Green and Haines (2015) define social capital as “social relationships and ties that facilitate collective action in a community” (page 165). The existence of social capital in Middlebury is represented in various ways, but one of the most fundamental ways that Middlebury residents exhibit social capital is through the practice of agriculture. As was discussed during lecture, strong ties have a greater reliance on social ties for support. In the same way, the demanding and unpredictable nature of agriculture leads friends, family, and neighbors to rely heavily upon each other, particularly during times of low milk prices, high grain prices, and bad weather. As of 2010, there were over 1,000 dairy farms in the state of Vermont (Barrera, 2015). Dairy farming constitutes 80 percent of Vermont’s agricultural revenue and 3 percent of its GDP (Barrera, 2015). Agriculture’s economic significance for Vermont speaks to Green and Haines point of social capital facilitating other forms of capital, namely financial.
Interestingly, the farming community has its own unique set of rules and interactions that promote its social capital. For instance, within this community there is considerable flexibility and negotiation on payments. Farmers often help one another in this respect to accommodate the financial ups and downs inherent in the business such as agreeing to barter or holding to cash a check. Farmers also use their social ties to rent and borrow equipment, buy and sell livestock, feed, and labor. For example, a farmer will tap into his/her network to find a buyer for the extra hay he/she bailed or call a veteran farmer for advice on grazing.
Middlebury’s agricultural social capital is formally represented through the work done by the community development organization Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition. The non-profit organization brings together area farmers to support a strong local farm economy while also working to keep Lake Champlain clean through innovative and responsible management of their farms, livestock, and crops (Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition, Inc., 2016). The organization was only founded in 2013, but its mission speaks to the traditional and fundamental social ties that farmers must exercise to preserve their resources, business, and way of life.
- Barrera, C. (2015). Latino Community Outreach at Bennington College: A Comparative Study of Vermont Colleges. Retrieved from http://www.bennington.edu/sites/default/files/sources/docs/Thesis-Celene-final.pdf
- Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition, Inc. (2016). About Us. Retrieved from http://www.champlainvalleyfarmercoalition.com/about-us.html
- Green, Gary Paul and Haines, Anna. 2015. Asset Building and Community Development 4th Los Angeles: SAGE Publications, Inc.
- Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition, Inc. (2016). Home. Retrieved from http://www.champlainvalleyfarmercoalition.com/home.html