By Erica Houskeeper
When it comes to farming, Laura Williams says the key to success is to focus on what you love.
Whether your passion is working the land, collaborating with other farmers, or interacting with customers, Williams says there isn’t just one way to prosper as a farmer.
“Farming is such a broad field, that there are many ways to be a successful farmer. Instead of squeezing into one mold, find out what your skills are, what you're drawn to, and do that,” Williams says.
Williams is the farm manager of Catamount Education Farm, a new endeavor at the University of Vermont that will give students the opportunity to learn about sustainable farm practices, contribute to the local food system, and help support research needs of the university.
Located on 13 acres at the UVM Horticulture Research and Education Center in South Burlington, the farm will continue to be home to the UVM Farmer Training Program for post-traditional students, as well as offer summer farming programs such as the Sustainable Farm Practicum for undergraduate students and the Introduction to Sustainable Vegetable Farming for high school students.
Williams, who studied at the University of California at Santa Cruz’s Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, says she became interested in farming during her freshmen year in college after realizing she wanted to spend her life working outdoors.
“My motivation was simply to be outside,” she says. “I went backpacking all through California and Oregon while at UC Santa Cruz, and I wanted to figure out how to stay outdoors.”
A California native, Williams relocated to Vermont in 2006 to start Bread and Roses Farm in Westford. She later joined UVM’s Farmer Training Program in 2011 and was named manager of Catamount Farm in January.
As farm manager, Williams will be interacting with all of the students enrolled in farm courses, doing hands-on instruction as well as formal teaching. She will be on the farm daily between April and October, and spend the winter months planning for the following growing season.
What can students expect to learn at Catamount Farm? For one, students will learn to drive a tractor. They’ll also be educated on how to grow, pick, and market vegetables from the farm. Students will grow everything from radish, arugula, apples, tomatoes, potatoes, flowers, and winter squash.
Produce grown at Catamount Farm will be sold to select outlets within the UVM community, including University Dining Services, and be available at the UVM farm stand and through a CSA.
“Students will also learn how to think like a farmer,” Williams says. “We will explore the 'why' behind everything. So they can take what they learn here and apply it to their own land or on other farms.”
Students will be integral to carrying out all activities of the farm, providing them with real and diverse sustainable farm management skills. The expanded farm also allows UVM to reach a wide range of students, who now have the opportunity to study sustainable farming while producing food for the UVM community.
“We’ll teach best practices for Catamount Farm because every farm is different – from the location to soil conditions to elevation. We want students to think critically about what we’re doing, feel empowered, and create systems on their own land,” she says. “There’s more than one right way to do things, and it’s OK to make mistakes here.”
Williams says working with students and seeing their skills transform is the most rewarding part of her job.
“We expose students to sustainable farming, and one of our goals is to get them to think differently about what they want to do. Many students come in thinking they want to do veggies and end up wanting to do livestock instead,” she says. “I love the energy the students bring to the farm. They are thrilled to be learning new skills, to be working with their hands, and to be growing food. Their enthusiasm is contagious and makes me excited to come to work every day.”
For more information about Catamount Educational Farm, visit learn.uvm.edu/catamountfarm.
This article was originally published on the UVM BrainWaves blog.