Saturday, May 28, 2011

Politics "in the Fields"

By Mike Bosia

With a larger than expected enrollment in my food politics course, taught for the first time in both political science and environmental studies for Spring 2011, one of the challenges was managing the field trip to a relocalizing food system around Hardwick in the Northeast Kingdom. This is primarily because, in northern Vermont, spring and planting come late. Some farms can start during the post winter "mud season" if they have greenhouses. But snow can stay on the ground well into April. As well, more than 30 students enrolled in the class this year, which meant we had to have two trips so that we wouldn't overwhelm any of the facilities we would be visiting, and to give students ample time at each site.

The photo essay below combines images from the first trip in April and the second, as the semester closed in early May.

The farms and business in and around Hardwick offer a unique learning experience. They have hosted tours for academics and community leaders from across the US and around the world, and received national media attention, including Dan Rather Reports and Emeril Legasse's Planet Green series. Local author Ben Hewitt wrote "The Town that Food Saved" about the relocalization of production and markets in the Hardwick area. The area is most noted for the network of mutually supportive farm related businesses that build on the practices of the past, including the generations of dairy farming families and the "back to the land" generation of organic farmers who arrived in the area in the 1970s.

Charlie Emers of Patchwork Farm demonstrates the art of heating an oven for baking bread.


At Pete's Greens in Craftsbury, students joined proprietor Pete Johnson (pointing on left) for a tour of the the greenhouses heated with discarded cooking oil, and visited the fields in May with Tim Fishburne.

Andrew Meyer (below right) introduces students to Vermont Natural Coatings in Hardwick, which makes wood finishes from whey, a milk byproduct in the process of making cheese.

Neil Urie at Bonnieview Farm (second image below on the right with his daughter) introduced students to the newborn lambs. The April field trip was at the peak of lambing on the farm, which produces sheep's milk cheese.

In addition to the newborns, students learned about the milking and cheese making facilities at the farm.


Sterling College is a small program in Craftsbury Common, combining the benefits of a 4 year college with an onsite working farm. Above, students visit the barn, and below, on the right, Tim Patterson gives us a tour of the farm, on a picturesque hilltop.

At the Highfields Center compost site, students talked with Tom Gilbert (second from right in the second image) about the importance of compost and soil for a sustainable local food system.

We stopped for lunch at Claire's Restaurant - on Main Street in Hardwick - which spends 79% of every dollar for the kitchen on farms within 15 miles, every month of the year. As a partner in the business, I convinced them to open early for both field trips, though General Manager Veronica Medwid made us take off our boots after the visit to Highfields Institute.

Elena Gustavson, program director and outreach coordinator at the Center for an Agricultural Economy, explains their role in the emerging food system.

Chef Steven Obranovich, a partner at Claire's, prepares dessert for the students, using only local products.

Nancy and Helm Nottermann, with their son Ben, operate Snug Valley Farm, where they raise male Holsteins - born on dairy farms - as beef cattle. Before feeding the calves, students had to cover their shoes with plastic to make sure they didn't bring any disease into the stalls.

In addition to beef, Snug Valley grown pumpkins and raises pigs.

On the right, Helm Nottermann - who calls himself the "Boucherie Frozenne" - explains how his mobile retail unit with refrigeration powered by solar panels.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Another Academic Year Completed

Monday, May 16th, was a fabulous day for approximately a quarter of our students—the 435 seniors and 95 graduate students who received their diplomas. This was the 104th graduation ceremony at Saint Michael’s College. Local press coverage and photographs here:

Thirty-five of these happy graduates were political science majors; another 11 completed a political science minor. Many more took one to a few political science courses, evidenced by our enrollment figures. Several of our courses fulfill Liberal Studies requirements while others are popular electives.

Although the crop of graduates are facing a tough job market several of my students indicated they already had employment lined up. I tell my seniors that their first job will only be their first job—a chance to acquire skills and build a resume. They should take their first job seriously, of course, but the also need to understand it is not the rest of their lives. In today’s market, they should expect to change jobs frequently, especially at the beginning of their careers.

Also, every job has some degree of routine, repetitive, boring drudgery. That is why employers pay us to do them. If they were all fun and glamour, we’d be paying them. I consider myself privileged to have one of the most stimulating jobs around. Not only is political science inherently interesting, but I truly enjoy interacting with the intelligent and idealistic students who populate my classes. The only down-side is grading exams and papers. It is not in any way the students’ fault that grading requires hours piled upon hours of what can only be called mind-numbing drudgery. That is just the way grading is and there is nothing that can be done about it except for me to grunt my way through it. So the happiest day for me is when I can at long last turn in my final grades. I miss my classes already, but let the summer begin!