Enid Wonnacott talks about her work with the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont
What is the big problem you are trying to solve?
On a big scale, I am working on the viability of agriculture in Vermont – addressing how farmers can produce food in a way that enhances the quality of the soil and the environment, market their products to their community, and maintain the scale of operation that provides a livable wage. Basically, we have a cheap food policy in this country which props up an agricultural production system favoring large, resource and energy intensive farms.
What excites you about what you do?
I have been the Executive Director of NOFA-VT (Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont) for 25 years. What has held me in this position for so long is my respect for the farmers who have committed their life to stewarding the land and animals and producing high quality food. It feels so vital. The organic food movement has grown tremendously over the last 25 years, and I have worked alongside the organic farmers to define what organic is and develop a national organic program, while at the same time trying to keep the grassroots energy that built this movement alive, and maintain farmer ownership in organic production and processing.
How did you get involved in doing this work?
I grew up on a small farm in Vermont, and worked every summer with a large animal veterinarian – I have always had a strong sense of wanting to keep rural life strong, and keep farmers on the land. An opportunity to travel around the world for a year, as a recipient of a Thomas Watson Fellowship, and study “the feasibility of organic agricultural systems” made me realize the value of working on a sustainable production system – and how healthy soils produced healthy plants, resulting in healthy animals. It became clear that my interest was not in animal medicine, per se, but a holistic production system that pre-empted the need for veterinarian intervention. When I was hired for a summer job as an organic certification inspector in 1985, I was able to spend all day with farmers discussing their production practices, and (at that time) a new way of producing and marketing food. I was immediately impressed with those pioneering farmers, and when I was asked if I was interested in assuming the role of the NOFA Director, I applied. At that point (in 1987), there was no board of directors, no other staff and I was hired at 10 hours a month to direct this dormant organization. I have had the opportunity to rebuild NOFA into a leading agricultural organization in Vermont.
What impact is your work having on real people, places and policies?
Vermont has more acres managed organically on a per capita basis, than any other state in the country; there are more direct markets (farmers markets and CSAs) per capita, than any other state, and Vermonters spend more of their income on local food, than any other state. Based on the prominence of organic farming in the state, I have been asked to serve on many statewide and region-wide Councils, at the request of the Secretary of Agriculture. I have the privilege of serving as the voice for organic agriculture in Vermont, and developing policies that support a strong local and regional agriculture.