John Roberts

John Roberts

MIDDLEBURY — John Roberts, a well-known figure in the farming community, has assumed leadership of the Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition (CVFC), becoming its first executive director last month.

Roberts, a founding member and CVFC’s first president, will manage the coalition, a group of Lake Champlain Basin farmers and supporting organizations that have taken a leadership role in demonstrating that farm economic resiliency and a clean lake can work together. The coalition, founded in 2013, includes dairy, beef, sheep, vegetable, fruit, grain and honey producers as well as agribusinesses.

The Cornwall resident will manage the coalition by coordinating resources and informing and responding to the membership and board of directors. In addition, he will seek and secure long-term funding and work with members to meet and exceed the terms of the Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition Outreach to Farmers to Improve Water Quality grant that the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets awarded to the coalition in 2018.

The grant is funded by the agency’s Agricultural Clean Water Initiative Program. It received additional funding this year through an amendment to fund the creation of the executive director role, the result of a strategic planning effort CVFC undertook in 2018-2019 during the project’s first phase. Roberts’ position will be instrumental in implementing the many goals and objectives outlined during that strategic planning process.

“I see the CVFC as a nimble organization, representing a diverse and inclusive type of farmer, covering a range of production systems and agricultural products,” Roberts said. “I wish to make sure that our members have access to the best available information on production techniques, soil health promoting technologies and how they market their products.”

The coalition provides farmer-to-farmer education, networking opportunities and farm tours for members along with assistance with innovative farming practices such as cover cropping, reduced tillage, crop rotation and grazing management. It works closely with University of Vermont Extension (UVM) on programming and technical assistance.

“We will always have an emphasis on a non-regulatory, but effective, approach to water quality,” he notes, “but it will also be important to demonstrate that farmers, as custodians, managers and producers on the land, are also the best environmental stewards.”

As executive director, Roberts will continue to expand and diversify CVFC’s membership across the full agricultural spectrum. He also will coordinate with other farmer, environmental and business groups with similar goals of achieving a strong working relationship between their producers, their consumers and the environment.

From March 1977 to April 2013 Roberts, in partnership with his wife Lisa, owned and operated Butterwick Farm, which had one of the state’s largest herds of purebred Brown Swiss dairy cows. He then assisted the UVM Extension office in Middlebury in advancing their agricultural programs until accepting a position with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture as a water quality specialist in November of that same year. In the latter position he helped farmers with the agency’s grant programs including best management practices, farm agronomic practices and other financial assistance for environmental improvement.

The former dairyman currently is a member and vice-chair of the Cornwall Select Board and previously served on the Governor’s Vermont Board of Environmental Advisors, the State of Vermont Water Resources Board, as chair of the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Farm Service Agency State Board of Representatives and president of the Vermont Brown Swiss Association, among several other organizations.

CVFC is housed at the UVM Extension office in Middlebury. Roberts can be reached at john@champlainvalleyfarmercoalition.com or weekdays at (802) 989-6712.

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