“I’ve Never Seen a Course Like that Before!”

On June 4th, the fifth day of the tour, it became increasingly apparent that a three-week intensive course of study that travels is a course of a different color.

First of all, it’s intensive – physically and logistically, as well as academically. A typical day for the student includes several site tours and field trips (often to actual fields), as well as lectures, and can involve, as it did on this day, several hours on the road to another college. Typically, it begins around 7-8 a.m. with breakfast and continues on “after class” into the evening with readings and writing assignments that may mean going to sleep around midnight.

A second way the course differs is travel.

Today’s journey began at the 350-acre Intervale Center in Burlington with a tour of their food hub and one of the twelve farms on-site, the Intervale Community Farm. The group also visited the 120-acre Abenaki archaeological site that is also part of the 700-acre bottomland that comprises the Intervale proper. Next stop was the downtown City Market operated by Onion River Coop. Here we toured the 15,000 sq. ft. cooperative grocery with outreach and education manager Sarah Bhimani and coordinator Meredith Knowles. The 11,000 member coop, the largest in the state of Vermont, began as a bulk food outlet in 1973 and moved to its present location on Winooski Avenue in 2002. (Winooski is Abenaki for “at a place with wild onions.”)

Instructors Elissa Johnson and Lisa Trocchia with Sandy Snyder outside “Moby” the Great White Van.

After lunch at the City Market, it was time to set out in “Moby” for the Northeast Kingdom and Sterling College. During the two-hour trip to Craftsbury Common, the village in which the college is sited, 75-year-old Sandy Snyder regaled us with stories about her hens Esmeralda, Henrietta, and Junebug. My particular favorite was of the day Esmeralda hitched a ride in Sandy’s purse so she could go along to the ballet in Greensboro. Esmeralda so desperately wanted to join the dancers and wear a tutu!

So, here’s the third difference…

Most college students might expect to run into each other once or twice a day in class or on campus. Here we get to be together and form friendships and learn together while spending nearly every waking hour of the 21 days we are on the road. Fortunately, we have found that we are very compatible and enjoy each other’s company and contributions to the discourse about Vermont and its food systems.

Louise Calderwood of Sterling College on pasture management and Vermont’s dairy industry.

We arrived at Sterling College around 4:30 p.m., registered, got settled in our rooms, and went to dinner at 5:30 p.m. with instructor and former VT deputy secretary of agriculture Louise Calderwood, who then led us in a classroom discussion of the state dairy industry, pasture management, and cow physiology that lasted until almost 9:30 p.m.

An atypical day in some ways – it was decided there would be no writing assignment – and, with a clarity of mind that cultivating resiliency in ourselves is as important as cultivating it in our food systems, we went to bed.

“Never seen anything quite like it!”