Delilah Griswold began studying food and food systems in her cultural anthropology courses at Wheaton College. Her research on the economic and social consequences of international food regimes included fieldwork in Vietnam and the South Pacific, and her senior thesis analyzed the political economy of New England’s local food movement. But nothing gave her as insightful and visceral an understanding of what it takes to grow and sell food as the four years she spent apprenticing and working on four organic farms back in Vermont after she graduated. The last of those was a tiny dairy-and-livestock operation of her own in Goshen, Vermont, that she and her partner called “our experiment.” When the one-year lease on their land wasn’t renewed, she realized just how difficult it was for young or under-capitalized farmers to make a go of it.
“I’ve always been passionate about how to make farming and food systems more sustainable and equitable,” she says. “I discovered how hard it is to find accessible land, and how little security there is for farmers. There’s no safety net. I realized I could be more effective if I went to a place like Vermont Law School and learned how to affect policy from the top-down.”
While studying food, agriculture, and sustainable development law and policy in the MELP program, Delilah consulted for American Micro Dairies, a South Royalton-based agricultural nonprofit. She worked as a research fellow in the school’s Center for Agriculture and Food Systems. At CAFS she helped vet and compile a broad compendium of tools and resources for small-scale and organic farmers — many of which would have been useful to her when she was doing her own farming, if she hadn’t been “stuck inside the farm bubble, where nobody has the time or energy for the kind of research it takes to find those things.” That list is now available for free, online.
Recently, a grant from the US Department of Agriculture helped fund a Program Associate position at CAFS–and Delilah jumped at the chance to continue her work after her degree. Part of that work, now, involves developing governance structures that protect farmers markets from various kinds of liability. Part of the necessary safety net. An example of important policy.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever return to farming full-time,” she says. “But I know that farming will be a part of my life. It definitely will, if we can figure out the land piece.”