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Bullard Spotlight: Betsy Colburn on New England Water and Agriculture

August 5, 2014
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Cows grazing in an open pasture

Each month, we feature research by one of Harvard Forest's Charles Bullard Fellows. This September, aquatic ecologist and local small farmer Betsy Colburn will begin a fellowship that seeks to address the long-standing challenge of merging agriculture and watershed health: "How can we facilitate a dramatic expansion of New England agriculture that will provide good financial returns to farmers and also protect the region’s waters?"

The question is timely in the context of the recent publication of “A New England Food Vision,” a report that suggests that by 2060 New England could sustainably grow at least half of its food. This proposal envisions substantial increases in vegetable and fruit production, and a great expansion of livestock farming. Farmland would triple, to 6 million acres, most of which would support millions of pastured cattle, chickens, turkeys, sheep and pigs, sustainably meeting the region’s demands for dairy, beef, eggs, poultry, and pork.

During her fellowship, Colburn will be learning from farmers, researchers, and others about New England soils, pasture grasses, manure management, farm practices, and a host of other issues associated with sustainable farming and water.  

"The Bullard fellowship provides a rare opportunity to focus intensively on something new and exciting over the course of a year," Colburn explains.She chose Harvard Forest because of its location and diverse staff expertise. She notes, "Harvard Forest staff includes practicing farmers as well as scientists. It is centrally located in a part of New England where the 'local food' movement is strong, and it is within easy reach of farms and universities carrying out agricultural research. It provides good opportunities to design and implement research to address some questions about ag soils and pastured livestock."

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