Archive for May, 2015


In Burlington, VT, the Intervale is not only notable for providing a substantial amount of locally grown food within close proximity of an urban center, but also because of its location next to the Winooski River and its susceptibility to flooding.  Given the recent increase in extreme events in the Northeast, it is no surprise that many of the farms located in the Intervale have faced a number of such flooding events over the past several years.  These floods have at times proven devastating, and have caused many of the farmers to critically evaluate, and re-evaluate, their climate change resilience strategy.  As part of a climate change resiliency and adaptive land use project by the Intervale Center, Maggie Donin surveyed all the current Intervale farms during the summer of 2014.  She aimed to identify key climate change adaptation strategies employed by the farmers and to learn how farmers were planning for their future, DSC09325their businesses, and their livelihoods.  The survey results confirm some of our previous observations of adaptation approaches by farmers in the region, but also shed light on some newer strategies.  Below is a summary of the key findings:

The survey results indicated that some farmers are hesitant to attribute erratic weather to climate change and see weather as an inherent risk to agriculture more generally.  And though the Intervale is sometimes viewed as a more difficult place to farm with more weather risks (i.e., flooding), there also seems to be an understanding that farming is difficult everywhere.  The surveyed farmers have developed some specific strategies to address the flooding risk and other climate threats on their land and are generally using strategies that align with their central values as sustainable agricultural practitioners – community relationship building, soil preservation, diversification of crops among others.

These are the key business adaptations identified by farmers:

  • Purchase flood insurance
  • Maintain honest relationships with customers so that they understand the risks the farm faces
  • Add a Community Supported Agriculture program (CSA) to their farm or increase size of existing CSA
  • Reduce excess product going to current CSA customers (from 50-60% excess to 30%) and sell that difference to wholesale markets. Build financial cushion with profits.
  • Process excess crops to use in CSA for different seasons
  • Extend CSA season to year round to spread out cash flow
  • Build other skills outside of farming for income in an emergency scenario
  • Use existing knowledge and skill set for paid speaking engagements and other educational opportunities

So far, the most successful strategies have been growing on less flood prone land, building high tunnels and greenhouses, and having a diversity of markets and production so that one event doesn’t affect everything on your farm.

In terms of recommending strategies to others, one farm said that the strategies they were using felt effective, but others need to find approaches that work for them. Other farmers stated the importance of building a portfolio of strategies and of having a financial buffer when you begin farming so that you can deal with potential disaster and loss of revenue.

Overall, this survey demonstrated that farmers clearly understand that there are many risks facing their farms each season, not just extreme weather. The Intervale farmers have decided that the benefits outweigh the risks.  Regardless of their location, weather related challenges will always pose risks for farming.    These farmers have found that many of the strategies to mitigate risks and increase resiliency to extreme weather align with their practices for sustainable and organic agriculture.  These practices and techniques include managing healthy soils, diversifying crops for different markets, and building human and social capital, all of which are the basis for sustainable farm businesses.  While extreme and erratic weather and inexorable climate change will never be in farmers’ complete control, the Intervale farmers in Burlington, Vermont are relying on core concepts of sustainable agriculture to deal with an uncertain future.

In the next blog, we’ll highlight the key production adaptions reported by Intervale farmers.  Many thanks to Maggie Donin for her guest contribution to our blog!

Joey Klein has been farming organically at Littlewood Farm in the Winooski River Valley in Plainfield, VT for 20 years. He sells organic vegetables wholesale throughout the growing season, and 75% of his wholesale produce goes to Hunger Mountain Coop in Montpelier. In the spring, he also sells plant starts and pick-your-own strawberries.


Joey Klein, Source:

Managing Water

Joey recommends paying attention to how land drains. He is fortunate to have both well-drained sandy loam and slow draining clay loam fields because he has to work with both wet and dry conditions. He is near the river so he has access to water, and this makes him a bit more climate change proof than farmers who don’t have a nearby source of water. He pumps a lot of water out of the river. He says that access to a good water source is a crucial consideration when shopping for a farm.

He has enough land that he doesn’t need to plant the whole area every year, and he crops less than half his land each year. In wet years, he has not been able to use the heavier land. In a dry summer, he can access the clay loam fields by mid-June and grow into the fall, but if it gets wet again in the fall, the plants will stick to the ground.

The sandy loam soils need to be managed carefully and not tilled too much. He rotates his crops, uses green manures – field peas, oats, winter rye, and vetch – and keeps a field in cover crops one year in every three. This reduces run off, keeps the soil organic matter high, and he needs only a small amount of chicken manure to supplement the green manures.

Climate Change

Joey has been thinking that the climate could tip, and a major change may not be far away. He says we will need to have local farms in production because people will want farmers for neighbors so they can live where their food is grown. He wants to prepare for this by using less fossil fuel and finding ways to have people work the land with horses.


Joey hasn’t noticed insects being any worse yet. He has some flea beetles, cucumber beetles, potato bugs, and in some years tarnish plant bugs, but they aren’t a big problem. He is dreading the possible arrival of the Swede midge that attacks the growing point of all brassicas and is currently in the Champlain Valley.

Benefits of Warming

Joey is glad to have warmer falls with a couple of extra growing weeks, and the springs aren’t as erratic as they used to be.


Catherine Lowther, PhD

Catherine is faculty in the Sustainability program, and Chair of the Sustainability Committee at Goddard College in Plainfield, VT.  We will be collaborating with her and her students on several blog posts during this project.  Many thanks for their contributions!   

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