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The Institute for Food Systems Resilience at SHO Farm, VT

To train the next leaders in food systems innovation grounded in best practices for regenerative-vegan and wildlife-assisted agroforestry

Photo of Melissa Hoffman
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Living Future Foundation

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

The vision here is entirely collaborative, bringing together the complementary skillsets of our team of vegan women, each visionaries, into a comprehensive approach to land use, future food systems, and leadership development. Nicole Negowetti developed the concept of the Institute for Food Systems Resilience over the last three years, and brought the project to LFF in 2019. She has held teaching positions at Harvard Law School Animal Law & Policy Clinic and the Food & Law Policy Clinic in the Center for Health Law and Pollicy Innovation. Shawn Smith founded Earth Asset Partnership and now co-directs LFF, and Melissa Hoffman is founder Co-director of LFF All our biographies are available here on Living Future’s website:

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 10+ years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?


Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

SHO Farm, Huntington, Vermont, USA, an entire watershed on 5km^5 Here's a video:

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Living Future purchased 1296 acres (SHO Farm, formerly Teal Farm) in the mountains of Vermont to demonstrate how buildings, energy systems, ecosystems and food systems could function as a harmonious and mutualistic whole, expressing integrity in relationship to living systems. After a long search, this land was chosen for its sacred feel, its rich forests and fields and waterfalls, its striking beauty with Camels Hump mountain looming large in most every view, and its adjacency to a larger wilderness. It was chosen for its complementary qualities of connectedness and seclusion, and as a place worth stewarding and preserving for centuries. Physically within a 35 minute drive to Burlington VT, accessible to a number of colleges, yet a world unto itself capable of attracting thinkers and practitioners interested in advancing their complementary work. I, Melissa Hoffman, envisioned and led the multi-faceted building project in 2005-7 with the intention that its aspirational design would attract and support further innovation. SHO Farm is meant to serve a larger purpose, which is how I remain connected to it. Living here since 2003, I have learned the trees, the fungi that grow with and on them, the streams, I know the animals that live here, the plants and birds that call this place home and with whom I have had the privilege of developing a deep bond over time. Shawn Smith moved to SHO Farm in 2010 and became co-owner of the farm and co-director of Living Future. She directs the rescue animal sanctuary and holds an especially sacred relationship to the animals that live at SHO.  Her love for land is driving the formal conservation of SHO’s entire watershed in a pioneering way.  She is channeling her 20 years as a land conservation expert into the creation of the first ethical vegan conservation easement, which will forever protect the animals - wild and rescued - that call SHO home. One of the many reasons she herself now calls SHO home!

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

The culture of the surrounding village of Huntington is largely caucasian, with a varied socio-economic base. There are farmers, professors, a Native American spiritual leader, hunters, animal advocates, LGBTQ-positive social discourse, small craftspeople, social workers, musicians, athletes, carpenters, physicians, and small-town events that attract and welcome a diversity of lives. Most everyone filters through our one general store at some point. The social and biological culture at SHO Farm itself is somewhat of an outlier—we manage our fields for wild and pollinator habitat and tree crops, for example, while our neighboring dairy farm mows fields for haylage, grows 150 acres of corn for silage, and ecshews the intrusion of milkweed onto their land—the very milkweed we encourage for establishing monarch habitat and use as a food. We manage the entirety of our 1296 acres for wildlife habitat, especially for fast-disappearing grassland birds, so folks who want to recreate with their dogs might feel a bit miffed that they don’t get to use our attractive village-side fields as a playground! Our farm abuts an elementary school, and the kids use our lower fields and woods as an outdoor classroom and as a sledding hill in the winter. The farm itself has a reputation nationally, even internationally, and also draws its own form of community given our express dedication to plant-centric and wildlife-friendly food systems, and our ecological building campus. We toggle between hyper local in our on-the-ground work, and our extended global family of co-pioneers—in that our community coalesces around a set of values shared virutually, but implemented in multi-localities. Regenerative food growers, chefs, animal advocates, food systems questioners, designers, farmers—this is our community as well. We’ve hosted retreat visits from the USDA, from University of Vermont’s Farmer Training Program, from the Biomimicry Institute who conducted one of their quarterly training weeks here with 25 people, and from sanctuary interns who wish to give to the rescue animals in our care, some who aspire to careers on the land.  See attachment for a rich foodshed description of our place. Thank you. 

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

2020 Challenges: How to mitigate habitat loss associated with modern agriculture, which in turn influences the carbon cycle, driving drought, soil loss, and a heating climate? We are rapidly losing insects, birds, and biodiversity. An over-reliance on livestock enlarges the land use footprint to the exclusion of wildlife and their habitats.So, how to cycle nutrients within a food system in partnership with native wildlife instead of livestock? Increased flooding events are eroding prime agricultural lands in Vermont.  How to establish a network of best-practices that can anticipate unintended consequences of partial solutions? How to transition farms reliant on taxpayer subidies and ecosystem/health-damaging practices to farms that serve the health of both humans and animals?  How to address the over-presence of non-native livestock in the food chain? How to support farmers in establishing durable and resilient perennial cropping systems (it takes trees years to come into production after they are planted). How to channel land to those who can care for it and equip them with  the best wild and working systems skills? How to effectively showcase a wildlife-friendly network of plant-growers and land steward who can share resources and provide proof-of-concept to others? The lack of knowledge by those leading food systems change in the how-to’s of truly regenerative land care is a big problem. Most focus on ‘products’ that may be brittle or short-lived. How to develop a broad-spectrum of plant-centered gastronomy that expresses the rich diversity of global food traditions, grounding us in the flavors of our own place? This brings community together powerfully. How to provide opportunities to put resilient food systems in place now, so that as our climate transforms, we’ve got something to rely upon? How to embed our solution squarely in biological systems and avoid our enchantment with more brittle technological solutions that require enormous energy to both create and sustain?

2050 Challenges: How to link together islands of wild and working regeneration for multi-species stablility. How to design communities around participation in an entire foodscape? How to make living food systems so much a part of human design that food can be free for those who are willing to gather it? How to unify producers and consumers in meaningful exchange, blurring the boundaries between them? How to manage nutrient flows so that we’ve elimitated waste in the system? 

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Our approach to addressing the challenges mentioned above are multifactoral and comprehensive. We ourselves have come to focus on regenerative agricultural practices that don’t use animals per se, but that harmonize with wildlife via their breeding, browsing, and preferred travel routes. We’ve developed a large body of knowledge in the form of a book outline, which we would like to complete and publish in the next 3 years. Our efforts are influenced by the medical evidence that a diverse, whole-foods, plant-rich diet can help prevent chronic illness and potenitally turn our medical industry on its head. 

To safeguard its land for the next 50 years, Living Future will raise a fund to permanently conserve SHO Farm's 1296 acres to make it available as a hub for food systems innovation in perpetuity. Our team will write a modern conservation easement that, among other things, will require that no deliberate harm come to animals in the pursuit of meeting our needs, if it can be avoided. Conserving the land will allow us to make it available to the Institute and to farmers who share an ethic of ecosystem stewardship and respect for life in meeting human needs. SHO Farm may offer a sales and marketing platform, equipment use, and overarching support for new and experienced farmers. The farm’s infrastructure, large barns and renovated farmhouse will host the Institute for Food System Reslience, where a full array of issues of food systems policy and law (like the farm subsidies mentioned above), business innovation and activism will be addressed in the Leadership Lab. Attendees will be immersed in a working landscape with miles of woods roads to explore, as well as a farm animal sanctuary on site. Everything at SHO is part of the classroom. SHO Farm has been developing culinary applications for a wide variety of wild and cultivated plant foods, so the Leadership Lab attendees will experience creative food coming from a living landscape as part of their curriculum. SHO will continue to develop wildlife-assisted cropping systems that rely on partnerships between food systems experts like Eric Toensmeier, growers, foresters, wildlife ecologists, and chefs. We ourselves have come to focus on regenerative agricultural practices that don’t use animals per se, but that harmonize with wildlife via their breeding, browsing, and preferred travel routes. Sanctuary at SHO demonstrates how animals once ‘used’ as livestock can transform into farming partners as our use of domestic animals diminishes over time. Transforming the human-animal relationship is central to our work as we’ve found that it allows us to question deeply-held ideas about ’the other’ that may impede a full appreciation about how to move forward as one whole living community. These integrated actions live already in the work we have begun, as the vision has already begun to be realized. 

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

We envision a widespread program of land restoration and farm transition tended by ecosystem stewards and growers that serve as guarantors of community health and well-being, who can share resources and information across time and across locations.  Their training can even begin with us and our network of growers,  entrepreneurs, and Institute instructors. As we see farms struggling around us, we could envision developing transition strategies that help older farmers exit their farming lives, while making land available for new opportunies, perhaps even as they live out their lives on their land. Building on the land conservation movement and re-imagining what land conservation can look like given the extreme global challenges we’re experiencing calls for putting more land into service, and a tangible mechanism for doing so. 

Once SHO is successfully conserved, our team will establish a land trust that can receive funds for the purpose of purchasing conservation easements on increasingly more land, with the implemenation of similar wild and working stewardship protocols developed collaboratively. The land trust may, for example, provide needed funds for those wishing to transition out of one kind of farming to another—dairies to berries, as it were. The trust can coordinate with qualified land stewards and food systems innovators in different locations who can implement healthy and ethical food stability. It can in essence, become a multi-local effort. Those with financial wealth can contribute to a land trust like this and acheive multiple beneficial outcomes. Those with land can gift it to serve forever wild and working ecological foodscapes. Beginning first with land and our relationship to it will allow us to begin to answer questions like: How can we extend live-giving nourishment to everyone? Go here for a longer description of what we’re calling the Living Land Trust:

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

As we’ve learned from many years of experience,  the systems view we need to operate from right now isn’t simply additive—ie it’s not solely about incorporating more individual perspectives into the mix. It’s also the capacity to enlarge the context in which we evolve solutions, and recognizing that today’s solutions will continue to change and adapt over time—and some may no longer be relevant in 50 years. So we all appreciate the need for mechanisms for adaptive learning and the capacity to go beyond the familiar contexts in which we’ve become aware of the problems.  In many ways, our work will becomes in essence a human-developmental effort. The more that we can come together with the capacity to learn beyond what we already know, to listen, to be willing to be wrong, to struggle mightily for what seems promising, the more we’ll be effective in on-the-ground change. So the vision realized would look like an adaptive learning community with the capacity to work in multiple places. To do this work far out into the future requires great skills of listening across time and place. To develop ’this place’ as a hub will shape the future, because we stand willing, now, to put it into service, and to basically risk everything to do so.

The vision realized would look like an adaptive learning community with the capacity to work in multiple places but with a ‘technology’ of how to work together, a blueprint for life-centered design. Hopefully, we will have outgrown the need for ourselves in 50 years, but we don’t think we will. We envision using ’this place’ as a hub because of our team's willingness to put it into service for longevity of impact. We see the medium as the message, and we think place-centered learning at SHO will give us the ability to stimulate better leadership and faster change when there is a touchpoint as as powerfully developed as what we have here. The goal in some ways is not to have to exist, but we are striving for ecosystems restoration, food systems resiliency given anticipated climatic fluxuation, a vibrant local community of growers whose reach expands beyond the circumscribed farm to schoolyards, roadsides, forests, town infrastructure, rooftops, hospitals, housing developments—exploring synergies in designing human habitats.

There are multiple images on our affiliated websites that show aerial shots, our food system, our working forests, maps, our dominant crops and the food products we currently generate. You can find them

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Colleague
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Attachments (2)

Photos and Videos.pdf

We couldn't get videos to populate, and the many photos we have are nicely displayed on all our websites that describe and visualize our work in great detail. Thank you for allowing us to include them!

What are the signifiers that are unique to your Place?  .pdf

I drafted this thinking there was a space in the application for it. Since it expands on the nature of our local food system and community, I thought it would help if I included it.

1 comment

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Photo of Archiebold Manasseh

Very creative! all the best!