able to venture out to the homes of Huertas participants to help dig up new garden plots and clean up those from seasons past.   The reactions of many of the students upon their returns made all of my recent crazed coordinating efforts entirely worth it. When asked how her recent visit went, a student replied, “It was amazing! That was the most perfect experience for our class, and our host was incredible! We all want to return to help them in their garden this summer.”

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Service-learning visit & garden prep (Wolcott-MacCausland, 2015)

Perhaps what has been most gratifying about working with Huertas is seeing the Spanish 101 students develop over the semester into engaged learners and active community members. Many have expressed interest in volunteering with Huertas over the summer, as well as interning during the next academic year. It is immensely inspiring to see fellow students feel passionate and motivated by the work that Huertas does, which will only be beneficial in further cultivating the growing Huertas community.

I am very grateful to have been part of the Huertas team, and I am excited to see how the relationships between UVM students and Huertas continues to flourish! Mil gracias to the lovely Huertas team, participants, professor Rachael Montesano, and the awesome Spanish 101 service-learning course!

¡Comida para la gente!

This weeks blog post comes from our Alianza Latina liaison, Jennifer Gil

Leaving my rich, and diverse Latino community back home and coming to UVM not only left me in shock but feeling so out of place. There’s nothing I miss more than the smell of the El Salvadorian and Colombian bakeries on every corner, the loud salsa playing from cars, and the families soaking up the New York sun while playing dominoes. There was no denying that my love for my own Latin culture and others led me to the ALANA (African/Latino/Asian/Native American) affiliated organization at UVM called, Alianza Latina.

                Alianza Latina’s mission is to not only to celebrate the different Latin cultures at UVM but share them with greater the Burlington/Vermont community as well. We strive to educate the public but also share our culture through music, dancing, and of course FOOD through events we organize every semester. Our Spring semester event called, Comida Para La Gente: “Él Sazón de UVM,” was on March 21st this year and it was such a beautiful night. People from different backgrounds came together to celebrate a night filled with performances, dancing, and home cooked Latin food. Our theme this year was meant to not only celebrate this “sazón” of UVM, us Latino identified students on campus, but also the Latin culture that goes unnoticed in Vermont.

                This semester I made it my goal to not only learn more about Latin@s in Vermont but educate students about this unnoticed working force that drives our dairy/agricultural industry here as well. Huertas has given me the opportunity to be involved but also spark interest into Latin@ students on campus that want to get involve, but don’t/didn’t know how to. My work in Huertas and my position on Alianza Latina has led me to use the two to attract more attention to Huertas and spread the word on such a wonderful and beautiful project.

                Alianza Latina used Comida Para La Gente this year as a platform to educate the public on Huertas and the presence of these migrant workers in Vermont. Of our proceeds earned this year for Comida, 30% of it will be donated to Huertas (which is $500!). I know personally the great things Huertas does for Latin@ migrant workers in Vermont and I respect and love that so much. The Huertas team doesn’t only give these strong men and women a taste of home through the kitchen gardens, but friends and relationships that mean so much more. Alianza Latina’s mission statement is to support diversity and celebration of our beautiful culture, and we absolutely admire the work Huertas does towards that.

                My experience so far on the Huertas’ team and making connections with students has been a learning and rewarding experience. Seeing the excitement they have about getting involved and volunteering is satisfying because it’s for a project that benefits these workers whose work has gone unacknowledged for too long. I personally am so excited to see what the warm weather will bring and am looking forward to getting out there and meeting so much more extraordinary people.

 Alianza Latina thanks Huertas for their hard work, dedication, and inspiring actions in aiding the Latino/a migrant workers in Vermont!

Muchisimas gracias!

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This blog post is from one of our field interns, Eliza Hamburger.

As an out-of-state UVM student from Washington D.C., I have been largely unfamiliar with the dairy industry in Vermont, and the migrant workers who keep it running, for most of my life. When I was accepted to be the field intern for the Huertas project this season, I was excited but very unsure of what to expect. Overall, working with Huertas has been an immense growing and learning experience for me. I have seen and started to understand a little bit more the complexities of the issues of migrant workers rights and food justice and access in rural areas, but I also know that we are only just scratching the surface, and there is so much more to see and to be done.

The first field visit for me was very difficult. We had been briefed on the procedures to go through and the situation many people were living in in our Huertas team orientation, but the day turned out to be a lot for me to take in. I felt very angry and upset seeing the living situations many people were in, and thinking about the physical as well as emotional isolation that people must feel being so far from home and unable to leave their farms surrounded by snowy fields. In turn, this made me feel shy and quiet, and I wasn’t able to make much of a connection with the people we visited.

As time has passed, and I now know a little more what to expect, I feel much more comfortable. My initial discomfort has given way to confidence. I love chatting with the participants after the surveys have been completed and hearing about their lives and their gardens from years past, and I really look forward to maintaining these connections and continuing these conversations throughout the season.

I still feel upset and angered by the way in which our government, and more specifically in this case, the Border Patrol, treats these people who, as workers, are so vital to the VT economy and have overcome so much hardship to be here, and who, as other human beings, deserve a level of quality of life that is not being met. However, I feel energized and inspired by the participant’s enthusiasm despite those hardships, and by the wonderful Huertas team that I have the great fortune to work with.

I am really looking forward to spring, when the snow is melted and the ground is thawed and we can really get to work in the huertas. Soon we will be working in the sun in beautiful gardens full of chiles, hierbas, tomates, and more! I am so grateful to be a part of this amazing project, and I know the best is only to come.

la salud y la nutrición

As the Health and Nutrition Intern for Bridges to Health, my involvement with the farmworker population is slightly different. I am developing 8 week long nutrition education programs for two different women that I visit every week and I will then plant a huerta with them later on in the season. I began my home visits about 5 weeks ago by asking a set of preliminary questions to gauge the interest of each woman so that our visits could be personalized. The topics that I?m covering include general nutrition, budgeting, food safety, recipe utilization, and exercise. How I present the material and the discussions that arise depend greatly on who I am working with.

Lorena is about 50 years old and is from Michoacan, Mexico. She and her family have status as permanent residents which affords them much more mobility and freedom. Her daughter, Lena, is about 20 and is currently pregnant and expecting a son in June. Lena is enrolled in an eight week long English language course at St. Michaels College and she and her mother are doing a homestay in Burlington for the duration of the class. The homestay has presented some very interesting situations for the women in terms of their diets because they are being exposed to certain products, like tofurkey and almond milk, which they likely never would have encountered otherwise.

Regina is about to turn 20 and has a toddler named Natalia. She lives with 3 men, including Regina’s partner, and is from Chiapas, Mexico. Regina does not have status as a permanent resident and is therefore very limited in terms of mobility. She relies on the farm owner?s wife to take her grocery shopping every 15 days and seldom leaves otherwise. This limits the amount of fresh produce that she’s willing to buy because it doesn’t last very long. There is also a person who routinely takes trips to Boston to stock up on Mexican groceries and then goes door to door selling things to farm workers. Regina likes it because she can get very specific things that she wants, but they come at a relatively high price.

I am halfway through my visits so far, and have been working on laying a foundation of what I consider general nutrition. One activity that was particularly impactful for both Lorena and Regina was one that I did to help them visualize sugar content of certain drinks. A common drink for them is Gatorade, which has 14 g of sugar in each 8 oz serving. 4 grams of sugar is equal to one teaspoon of sugar, so to help them visualize just how sugary drinks like Gatorade are, I brought a teaspoon asked them to measure out 3 and ½ tsp of white sugar. Seeing that much sugar at once is much more powerful than simply reading a label and both women were very surprised. I then reminded them that each bottle contains 2.5 servings, so really there are almost 9 tsp of sugar in each bottle. They each said that it would be a long time before they?d drink another soda or sports drink.

I have learned so much from these two women and I am only half way through my visits. I have learned to be very aware of any assumptions that I may be making without realizing, such as literacy level or familiarity with what I take for granted as basic knowledge. I feel very successful when I can fill in some of the cultural gaps that exist in their lives. For example, Lorena is concerned that Lena doesn’t drink enough water and was very surprised when I told her that Lena can be drinking the tap water from the sinks and water fountains. From a cultural standpoint, it makes sense that Mexican women would feel hesitation about tap water, especially when pregnant, because in Mexico it is a major concern.

I have also become very aware of my own privilege and how it impacts me and my decision making every day. As a white U.S. citizen who speaks English fluently, I am at an incredible advantage in so many more ways than I ever realized. Even the ability to access a grocery store any time, any day is a luxury because it means that I cook exactly what I want, whenever I want.

For the next four weeks, I am excited to delve more deeply into nutrition with Regina and Lorena and to help them identify sustainable ways to enjoy healthier food while maybe even saving money. I am very much looking forward to incorporating the Huertas resources and planting a garden with both Lorena and Regina this Spring. The Huertas project is so deeply important for these families because not only do they benefit from fresh produce, but it’s also an incredible opportunity to reconnect with their Mexican roots and even with other farmworker families here in Vermont

Hola.  These passed few weeks have been a whirlwind of farm visits and spring can’t come soon enough.  Cultivating interest among farmworkers within the central region of Vermont has proven quite the challenge, as many remain unconvinced that the grass will ever reemerge.  Hopefully with extended daylight hours and the temperature rising, enthusiasm for joining the project will grow.

Now that the numbers of starts and seeds have been confirmed, it’s time to get growers involved.  We are offering specialty herbs and hot peppers that are staples in many farmworkers diets back home.  These varieties, rarely found at the grocery store, tend to be expensive.  We are hoping that these culturally-appropriate vegetables will be grown this summer, so that farmworkers can have increased food security.  The project is coming along and everyone from the Huertas interns to farmworkers and volunteers are truly looking forward to the approaching season.

The ALIANZA club at UVM will be hosting an event on the 21st of March in which 30 percent of proceeds will be donated to Huertas for the purchase of seeds and gardening supplies.  It will be an excellent evening of food, performers and celebrating culture!  We hope to see you there! More information can be found at:




Huertas at NOFA!

Every February in Vermont, just as lush fields and abundant gardens are distant memories, the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) holds their winter conference. The theme of the 2015 conference was ‘Growing the Good Food Movement’ focusing on building a fair and just food system. The keynote speaker at the conference was Natasha Bowens, who recently published a book called The Color of Food: Stories of Race, Farming, and Resiliency. She spoke to a large audience about the importance of considering historical factors that deter land access and opportunities for people of color in the food movement.

Huertas was honored to host a workshop on Saturday. There was a panel that included Marie Frey, who runs Hudak’s- a greenhouse in Franklin County- who has supported the garden project since it’s start, Jessie Mazar, a previous intern and project coordinator, Josefa, a Latina farm worker and veteran gardener, and Teresa Mares, who has helped in coordinating the garden project and facilitating university connections. Naomi Wolcott-MacClausland, founder and coordinator of Huertas helped with interpretation during the panel presentation. Huertas communications intern, Claire Macon, babysat Josefa’s two sons who were energetic after eating the carrot cake at lunch.

This was the first time that all of these people were in the same room, and was an excellent opportunity to share the project from multiple perspectives and engage the audience in a conversation about food justice and how Huertas is and is not addressing it. To begin the panel Jessie gave a brief background on the project.

We were extremely lucky to have one of our participants, Josefa speak about her experience learning to garden in Vermont. How the garden impacts her access to vegetables, creates a sense of community, gives her children an activity to distract them, and saves money of food. She also noted how it helps with feelings of isolation; “I like it when Naomi has the harvest parties at her mother’s house. That is where we get together with our immigrant friends and spend time together. And it is where we can talk in person with people that we already know and meet new people.” And she concluded saying, “We are grateful to the people who have donated the plants and the seeds because it is the only way that we are able to have the gardens and we hope that they continue helping us with that. I also thank all of the volunteers who have helped us prepare the plots and plant the gardens. And a special thanks to all of the women here (on the panel) today. And also, a happy valentines day.”

Marie spoke next and began by saying, “I am just involved in one aspect of this and I didn’t even know the magnitude of it.” She spoke about how for the greenhouse it is such a tiny amount of starts; it is not a burden at all. She expressed that she thinks that it would not be too much to ask other greenhouses to do the same.

Teresa talked about her involvement as a researcher at the university and student involvement. Teresa is an anthropologist who has done work on migration and food. She explained the structure and composition of Huertas, how to run a project on a shoestring budget. She asks the questions like “What kind of a food system allows farm workers to go hungry?”

We then opened up a discussion to include the audience. Questions covered a broad range of topics from thinking about Huertas as anti-racist work to what it is like for Josefa to raise her children in Vermont. We were excited that the keynote, Natasha Bowens in the audience and provided insight and feedback.

We were so grateful to have such a wonderful panel speaking and to have a wonderful group of people to talk about Huertas with. With hope, by building connections through things like NOFA, we will be able to only improve upon Huertas and continue to expand and grow.



Strength, Resiliency & Growth

This year we are trying something new where all of the interns share thoughts about their own experiences with the project. Following are the thoughts of one of our field interns, Dana Bronstein.

Thus far, working with Huertas has truly been quite a roller coaster. I am constantly learning new things, re-affirming that knew knowledge with experience, being humbled in my new knowledge, and ultimately being blown away by the current state of our world and the wonderful human beings committed to making it a better place to live. I came into this project, a new field intern, with a fiery passion for social justice, and a hopes to “change the system” somehow. Yet, now, as I am slowly beginning to understand the intricacies and complexities of the situation that many of these individuals face, coming from Mexico, choosing to work extraordinarily hard for the well being of their families. I am creating a much more holistic, all-encompassing knowledge of these migrants lives that I would have never had the chance to create without the help of Huertas.

What I mean is, that it is easy to hear about the state of Migrant worker in Vermont, or across the country, and become enraged and disgusted by our governments. It is easy to look to Migrant Justice and the horror stories from online blogs that compel one to only look at one side of the story. What is easy to miss amongst that anger is the nuances of the day-to-day actions and interactions of these workers. It is easy to be bogged down by the numbers and forget the faces, the homes, the resilience and the stories of overcoming adversity against the odds. I have been fortunate enough to meet some of these workers – and while at first it can be shocking to enter their homes that are basically on top of the dairies, if not inside of them, feel angered that they have to fear being arrested if they decide to go to the supermarket, and leave feeling helpless. But what I am starting to really understand through the lens of Huertas work, is the importance of what we are trying to do.

Many of these farmers chose to risk a lot by coming into the states for better paying jobs. Yet, they take the risk for the betterment of their lives and the lives of their whole families. The resiliency of these people is truly incredible. I am fortunate enough to see this when talking to them of their future gardens, or hearing about their gardens in the past. One visit in particular comes to mind, with a very kind man named Emilio. When we arrived to his home, he greeted me and the other intern with such a kind and warm smile; I was almost taken aback by it. He had even prepared a delicious meal for us! Rice and beans, Tamales, Chicken, and even apple juice awaited us. As we ate and got to know each other a bit, Emilio told us about his experience with Huertas in the past and showed us some wonderful pictures of his luscious gardens. He knew a lot about growing food and herbs, and even more about cooking. It seemed to me, especially that day that these gardens are not just vegetables and plants – but they are symbols of the resiliency and strength of these wonderful people. Being in control of ones own food source, especially of the foods that hit close to home, can be a way to hold onto cultural tradition and identity that can be in danger of being lost. What Huertas is trying to do is understand what is being lost for these farmers – a connection to the earth, to their roots, and trying, in the form of a garden, seeds, starts and tools, to allow that connection to take form. I am grateful for the chance to come down to earth, to actually meet these people, to see their lives, hear a bit of their story.


2015: New Year, New Crew!

2015 is off to a great start with seven new interns joining the Huertas team! We are so excited to be working with a group of so many awesome women and we want to use our first post of the new year to introduce everyone!

Sarah Shaw, a senior in the Global and Regional Studies Program, grew up in the Finger Lakes Region of Central New York, but has called Vermont “home” since 2013.    After spending a semester studying Food Systems and Spanish in Oaxaca, Mexico, Sarah returned to Burlington with the hopes of becoming more involved in the Burlington and UVM communities. She has interned with the Vermont Community Garden Network, and has been an Service-Learning TA for the CUPS program at UVM since August of 2014. It was through these experiences, as well as her own studies, that Sarah became involved with Huertas. She is extremely passionate about the work that Huertas does, and she gets even more excited about getting other UVM students involved via experiential learning through her TA responsibilities.   When she doesn’t have her nose in a book, Sarah spends her time outdoors hiking, skiing, camping, gardening, and enthusiastically exploring.



Zoe Halvorsen is the VISTA Volunteer Coordinator with the UVM Extension Migrant Education Program.  Her role as the Huertas Central Vermont Coordinator is to identify greenhouse seedling growers and migrant farmworkers interested in creating gardens throughout Washington and La Moille counties.  When not searching for volunteer tutors and garden hands, she can be found skiing, biking and enjoying all the great things Vermont has to offer.  Her favorite color is outside and she is thrilled to be a part of the Huertas project.

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Alina Rossini is the Migrant Health Promoter and Huertas Coordinator for the Northeast Kingdom. When not travelling into the depths of the NEK, she can be found milking cows, throwing pots, or baking in her drafty old farmhouse. She has a Masters Degree in Public Health from Boston University and is excited to use her skills to better food security in her region.

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Eliza Hamburger, a second year student at UVM, is one of the field interns for Huertas this season. She comes from Washington, D.C., which she loves very much, but Vermont is a close second. She is majoring in environmental studies with special interests in food justice and access and urban sustainability. Eliza has spoken Spanish since she was young and attended a bilingual elementary school. She also loves gardening and watching plants grow, so Huertas felt like a great fit! As a field intern, she will be working with farmworkers in Franklin and Grand Isle counties. Eliza is excited to meet and connect with new people, learn, and help plant beautiful gardens this season!


Dana Bronstein, 23 year old senior at the University of Vermont, and is studying Anthropology and Food Systems. Dana was born in Santiago, Chile, but raised in New York City. Passionate about farming, cooking, yoga, rock climbing, reading and writing. Her dream is to bike from Alaska to the tip of Chile all along the coast writing and learning about community supported and organic agriculture.


Jennifer Alexandra Gil is a second year student at the University of Vermont. She is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Natural Resources: Resource Ecology through the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources and a minor in Food Systems. Jennifer is the Secretary/Publicist of an ALANA (African/Latino/Asian/Native American) organization on campus called Alianza Latina. She is also a part of a newly evolving social justice group on campus called the ALANA Student Leader’s Coalition. Jennifer’s involvement in social justice activism as well as concentrating her studies in agriculture have inspired to integrate the two and join the Huertas team. Having the opportunity to be a part of Huertas, Jennifer is the new ALANA Liaison. Her position concentrates mostly in organizing more student involvement on campus, specifically from the ALANA community, as well as connecting Alianza Latina with the Huertas project. She also wants to use her position to brainstorm great activities aside from gardening with the families, to create stronger interpersonal relationships. She plans on using her skills in creating natural beauty products and organize home visit workshops for the women on the farm. She wants to give them the opportunity to not only learn how to use everyday house items ecologically but also connect that with idea of self-care. Jennifer truly is passionate about working with people and is looking forward to all the new things she’s going to learn with her experiences in Huertas!

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Claire Macon is a sophomore from Atlanta, GA, studying Global Studies and Spanish with a minor in Community and International Development. After spending a year after high school living in Quito, Ecuador, Claire developed a passion for spanish and helping people. She is excited to use her position as Communications Intern to connect to the Huertas project with the greater Burlington community. In her spare time she enjoys riding her bike, cooking, crafting, gardening, and talking about social justice.



We are all extremely excited to have an opportunity to make and achieve goals for this coming year and we look forward to tracking our progress for everyone to see through blog posts!

2014 Summer Successes!

The summer of 2014 was an exceptionally productive season for Huertas. With programmatic support from the Block Foundation, and research support from UVM’s CRV Frank Bryan Award, Joan Smith Faculty Research Support Award, and the Graduate College REACH Grant, the Huertas Team coordinated planting kitchen gardens in 31 households and begun the first stages of a multi-year research project on farmworker food security.

About The Huertas Project

The Huertas Project is a community-based food access project that facilitates the planting of kitchen gardens on rural dairy farms in Vermont with Latino/a migrant farm workers.

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