Field Days stays grounded in agricultural education

NEW HAVEN — In 1948, soon-to-be 100-year-old Lucien Paquette spearheaded a new event to educate the public about new farming technology and techniques. Organizers called it Addison County Fair and Field Days.
Though Paquette has long-since retired from his position as the Addison County agricultural agent for the University of Vermont Extension, the program he worked for, continues its educational mission at Field Days 68 years later.
Jeff Carter, who took Paquette’s place several years after he retired, this week at the fair is talking to visitors of his agriculture display, which is appropriately placed in the Lucien Paquette Exhibition Building on the New Haven fairgrounds.
Harking back to the roots of the fair, Carter’s main mission is to engage the public in conversations about farming.
“We talk to the general public, farmers and youth about what’s happening in agriculture currently,” he said. “Now, after 68 years, Extension still has the same role of engaging the public in education and showing farmers new things.”
The exhibit features crops that have been grown and submitted by farmers in Addison County, some of which have won blue ribbons for excellence. This year, they received over 150 entries.
The display helps get the farmers publicity, and in turn supplies the six-person Extension crew with actual local crops to educate passers-by about new things that are growing in the area, like soybeans.
Carter says farmers started growing soybeans in the area recently, and many non-famers don’t recognize the crop. To him, this represents a disconnect between the farming culture and the public.
“People don’t understand agriculture very well,” he said. “Here, we can talk to the general public about different types of agricultural land use, crops that are grown, no-till, cover crops, soil conservation, different types of machinery to help with protecting water quality and being more profitable on the farm.”
Extension’s exhibit also features a TV that has moving slides and video demonstrations by farmers who explain different techniques and equipment.
Out back of the building, the Extension team simulates rainfall infiltration and runoff on several different sample patches of soil. Carter pours water on a block of clay-like soil, and the water drips straight into a bucket hung at the front of the soil, simulating runoff. Then, he pours water on a patch of healthy grass, similar to a pasture, and it drips into a bucket hung directly below the sample square, simulating successful infiltration.
The activity exemplifies Extension’s commitment to lessening the impact of agriculture on water quality and the environment.
Also outside, Carter showcases two no-till drills: hulking machines that look like transformed tractors. His team has performed research on the equipment, and can provide statistical data to farmers looking to try it out.
“We had a field day last week showing off that one, and the green one over there, operating in a field,” he said, pointing to the machines. He says his team has let hundreds of farmers use the equipment in the last three years. “It’s exactly what Lucien did all those years ago — gathering farmers together to see new equipment.”
Addison County’s Extension program is run out of their Middlebury office. When the team isn’t at Field Days, they can be found at various farms around the county, working one-on-one with farmers to improve everything from crop yield to the handling of manure to bookkeeping.
“We work with farmers all up and down the Champlain Valley,” Carter said. “We reach out to 200-300 farmers a year.”
Extension’s Nate Severy, also present at Field Days, works with Carter in the Middlebury office. A typical day for Severy includes waking up at 5 a.m. to milk his family’s dairy cows, arriving at the office at 8:30 a.m., then traveling to one of the 15 farms he visits every two weeks.
“Sometimes it’s just checking in with people who you know are doing certain things,” he said. “We try to visit them one day a week if we can and scout the fields for them.”
Severy is also the program coordinator for the Champlain Valley Farmers Coalition, where he helps farmers who want to meet certain environmental standards. He says the program meshes well with Extension, which is trying to teach farmers the same kind of good stewardship practices.
“With Extension, at the Middlebury office, we’re spending a lot of time trying to help farmers figure out just that,” he said. “How do you reduce the amount that you till the ground, how do you do cover cropping, how do you have better crop rotations, how do you grow better quality feed and grow better crops, but do it economically?”
According to Carter, the team is currently focused on implementing new management practices to address EPA and state concerns about Lake Champlain’s water quality. With 30 years of work at Extension under his belt, he’s hopeful about what can be accomplished.
“It’s kind of interesting to be part of a game that’s been around for that long, and has a consistent mission of education and outreach,” he said. “Agriculture’s changing all the time, and we like to think we’re positively influencing it.”
Addison County Fair and Field Days runs through Saturday evening.

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