Vermont Farmers’ Land Ethics: Stories from the Ground Up

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2022: $14,999.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2023
Grant Recipient: Yale University
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Amity Doolittle
Yale School of the Environment

Information Products


Not commodity specific


  • Animal Production: grazing management, rangeland/pasture management
  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, technical assistance
  • Farm Business Management: business planning, other
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement, other
  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life, other, quality of life, social capital

    Proposal abstract:

    This mixed methods research project will begin with participant observation and semi-structured interviews that will be used to guide development of a subsequent survey. Taken together, these approaches will capture a selection of stories about how Vermont livestock farmers consider, manage, and steward their land. Questions to be explored include: Are farmers guided by ethics grounded in their work and relationship with the land? If so, what are they, and what material and value-based factors are they influenced by? Though there is a stated consensus that agriculture is a key part of Vermont’s identity, and farmers are valued members of Vermont’s cultural and land-use history, farmers’ role in stewarding the environment is increasingly contested. As a recent report about Vermont dairy farmers stated, “Farmers are the people who know the most about their land in Vermont, but they are under siege” (Corse et al. 2021, p. 33). Farming is not just an economic activity – it is one rooted in a set of values. My primary intention in this research is to listen directly to how farmers describe their land and land management choices, and to learn about the factors that affect how they steward and care for their land. I will use interviews to develop a survey that asks a broader group of farmers to rank the values they manage their land for, and why. This research project will explore Vermont farmers' land ethics in order to contribute towards a more grounded public discourse that centers working landowners’ perspectives.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Understand the diversity of land management objectives that motivate farmers’ actions. What are these factors (i.e. economic, ecological, landbase/production capability, family, personal, and other), and why and how do they affect decision making?
      • Ask farmers to describe what factors they manage their land for. A particular focus within this objective is to understand the ecological factors that farmers manage their land for.
      • Ask farmers to describe their "land ethics"
    2. Understand the relative importance of the material and value-based factors that affect farmers’ decision making about their land.
    3. Articulate these factors in a way that might inform/influence broader understandings of farmers’ ethics of care and land use decision making
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.