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Artisan Cheese Makers Embrace Voluntary Conservation at Award-Winning Vermont Dairy

The story behind Vermont’s Consider Bardwell could be the plot for a great movie. The lead characters are Russell and Angela, two New York City executives who decide in their fifties that they want to buy a farm, raise goats, and be artisan cheesemakers. The setting is a 300-acre dairy farm and cheese operation in West Pawlet, Vermont. And the twist…they had no previous farming experience.

What could have been a comedy is an inspiring story of dedication and perseverance. This is the true tale of an architect and a literary agent who pursue a dream to farm sustainably through a voluntary conservation approach, and create a unique farm-to-plate product. Their partnership with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is helping to ensure the health of the natural resources on their farm.

Conservation as a Peace Offering to Vietnam War Veteran

Conservation is giving Vietnam War veteran Gilbert Harrison a peace offering of healing, helping to balance the stresses of war. For Harrison, conserving the natural resources on his farm is an important outdoor activity. And who better to care for the land than the veterans who fought to protect it?

Harrison has worked with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) since 2012, when he received funding and technical assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to help him install an improved irrigation system to help develop alfalfa production on his land.

Environmental Markets Help Improve Water Quality

Environmental trading markets are springing up across the nation with goals of facilitating the buying and selling of ecosystem services and helping more private landowners get conservation on the ground.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy joined Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe in December 2014 to announce the state’s first trade under its nutrient trading program for stormwater.

Mississippi Farmers Expanding Opportunities with Up in Farms

“Not today,” said Mr. Leonard Keyes as he and Dr. John Stanley surveyed the plot of land on Keyes’ farm in Mize, Mississippi. “Too dry.” Stanley stood beside him holding a tray of squash transplants and nodding his head in agreement.

Earlier that morning, Stanley, sourcing manager for Up in Farms Food Hub, had visited the farm of Mr. James Gregory about 30 miles down the road in Florence. He’d brought Gregory some of the same transplants—some nice-looking seedlings from Standing Pine Nursery in Byram. John had stood beside Gregory, too, and surveyed that plot of land. “Not today,” said Gregory. “Too wet!”

Hoop House Grows Healthy Food, Combat Diabetes in a Nevada Food Desert

Squeals of excitement and laughter competed with the sounds of power saws, drills and hammers at the Hungry Valley Child Care Center in Sparks, Nevada, as Reno-Sparks Indian Colony (RSIC) teens were handed power tools for the first time in their lives to assist with building a hoop house.

As part of their life skills learning, the teens helped members of the National Association of Resource Conservation & Development Councils (NARC&DC) who were attending their national conference in Reno, erect a 14’ x 26’ hoop house, with guidance from University of Nevada Cooperative Extension Federally Recognized Tribal Extension Program staff and assistance from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

Two Small Growers Form Unusual Partnership

When you meet farmers Gordon Bednarz and Brenda Sullivan, two words come to mind—polar and opposites. But the pair has joined forces in a unique way – sharing land and growing food as partners, without a formal partnership.

And it’s working!

He is the owner of Bednarz Farm in his hometown of Glastonbury. Gordon’s family has been farming there since the 1920s. He farmed his family’s land before and after he graduated from college and throughout his career with the State of Connecticut. Bednarz’s love for the land and dedication to his roots leads him to continue the tradition of old fashioned, New England farming.

This Isn't Farming Like Grandpa Used to Do

Samantha Whitter represents the fifth generation at Whittier Farms in Sutton, Massachusetts. Her family’s 500-acre, 100-head dairy farm is one of the largest in this small town 10 miles south of Worcester—the second largest city in New England, after Boston.

Samantha’s dad, Wayne Whittier, signed up for aerial cover crop seeding offered by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The conservation practice involves a helicopter swooping over corn fields, releasing winter rye seed from a hopper swinging beneath the chopper. To a bystander, it might look like an air show or a crime scene investigation, but it’s actually a very controlled seed application that uses a Global Positioning System (GPS) to track the helicopter’s flight path and precisely map where seed was distributed.

NRCS Helps Young Iowa Farmer Plan New Grazing System

When Iowa livestock producer Ryan Collins bought his 170-acre farm near Harpers Ferry, he knew from experience with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) that the agency could help him plan a rotational grazing system.

A rotational grazing system—also known as prescribed grazing—divides pastures into four or more small paddocks with fencing. The animals move from paddock to paddock on a schedule based on the availability of forage and the livestock’s nutritional needs.

Collins says he has a lot more grass available than before. “I attribute it to the rotational grazing,” he said. “I like to have plenty of grass. The cows and calves both do, as well.”

Agriculture Saved A Veteran's Life

Eric Grandon of West Virginia is a war hero in the truest sense. Spending nearly 20 years in the Army, he was a combat veteran in Operation Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom II, and participated in four peace-time missions to the Middle East. Yet, when a horrific flashback overtook him in 2011, he was unable to continue his job as a Physical Therapist Assistant and was deemed unemployable and permanently disabled from PTSD. Unable to work, he found himself wandering around his farm aimlessly for nearly two years until he met James McCormick, the present Director of the Veterans and Warriors Agriculture program under the West Virginia Department of Agriculture.

A veteran himself, McCormick encouraged Grandon to take up farming, which had helped him work through his own PTSD. It was during a USDA Armed to Farm conference hosted by the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) that Grandon officially decided to become a farmer.  He even took up beekeeping which he found to be the most therapeutic of them all often bringing tears of joy to his eyes.

Transitioning to Organic Certification

More and more farmers are entering the organic market. Just last year, the number of certified operations in the U.S. grew by almost 12 percent - more than double the growth rate of 2014. So how do farmers, ranchers, and food processors make the transition to organic? We talked to one farming family about their experience, learning how they used USDA programs to help with the transition process.

Conner Voss got his family farm certified organic in 2015. Diggin’ Roots Farm is a diversified fruit, vegetable, and livestock operation in Molalla, Oregon, midway between Portland and Salem. “We sell our product direct – through a CSA, at a local farmers market, and direct to restaurants – and our customers kept asking about our growing practices,” said Conner. “We wholeheartedly believe in the practices and philosophy of organic production, and certification offers a quick and easy starting place for our conversations with our community. Beyond that, being certified is a way for our small farm to actively engage in the larger organic movement by helping define and shape what organic is.”