RCE Puerto Rico - 2021

A cross-cultural, participatory approach for measuring and cultivating resilience on small and medium farms
Basic Information
Title of project : 
A cross-cultural, participatory approach for measuring and cultivating resilience on small and medium farms
Submitting RCE: 
RCE Greater Burlington
Contributing organization(s) : 
This is a joint project, submitted by both RCE Greater Burlington and RCE Puerto Rico

Contributing organizations include the University of Vermont Extension; University of Vermont Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, and the Centro para la Conservación del Paisaje. Additional support was provided by the
Vermont Vegetable and Berry Growers Association, the USDA Caribbean Climate Hub, and individual farmers and their families located Vermont and Puerto Rico who contributed greatly to the co-production of knowledge presented here.
Focal point(s) and affiliation(s)
Walter Poleman
Organizational Affiliation: 
University of Vermont
Christopher Nytch
Organizational Affiliation: 
RCE Puerto Rico
Format of project: 
White paper & Excel file
Language of project: 
English & Spanish
Date of submission:
Monday, September 27, 2021
Additional resources: 
Farm resilience assessment tool:

Google Map of farm locations:

Vermont Agriculture & Food System Strategic Plan
At what level is the policy operating?: 
Food Safety Modernization Act
At what level is the policy operating?: 
Geographical & Education Information
United States
VERMONT: Barre, Burlington, Dummerston, Hinesburg, Montpelier, Orwell, Strafford, Woodbury. PUERTO RICO: Aguas Buenas, Arecibo, Caguas, Carolina, Jayuya, Mayagüez
Address of focal point institution for project: 
Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, University of Vermont,
Burlington, VT, USA
Target Audience:
Socioeconomic and environmental characteristics of the area : 
The focal communities of this project are in Vermont and Puerto Rico, which have temperate and sub-tropical climates, respectively. The communities are distributed throughout the two geographic regions and span urban, peri-urban and rural areas in coastal, forest, and mountain ecosystems with diverse socio-economic characteristics. The value of Vermont’s agricultural production and processing industries represent about 4.3% of total state GDP. There are over 7,000 farms in Vermont, averaging 177 acres in size, with a majority having annual sales less than $10,000/year. Agricultural production in Puerto Rico constitutes about 0.8% of the island’s GDP. There are more than 8,000 farms in Puerto Rico, most of them less than 60 acres in size, with a majority having annual sales less than $5,000/year.
Description of sustainable development challenge(s) in the area the project addresses: 
In Vermont, this project address major sustainable development challenges related to continuing to produce food locally while protecting water quality and enhancing biodiversity in a climate-changing-world.
In Puerto Rico, this project addresses sustainability challenges related to land use planning and biodiversity management, food and potable water security at the community scale, and the socio-economic and environmental impacts of climate change, including increased severity of hurricanes and increased drought.
June, 2020 to January, 2021
One of the greatest leverage points in fostering the transition to sustainability can be found in the realm of food systems. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus the critical importance of small and medium-sized farms, which often employ innovative and adaptive strategies for building economic, social, and
ecological resilience and contribute to the well-being of communities around the world. What bolsters the resilience of smaller farms to sustain themselves during times of economic, geo-climatic and socio-political unrest?

This project describes some key ideas and tools that help answer that question. It was a six-month research endeavor supported by the University of Vermont Agricultural Research Service Center for Food Systems Research. We explored the role of small and medium farms in Vermont and Puerto Rico in promoting sustainable social-agricultural systems, and investigated how the resilience of these farms can be both measured and amplified. We integrated concepts from the fields of food systems sustainability and resilience, agroecology, and positive deviance to identify indicators that can help measure and track farm resilience.
Our aims were to 1) investigate the diversity of ecological and social factors that impact the vulnerability, resilience, and long-term health of small-medium farms and farm systems, exploring similarities and differences between the two cultures/geographies; 2) incorporate farmers’ personal experiences together with knowledge in the academic literature to enrich understanding about food systems sustainability; and 3) develop an indicator tool for evaluating farm resilience that empowers farmers to both assess their local farm system and to implement and document change over time.
Activities and/or practices employed: 
Our research process employed a cross-cultural, mixed-methods, Participatory Action Research (PAR) approach that engaged farmers located Vermont and Puerto Rico and Vermont. The farms ranged in size from 1-357 acres and exhibited diverse agricultural practices. Land tenure included both owners and renters, and many of the farms were family businesses. Production included a variety of crops and products including mixed greens, root vegetables, ornamental flowers, medicinal plants, herbs and spices, berries, fruit trees, coffee, honey, livestock, poultry, and fish. The project was organized into four phases implemented over a seven-month period with ongoing PAR interactions. These included identifying farmer participants, selecting key farm resilience frameworks, distilling a preliminary list of indicators, and validating those indicators with farmer feedback through surveys, interviews, and online group meetings. We then developed a resilience assessment indicator tool based on the iterative process of integrating relevant literature together with farmer feedback.
Size of academic audience: 
We engaged 20 farmers representing 14 farms, 8 in Vermont and 6 in Puerto Rico.
The project culminated in the creation of a white paper and a Farm Resilience Tool for conducting rapid assessments using 20 indicators organized into four categories of Growth Mindset, Strong Relationships, Sustainable Farming Practices, and Sustainable Business Management. This tool serves to measure and track farm resilience across geographies and cultural divides through the use of a PAR approach. We further outlined a proposal for how to implement and refine the tool with farmer participants through subsequent PAR activities. More research is necessary to understand potential tradeoffs and synergies that can occur from trying to optimize multiple outcomes in tandem, and how to transition small farm resilience to broader-scale landscape planning and management that contribute to global advances in achieving planetary sustainability.
Lessons learned: 
Among the important lessons learned from this project are A) the importance of farmer-to-farmer knowledge sharing, B) the value of an authentic and reciprocal PAR process in expanding the range and depth of understanding beyond the academic literature, C) the utility of integrating positive deviants for helping identify indicators and examples of resilience outside the box of traditional thinking, and D) the rich interaction across cultures and geographies that enlivens the research and enlightens the outcomes.
Key messages: 
Sustainability within food systems is ultimately about the quality of relationships. Thus, food systems research must integrate objective and subjective methods and authentic reciprocity to cultivate the relational synergy needed to address and transcend the complex problems we face in the 21st Century.
Relationship to other RCE activities: 
This project was conducted jointly by partners in RCE Greater Burlington and RCE Puerto Rico.
Funding for this work was provided by the Agricultural Research Service Center for Food
Systems Research at the University of Vermont.


File Name Caption for picture Photo Credit
Image icon Agroecology & SDGs.jpg (156.49 KB) Principles of agroecology and several SDGs related to sustainable food systems N/A
Image icon ResearchProcess.jpg (206.55 KB) Research process showing four main phases (blue circles) and ongoing PAR interactions (orange loops). N/A
Image icon GroupPhoto.jpg (155.71 KB)
UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
(https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdgs) and other themes of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)
SDG 2 - End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture 
SDG 3 - Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages 
SDG 6 - Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all 
SDG 8 - Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all 
SDG 10 - Reduce inequality within and among countries 
SDG 11 - Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable 
SDG 12 - Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns 
SDG 13 - Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts 
SDG 15 - Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification and halt and reverse land degradation, and halt biodiversity loss 
SDG 17 - Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development 
Disaster Risk Reduction 
Traditional Knowledge  
Plants & Animals 
ESD for 2030-Priority Action Areas
Priority Action Area 2 - Transforming learning and training environments 
Priority Action Area 3 - Developing capacities of educators and trainers 
Priority Action Area 5 - Accelerating sustainable solutions at local level