Jaiel Pulskamp: Organic Farmer & Climate Activist
by K.C. Whiteley

Jaiel Pulskamp cultivates the soil with a team of mules. Photos: Courtesy of Jaiel Pulskamp


From an early age, Jaiel Pulskamp, of Kettlesong Farm in Worcester, Vt., loved the outdoors. So it’s no surprise that she chose to become a farmer. As the owner of a small-scale organic fruit and vegetable farm, she finds herself outdoors most of the year, in all kinds of weather.

Pulskamp, 43, was born in Taos, New Mexico, where her family homesteaded, and spent her early years playing with Native American friends, absorbing a spiritual philosophy that was nature based. “It was a huge formative part of my life,” she says. She recalls a strong connection to the natural world, hiking and camping with her family before moving to Denver, Colo., around age 6.

As an undergrad at Friends World College (now Long Island University), Pulskamp worked with subsistence farmers in Costa Rica, which opened her eyes to sustainable farming practices, as well as the destructive practices of corporate agriculture companies. For generations, these farmers allowed sections of their land to rest and restore before replanting. But corporations had pushed GMO seeds and herbicides on the local farmers, altering their farming habits for the worse. Her experiences in Costa Rica inspired her to come back to the United States and enroll in the Apprentice & Farmer Worker Program at the Northeast Organic farming Association of Vermont (NOFA).

Regenerative Agriculture

In Vermont, Pulskamp met her partner, started a family, bought some land in Worcester, and started an organic produce business. She’s now been farming her land for about 10 years. Pulskamp practices what’s called regenerative agriculture, a holistic land management practice that seeks to improve soil health by increasing organic matter, as opposed to the more common convention of tilling the soil.

Pulskamp says regenerative agriculture is a move toward a pasture-based, nutrient-dense system: “You have to feed your soil and get the right nutrients in. If the microorganisms have enough organic matter, like calcium and magnesium, which help with aeration, the organisms can proliferate, and more carbon sequestration will occur.” Sounds complex but makes sense that without good soil you won’t get a good crop.

Aware of the particular challenges small farmers face, Pulskamp admits that growing food sustainably requires a lot more work than throwing on chemical fertilizers. “Caring for the soil and land takes a lot,” she says. When you consider the vagaries of ordinary weather patterns and then add in new challenges caused by climate change, like increased precipitation, farming can look like a high-risk venture.

Pulskamp is willing to take the risk because she sees her role as a land steward, providing sustenance to her community. And, for her, the intersection of food and politics is paramount. Ever since her experience in Costa Rica, seeing how agri-business squeezes out small farmers by dictating the seeds that are sown and how our food is grown, she’s been committed to resisting the corporate takeover of farming.

Farming in a Changing Climate

As for the challenges caused by climate change, Pulskamp sees more rain, and more intense rain, happening now than a decade ago. Contributing to the problem of runoff is the topography of the land—hill farms are the norm in Vermont—and many farms have wet, heavy soil with large clay deposits, making it hard for the rain to soak in to the roots. Then we have long periods of dry weather, as we did this fall, with over a month without rain. Our former notions of seasonal norms and predictability have been tossed out the window.

Pulskamp sees regenerative agriculture as a way to combat some of the effects of climate change, especially in Vermont where precipitation in the form of more frequent torrential downpours has increased runoff and soil depletion. This practice promotes carbon drawdown, improves the water cycle, and can restore soil biodiversity.

According to an online article “Carbon Underground and Regenerative Agriculture Initiative,” regenerative agriculture “not only aids in increasing soil biota diversity and health, but increases biodiversity both above and below the soil surface, while increasing both water holding capacity and sequestering carbon at greater depths, thus drawing down climate-damaging levels of atmospheric CO2, and improving soil structure to reverse civilization-threatening human-caused soil loss.”

In addition to regenerative agriculture practices, Pulskamp notes the need for more infrastructure, like tile drainage and greenhouses, to mitigate the effects of climate change. Another side effect of climate change and overall warming are the insects and invasive plants that have become ubiquitous, which present their own challenges to farmers.

Pulskamp acknowledges the relative security we enjoy here in Vermont and cautions not to ignore the small warning signs and signals that point to environmental dangers. “There are small incremental things that are happening, like acidification of the oceans and the die-off of fish and coral reefs,” she says. “The transformation is subtle, but there’s a tipping point, and if we don’t notice it, it’s going to be too late.”

Pulskamp feels strongly that the climate movement and the sustainable farming movement need to work together because agriculture contributes to climate change and sustainable agriculture can help solve these problems: “It’s such an intricate balance and process and we understand so little about how nature works and the relationships between different factors. A lot is unseen, like playing music for plants and watching the reactions.”

Climate Activist

Pulskamp is involved with organizations like 350VT and Central Vermont Climate Action, working to bring awareness to others about climate change and the positive changes we can make to move toward a more renewable energy future. And she spends a lot of time in nature, appreciating the natural world: “I send love and gratitude. I thank my plants and the earth for providing our food.”

She believes there are many positive stories and accomplishments that are missed by the mainstream media. The fact that food can and does bring people together has great potential to bridge differences and boundaries. It makes sense that if people are well fed, there will be less conflict in the world. And if we can create more equality, perhaps we can envision a future without violence.

As harvest season winds down, Pulskamp is gearing up her work as a field organizer with 350VT working on Town Meeting Day Resolutions to urge the state of Vermont to halt any new expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure, including pipelines; to firmly commit to Vermont’s Comprehensive Energy Plan goal to achieve 90 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2050; and to ensure that the transition to renewable energy is fair and equitable for all residents, with no harm to low-income people, people of color, or rural communities. If you’re interested in learning more about how to help get this on the Town Meeting Day ballot in your town, contact Jaiel Pulskamp at jaiel@350vt.org.

“It’s about doing things in a better way, raising our animals and food more humanely. The corporate mentality has to shift. A systemic transformation has to occur,” says Pulskamp. “We have to educate our kids differently and prioritize things differently, like our health and the health of the planet over money.”

Join one small farmer, doing things in a better way—and pick up some of her brussels sprouts at the Hunger Mountain Coop.




K.C. Whiteley lives in Montpelier, where she works with Central Vermont Climate Action and 350VT to organize, educate and support people to work together for climate justice, resisting fossil fuels and transforming our communities toward justice and resilience. If this interests you, contact her at kcwhiteley@yahoo.com.