Vern Grubinger is the vegetable and berry specialist and Extension Professor with the University of Vermont. He helps farmers with a wide variety of technical issues in production, especially soil stewardship and pest management. He has developed an information network that connects growers through his Vegetable and Berry Grower website, a list serve, newsletter, and a variety of educational workshops and conferences. He also serves as coordinator of USDA’s Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program (SARE), which awards over $3 million annually in grants to researchers, educators and farmers across the 12 northeast states. Vern also provides leadership to the eXtension Farm Energy Community of Practice.
Vern holds a PhD in Vegetable Crops, an MS in Agronomy from Cornell University, and a BS in Plant and Soil Science from the University of Massachusetts.
Vern’s interest in climate change and agriculture got him started working on farm energy issues. He believes that many farmers are interested in capturing new markets for renewable energy products and in opportunities to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels. Focusing on practical goals like these these can help farmer reduces greenhouse gas emissions, without bogging down in the politics of climate change.
Vern facilitates farmer-to-farmer learning communities by promoting innovative on-farm projects with early adopters. He assists these early adopters by finding funding for cost share programs that encourage them to try new technologies and then collaborate with the sharing of knowledge gained. These cost shares reduce grower economic risk while requiring the collection of data about the performance and operation of the new systems. Growers are also asked to participate in educational events that help other farmers learn about renewable energy technologies. This model integrates farmer knowledge in the process and leverages their capacity to identify 'real-world' issues with the adoption of new techniques and equipment.
One example is the on-farm biodiesel project at State Line Farm in southwestern Vermont. The farmer, John Williamson, was interested in gaining energy independence by growing and processing oilseed crops to fuel his equipment, working with other farms in the area. Vern helped write grants to secure funding for equipment purchase and facility construction. Much of this funding came from the Sustainable Jobs Funds, an agency in the State of Vermont that supports innovative farm energy projects. The initial project led to subsequent grants secured by an agricultural engineer and an agronomist to provide ongoing technical support for the project, which has led to a network of farmers growing and processing oil seed crops, primarily canola and sunflower, across New England.
Other projects Vern has organized are in the area of renewable energy and conservation for greenhouses. He has worked to develop farmer-learning communities by obtaining cost share funds for testing a variety of biomass heating systems. Farmers purchase and install the systems, and collect data on their operation and performance. Technical issues become apparent. Working with extension agricultural engineer Chris Callahan has been a key part of these projects so that growers have access to the technical support they need for the selection, installation and operation of non-fossil fuel heating systems. Callahan also helps growers calculate the payback as well as the carbon dioxide equivalents avoided with these systems. These data help other growers determine which non-fossil fuel boilers or furnaces will work best on their farms.
Vern’s current activities, in collaboration with Chris Callahan, also include an initiative to improve environmental monitoring and control for vegetable cold storage systems. He is also working on a project to reduce food safety risks associated with vegetable washing systems on small and medium sized produce farms.
Vern is the author of the books Sustainable Vegetable Production from Start Up to Market and With an Ear to the Ground: Essays on Sustainable Agriculture. Vern is a recent co-author with Lisa Chase titled: Food Farms and Communities: Exploring the Food System, to be published by University Press of New England in December 2014. He writes a monthly column for Farming magazine, and airs the occasional commentary on Vermont Public Radio.