WILLIAM MURPHY, a professor of agronomy at the University of
Vermont (UVM) looks out of his office at this hilltop,
mountain-framed college campus and shakes his head. "Anyone who
would argue that we shouldn't go toward sustainable agriculture has
to be a fool because I don't think there's any alternative," he
says. "How can there be an alternative? How would anyone work
toward a nonsustainable way unless they had a death wish?"
Dr. Murphy voices the sentiment of a number of professors,
graduate students, and other faculty members who are pushing for a
sustainable agriculture program at the University's College of
Agriculture and Life Sciences.
In five years, supporters hope to expand what is now mainly
research-based projects to a program that would include an
undergraduate and graduate curriculum. They want to get more
research money, attract greater student interest, and construct a
building that would house a sustainable agriculture center.
Supporters of sustainable agriculture advocate a simple,
natural, and environmentally sound approach to farming. Most farm
practices now involve large amounts of pesticides, herbicides, and
fertilizers, which contaminate soil and water. Many scientists say
the chemicals used on food create unknown side effects.
The goal of sustainable agriculture is to lessen the use of
chemicals, keep food safe and wholesome, and still make agriculture
economically viable. It looks at the whole ecological system and
examines the effects of one farming practice on another.
More farmers will have to be cognizant of their farm as part of
the planet because the use of too many pesticides and fertilizers
"has a trickle effect," says Catherine Donnelly, associate dean and
associate director of UVM's agricultural experiment station.
"Sustainable agriculture tries to marry a profitable agriculture
with some cognizance that the environment is worth protecting and
Although the movement is slow, the University of Vermont is one
of a growing number of colleges and universities around the United
States that are incorporating sustainable agriculture into courses
or increasing research. At least one college - the University of
Maine - offers both an undergraduate and graduate program.
Agricultural schools "that want to be around are looking very
seriously at sustainable agriculture," says Jerry DeWitt,
agricultural extension director at Iowa State University in Ames,
Iowa."The bandwagon is rolling, and everybody wants to be on it.
Those schools that are listening are making some appropriate
changes in their research, teaching, and extension programs. …