November 2, 2012

Nourishing Collaboration: The Rebirth of Salvation Farms

One rainy October night a few weeks ago, I attended a reception at Sterling College.  As I got out of the car, the rain increased to a downpour and I moved quickly toward the porch of Housten House, formerly known as the Old Inn on the Common.  The scene inside contrasted sharply with the dismal weather outside- that is to say, the light was warm, the people smiling and the smell of fall harvest food wafted through the air.  The purpose of the event was to celebrate the publication of Vermont Fresh: A Fruit and Vegetable Handbook.  The handbook is a collaborative effort between the college, Salvation Farms and Vermont Foodbank and focuses on providing information about vegetables suitable to Vermont including growing tips, storage, nutritional benefits and recipes. What followed was a reflection by each of the contributors and dinner prepared by Sterling students with donations from local farms. Listening to these reflections and talking with the people present left me with the feeling that as important as the other contributors were to this publication, the evening also felt like a celebration of the re-launch of Salvation Farms, an organization whose conception and development began here, at Sterling College. Following her study in sustainable agricultural and natural resource management at Sterling College, Director Theresa Snow was inspired to simultaneously address farm fresh food waste and food inequality in her community.  Consequently, she spent her time gathering volunteers to “glean” or gather that surplus produce to give to needy folks. Snow’s work clearly fell in line with the college’s mission and she found abundant support to help her develop her program. From there, Salvation Farms was born.

The organization is one that is in the same constant motion as its creator.  It evolved from having an impact on a local scale to a statewide scale as Snow was eventually hired on at the Vermont Foodbank as Director of Agricultural Resources to institute a gleaning program into their operations, build food donor relationships with farmers and increase the organizations capacity to handle fresh foods. But as Snow dug in deeper to the complexities of her evolving vision- a systemic change in the way we depend on food sources and how to feed vulnerable populations- she couldn’t help but evolve herself, searching out new ideas and after almost four years she left Vermont Foodbank to reinvent Salvation Farms. In reflecting on Snow and her ultimate decision to leave the Foodbank, CEO John Sayles said with a smile, “We just couldn’t contain her and now Salvation Farms has burst out again!” And if you have ever met Theresa Snow, you could see why he said that. Snow is a fix it girl.  In her professional and personal life she has been moved to action by injustices she sees- globally and locally.

Theresa Snow, Director of Salvation Farms
Snow’s ‘bursting out’ took on a physical motion as well as a philosophical one.  She struck out on a road trip across the country to meet others with similar visions as hers and learn from their strategies. What struck her most is how the different scale of agriculture in many other parts of the country differs from Vermont’s. Much of the country’s large-scale agriculture is automated and mechanized contrasting with Vermont’s smaller scale version, based more on human labor. This lead Snow to the practical realization that depending on people power helps strengthen appreciation, understanding of farmers and creates community through ownership. She realized that what is most important to succeeding is collaboration and the cultivation of relationships.  For Salvation Farms, that meant more than just a focus on picking surplus vegetables. Instead it became one that combines- at the very least- advocacy, education, resource management, diverse and cross-sector partnerships and lots of logistical coordination.

When Snow returned home she began to redesign and restructure Salvation Farms to support these new goals in an effort to return to its original philosophies- a movement back toward creative engagement of more Vermonters in managing food resources to provide our state’s own needs.  Snow remained dedicated to education, as evidenced by the Vermont Fresh publication, but now took things one step further by teaching others how to set up these types of initiatives and working as a vocal representative of these ideals.  One project she is currently working on includes fostering the conversation and partnership to bring an agricultural industry component to Vermont’s correctional facilities. Another project involves working with Green Mountain College’s Farm and Food Project to research the production and integration of frozen food into Vermont’s food charity system. And in addition to all this, Snow is constantly sharing the story of the organization’s development, its vision, and her observations from the road trip. Salvation Farms has become, in essence, one collaborator establishing and maintaining a comprehensive web of connections in an effort to manage statewide agriculture surplus.

The reception at Sterling College symbolizes that spirit of collaboration. The folks who came to celebrate had a broad interest and connection to these groups- they were coworkers, former coworkers, volunteers, board members, former steering committee members, Sterling College students and alumni and they were all united by one thing: connecting through food.

You can learn more about Salvation Farms and Theresa Snow by visiting her blog at or emailing

Allison VanAkkeren of Sterling College and her students that prepared the celebratory meal with local produce.