local banquet spring 2017 | issue forty
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C ON T E N T S s
i s s u e
f o r t y
4 Editor’s Note
14 Viewpoint: The Perception of Industrial Agriculture
6 Set the Table with…
16 The Meaning of Organic
8 Here Comes the Sun 10 Soil Heals: The Vermont Farmer Veteran Coalition
12 Tying Traditions Together: The Marshfield School of Weaving
18 Urine as Fertilizer? 25 Farmers’ Kitchen Singular Syrup
27 Calendar 30 Last Morsel
Editor’s Note This spring I’ll be leaving Vermont’s Local Banquet after 10 years as its editor. The past decade hasn’t just been a banquet—it’s been a feast! Getting to work with so many talented Vermont writers to “lift the hood” on our local food movement has been a joy, and has given me (and hopefully you, too) many reasons to believe that we have quite an exceptional agricultural community here in Vermont. When Meg Lucas and Barbi Schreiber launched the magazine in 2007 and asked me to be its founding editor, Vermont’s local food scene was young and plucky—a wobbly but confident lamb trying to find its footing among the big sheep of supermarkets and conventional dairy farms. The Farm to Plate network hadn’t been formed yet, Harlow Farm was still just serving its surrounding towns, and the Jasper Hill brothers were in the early years of milking cows. You couldn’t find bread made with local wheat, and no one was drinking hard cider fashioned with Vermont apples. A couple of years earlier, “localvore potlucks” had taken place around the state, introducing people to the novel concept of sourcing all their ingredients for a dish from within Vermont. “Where can we find local cornmeal?” people would ask each other. (Butterworks Farm was the only place.) “What do we do about salt?” (Apply the “Marco Polo exception” to the 100-mile-radius rule and just buy it at the grocery store.) Today, having brought a diversity of local foods to many locations, our local food movement is facing new challenges: the threat that consumers will abandon it, should it no longer seem “trendy”; the fact that a number of good farmers are packing it in after burning out; the cost of farmland in Vermont, which keeps new farmers from establishing thriving operations. There are many issues to address, but I suppose these are my parting wishes: that more people learn how to cook at home, so they can use the raw materials that our farmers produce; that we rethink farmers’ markets, because not everyone in our communities feels drawn to shop at them; and that citizens of Vermont continue to build their “agricultural literacy”— their understanding of what actually happens on farms and why farmers make the choices they do. After producing 40 issues of Local Banquet with the kind, generous, creative, and thoughtful team known to so many in Vermont as simply “Meg & Barbi,” I plan to concentrate on my own writing and journalism, focusing on issues related to humane animal agriculture and devoting myself to the project I started five years ago, Humaneitarian.org. Even more significantly, my partner and I are planning to raise dairy sheep and grow fruit in the near future, on land in the Hudson Valley that my parents have tended for 30 years. I’m grateful that my involvement with local food issues has allowed me to grasp the perils and challenges of small-scale farming before going into it. As a result, I trust that I can approach this calling realistically, in addition to joyfully. Please continue to enjoy Vermont’s Local Banquet. And please keep practicing this dictum, which—despite its ubiquity—is still quite radical, still deeply impactful, and utterly (and increasingly) necessary in these times: Eat local. — Caroline Abels
On the cover: Ewe lamb; photo by Caroline Abels. Contents page: Sap buckets, Rockingham; photo by Meg Lucas.
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Publisher Schreiber & Lucas, LLC Editor Caroline Abels Art Director Meg Lucas Ad Director Barbi Schreiber Proofreader Marisa Crumb Contributors Darrell Bussino Joe Emenheiser Pamela Hunt Helen Labun Laura Olsen Mari Omland Suzanne Podhaizer Tatiana Schreiber Laura Sorkin Katie Sullivan Amy Wright Printed with soy ink on FSC certified 50% recycled chlorine–free paper Subscriptions, $22 Subscribe online or send checks to: Vermont’s Local Banquet PO Box 69 Saxtons River, VT 05154 localbanquet.com 802-869-1236 we welcome letters to the editor email@example.com
vermont’s LOCAL Banquet Mission Statement
The purpose of our publication is to promote and support our local communities. By focusing on fresh, local, wholesome foods grown and made in Vermont, we preserve our environment, grow our economy, and enhance our nutrition. Vermont’s Local Banquet (ISSN 1946–0295) is published quarterly. Subscriptions are $22 annually and are mailed in the spring, summer, fall, and winter. Please make checks payable to Vermont’s Local Banquet. Thank you. Copyright (c) 2017. All rights reserved. No part of this periodical may be reproduced without written consent. Opinions expressed in this publication are not necessarily those of the publishers or editors.
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Set the Table with…
by Helen Labun
However, even if we have ingredients at our fingertips, we don’t always use them. In fact, 2015 marked the first time that American consumers spent more on dining out than on groceries. And according to The Washington Post, only 65 to 72 percent of meals are eaten at home (a number that topped out at 95 percent in the 1960s). But this doesn’t mean that 65 percent of our home meals are home cooked—the number of meals eaten at home that are also prepared at home is dropping, on track to fall below 50 percent. Phrased more positively, we can say that consumers’ desire for food eaten at home, yet not prepared at home, is growing. Vermont farms are no strangers to trying to find a foothold in these types of changing dining patterns. For example, as the number of meals eaten away from home increased during the past two decades, we brought local ingredients to those outlets through the efforts of individual chefs and farmers and organizations such as Vermont Fresh Network and farm-to-school groups. Today, looking at the “not prepared at home” market, we know that freshly prepared foods from
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supermarkets and other stores are significant, worth about $25 billion, according to The Washington Post. But not all the prepared food heading home is “fresh.” And even if it were, that isn’t necessarily ideal for Vermonters—the range of fresh foods available to them from Vermont farms narrows considerably in the cold months. We need a way to manage the changing seasons. Enter the TV dinner, preserving the harvest in a way that’s been popular since food was frozen commercially. TV dinners were a mid-20th-century stalwart, and they still hold a significant place in the American diet. The Frozen Food Institute of America reports that in 2012 the sale of “frozen ready meals” reached $11.9 billion; add in frozen pizza (which, let’s be honest, some of us would consider a meal) and the total is $16.6 billion. By comparison, that same year sales through farmers’ markets, farm stands, pick-your-own ventures, and CSAs totaled only $1.3 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Nathaniel Brooks has since sold his VT Dinners business to Natalie Pelham of Brattleboro, but when he launched it in
photos by Natalie Pelham
“I unabashedly describe myself as a local food advocate,” wrote Marlboro College student Nathaniel Brooks in 2015, as he was launching his new business. “I see re-localizing our food system as a key lever for shifting our culture away from its current path toward one of greater interconnection, mindfulness, and sustainability.” And what better way to do that than through… TV dinners? Or as Nathaniel rewrote the phrase when his business began, “VT Dinners”—frozen meals made with local ingredients. True, a more traditional vision of local food enthusiasm might be the food-savvy Vermonter wandering out to her backyard garden to pick heirloom vegetables, going to the farm next door for eggs, then cooking a hearty meal at home. But it’s not so many steps from there to the grocery category known as “frozen ready meals.” Local food advocates have long pushed to diversify the ways we consume local ingredients, knowing that what works for one eater or farm doesn’t work for them all. Local ingredients today can arrive on the plate through myriad sources, from CSAs to supermarkets.
2015, he wasn’t trying to encourage people to pick up a serious TV dinner habit. His original business plan figured that just one frozen meal every other week would be plenty for people, and indeed it’s not unreasonable to assume that many people find themselves without the time to cook at least twice in a given month. Nathaniel also figured that frozen food wouldn’t have to mean mediocre food. Frozen just means… frozen. And isn’t that what a lot of gardeners, CSA subscribers, and others keeping pace with Vermont’s growing season already do? When faced with more produce than you can eat from your CSA, you make a soup, a sauce, or a casserole, and freeze it for later. “Bad frozen food—that’s an old story,” says Natalie. She took over the Brattleboro-based VT Dinners business in early 2016 when Nathaniel and his family moved to Boston. She says her process is similar to that of the backyard gardener preserving a bumper crop. “You harvest good food, then you put it in the freezer… Maybe we’re a little bit better at keeping the freezer burn off, but it’s basically the same thing.” Natalie is constantly testing new recipes. She incorporates ingredients delivered from local farms into meals customers will buy, usually something they wouldn’t make on their own, and often something that reflects particular dietary restrictions. For example, the Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai uses an under-utilized local ingredient (spaghetti squash) and provides a grain-free alternative to traditional noodles. (Grain-free lasagna is their most popular dish.) Natalie keeps comfort food on the menu, too, such as Mac & Cheese with Kale, and Shepherd’s Pie. These meals sell for about $7 each. As for their distribution model, VT Dinners began with centralized drop-off points for customers who ordered weekly online, similar to CSA deliveries. That proved an inconvenient way to distribute a convenience food, though. A small online component remains, but now Natalie delivers to stores along a circuit she calls a “modest Vermont circle” from Brattleboro to Montpelier to Middlebury. VT Dinners supports other local food businesses, too. In addition to buying farmers’ products and being flexible with what’s overflowing in their fields that week, Natalie manages a small commercial kitchen at the Winston Prouty Center in Brattleboro. There, other entrepreneurs can rent space and equipment when it isn’t being used for VT Dinners production. VT Dinners is building a closely connected network of small-scale farmers, familiar customers, and other small food businesses, even while playing with a format commonly associated with the opposite—big farms, faceless consumers, and distant corporations. Will the result be that when shoppers contemplate the frozen food aisle they will think of a garden’s bounty put up for winter? “Access to local food is our core, foundational mission,” Natalie says. “But I also think we’re changing, in a small way, people’s preconception of frozen food.” Helen Labun is exploring creative cuisine as the chef-owner of Hel’s Kitchen in Montpelier (helskitchenvt.com).
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Here Comes the Sun
As solar panels crop up on prime agricultural land, farmers and regulators respond.
Driving around Vermont, people are treated to all kinds of pastoral views. There are acres of cornfields, apple orchards with boughs bending under the weight of ripe fruit, and Holsteins looking as placid as the ones on a Ben & Jerry’s label. But while the photographs they make are charming, those tassle-topped corn plants might have been sprayed with Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, and it’s possible that manure from that picturesque Holstein herd could be leaching into Lake Champlain. In farming, as in the rest of life, “pretty” is not always synonymous with “ethical,”“well-managed,” or “thoughtful.” And on the flip side, sometimes the best-managed pieces of land—ones on which the owners are committed to feeding the soil, building community, and producing nutrient-dense products— don’t happen to look uniformly quaint or charming. On a stretch of Route 7 in New Haven, Anna and Ben Freund of Open View Farm make maple syrup and run a diversified livestock operation. On the 180 acres of land they lease, there’s also a 17-acre spread of a novel crop—solar panels. From an aesthetic perspective, the panels don’t match the bucolic vision of the Green Mountains to the east. But those who take a closer look might notice something surprising: beneath the silicon cells, which glisten in the light, is a herd of sheep.
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The animals, mainly Tunis-Dorset crosses, are being raised to sell as organic lamb. The wooly creatures graze the land beneath the panels, keeping the grasses and clovers from growing up around the installation. In addition, the array— owned by Cross Pollination, Inc., which also owns the farm— provides the sheep with much-needed shelter from the sun. It’s a modern, and increasingly common, symbiosis. As energy costs rise, along with concerns about climate change, more farms are turning to renewable sources to power their own operations. Some convert used cooking oil into biodiesel, some put up a wind turbine or two, and some tack solar panels onto the south-facing roof of an existing building. When there’s no appropriate building for solar panels—or if the farmer desires to make some extra cash by selling excess energy to the grid—the panels might be erected in fields that before were used for growing crops, pasturing animals, or making hay. If the farmers are leasing land—as in the case of Anna and Ben at Open View—they might need to adapt to a landowner’s wish to establish solar on the property. In some parts of the country, farmers are simply leasing out large swaths of land directly to solar companies, and making significantly more than they could growing food. In a 2016 article by Bloomberg’s Joe Ryan, entitled “Solar Power More Lucrative than Crops at Some US Farms,” the author talks of
Photo of Seth Gardner’s solar panels courtesy of UVM Extension.
by Suzanne Podhaizer
a grower in North Carolina who swapped out crops on 34 of his 530 acres and is earning more from that parcel than ever before. But putting solar panels on agricultural land can be controversial: after all, with a growing world population, and concerns about the cost of food for animals and humans alike, taking land out of agricultural production may seem like a no-no. And in Vermont, there is the chance that many of the bucolic landscapes beloved by tourists will be seen as “marred” by solar panels (just as there is concern that some of our mountain ranges are being aesthetically spoiled by wind turbines). Some find the trend very concerning. Lisa Kaiman, owner of Jersey Girls Dairy in Chester, is a big fan of solar—she has a newly installed array on her barn, which will soon provide all of the power her farm needs. But she is skeptical about planting the panels in fields. When people do this, she posits, they aren’t thinking ahead. Even pastures that aren’t prime agricultural land can be very valuable for farming, especially for the production of hay. Lisa notes that if land is taken out of pasture production in favor of solar, it could ultimately lead to feed shortages and force farmers to purchase fodder that is lower in quality or comes from further afield, to their detriment and that of their customers.
In November 2016, based on concerns about Vermont meadows being converted to seas of solar panels, the Vermont Public Service Board created some new rules for net metering—the process by which people are paid for putting electricity back into the grid. These rules, which went into effect on January 1 of this year, are intended to deter people from putting panels on ag land by favoring installations on rooftops, landfills, and gravel pits. Those who choose “previously disturbed sites” will receive extra money for their solar energy, while those who put medium-scale arrays on “non-preferred sites”—such as prime farmland, productive forests, or necessary wildlife habitats— will be financially penalized. The Board will not allow the building of larger arrays—those that generate between 150 and 500 kilowatts—on such “non-preferred sites.” These rules could prevent people from rushing into solar in order to make a quick buck at the expense of farming or the environment. For years, Green Mountain Power had awarded a premium to people who generated solar on their land and sold it to the grid, regardless of where the panels were sited. Now, unless the location meets the rules, that will no longer be the case. The new guidelines—and the lower power net metering payments that have resulted—may dampen people’s Continued on page 20 S p r i n g
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The Vermont Farmer Veteran Coalition by Laura Sorkin
When you speak with Jon Turner about his diversified farm in Bristol, he talks about the same things many other organic farmers do: the cohesion between species, the value of biodiversity, soil health. His earthy demeanor is nearly the opposite of what you might imagine when you picture a buttoned-up solider of the U.S. Army. But Jon was indeed a soldier, completing three tours, one in Haiti and two in Iraq, and he is the first to tell you that farming and being a solider have more in common than you might initially presume. With each, there is tough, physical work required every day, often in challenging conditions, and there is no handbook for coping with unexpected adverse situations that require on-the-spot problem solving. Yet in a key way, farming and military service differ—one is combative, the other nurturing—and for this reason, farming can offer a salve for returning vets who have more than just physical wounds. Jon was the first president of the Vermont chapter of the Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC), which was launched to provide a pathway for returning vets to enter the business of agriculture. Currently the Vermont FVC has 65 members, and Vermont was one of the first three states to begin an FVC chapter. The national organization was started in 2008 by Michael O’Gorman
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of California who, although not a vet himself, believed in the potential for agriculture to provide vets with both employment and healing. He knew that veterans had the skills necessary for farming, and he wanted to share his experience and knowledge. Michael began meeting with veterans’ groups and nonprofits to create an official organization. With the U.S. facing an aging farmer population and a wave of vets returning from the Middle East and looking for work, there was immediate interest on both the agricultural and government sides. In 2009, the USDA came on board as a partner, and a year later the FVC formed more partnerships with the American Farm Bureau, Farm Credit Council, and National Farmers Union. Today the FVC has chapters across the country and many more sponsors. According to their website, their veteran members now total 4,500. “Of these, 72 percent have post 9-11 service, 20 percent are ethnic minorities, 16 percent are women, and a staggering 59 percent have service-connected disabilities.” The organization doesn’t give money directly to its members but provides grants through third parties for equipment and training. Since 2011, it has facilitated the transfer of $1,000,000 in support, ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 per recipi-
photo of jon courtesy of jon turner; photo of Mark by laura sorkin
Army veteran Jon Turner
ent. Grant providers for 2016 included the Bob Woodruff Foundation, Newman’s Own Foundation, Prairie Grove Farms, Prudential Financial, and Kubota Tractor Corporation. The FVC has collected hundreds of stories of returning vets who have found a new life growing vegetables or commodity crops, or raising livestock. More important are the stories of the vets finding each other. Mark Bowen, the current president of the Vermont chapter of the FVC, says his original interest was to build a community of people with something in common. “In active duty, you see everyone every day,” Mark says. “When you leave the military and come home, you don’t. Then in a rural area, it is even more isolating.” Mark did a tour in Kuwait in 1997 and is still a captain in the Vermont Army National Guard. Although he grew up around agriculture in the Brattleboro area, he didn’t have much experience running a farm until he started as a hobbyist on his homestead in Putney with just a backyard flock of chickens. During the next few years he added lambs, pigs, turkeys, and cows. The family now runs a meat CSA and has even partnered up with friends who deliver fresh fish from Alaska. He heard about the FVC’s work nationally when his wife pointed out that a chapter was starting in Vermont. He looked up Jon Turner and immediately signed on as one of the first board members. “The support has been amazing,” he says. The organization has received funding and technical support from groups as diverse as the Vermont Department of Labor, the Vermont Farm Bureau, and Cabot Cheese. Last year the group received more than 3,000 packets of seeds from Vermont’s own High Mowing Seeds, and the Northeast Organic Farmers Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT) has started to become involved. The FVC also has a branding program called Homegrown by Heroes. The program is available to all members of the military who have moved into agriculture, and is intended to let consumers know that a product was grown or raised by a person who served their country. Mark wants to take the brand one step further and create a logo that reads, “Vermont Proud.” Throughout the years, Mark has called on other members of the VT-FVC for advice. He says it’s valuable to know there is a community of vets who share your passion and whom you can turn to. “Like, Jon may know of classes or funding that I didn’t know about,” he said. When I asked him if farming helped him with some of the more emotional issues returning vets have, he hesitated. “I didn’t think of it that way at first,” he says. “I don’t [have PTSD] personally but a lot of people do and I can sense the healing effects of farming.”
my wife and I to grow our own food and raise a family. I realize that [when I’m] in the field or in a bed cultivating the soil with my bare hands, a difficult day—emotionally or mentally—is almost instantly dissolved, and there is a greater sense of clarity in my mind.”
“I realize that [when I’m] in the field or in a bed cultivating the soil with my bare hands, a difficult day—emotionally or mentally—is almost instantly dissolved, and there is a greater sense of clarity in my mind.”—Jon Turner Jon now has his own place in Bristol and stepped down as president of the Vermont FVC this past year. But he still acts as a director and active member, running what he calls the Veteran Regeneration Project on his farm. He offers classes to both vets and caregivers, inviting them to use farming as a means of therapy to help with reintegration and mitigation of trigger moments. He, too, says the greatest value of the FVC is the sense of community and camaraderie he finds when he gathers with fellow vets. He understands their issues, speaks their Continued on page 20
Jon Turner is very forthright about suffering trauma from his military experience. In Iraq he sustained two traumatic brain injuries within 14 hours and received a Purple Heart from a mortar blast in 2006. Upon his return, he tried art as a means of therapy but it wasn’t until he and his wife started a small garden plot at his place in Burlington that he found true healing. “With all of the travels and stories and catharsis within art and poetry, there was still a large hole in my life,” he says. “Soil and plants seemed to fill that void quite tenderly and inspired
Vermont FVC president Mark Bowen S p r i n g
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Tying Traditions Together: The Marshfield School of Weaving
photos by katie sullivan
by Katie Sullivan
Down a dirt road on the Marshfield/Plainfield line sits an ordinary barn that houses the only school in the U.S. that teaches historical textile arts using antique technology: barn looms. The Marshfield School of Weaving’s humble facade belies the national and international fame of the school and the instructors who teach there. It is a nonprofit organization with a mission of maintaining and teaching the worldwide traditions of functional textile weaving. Recently, I sat in on a class that the school’s co-founder, Norman Kennedy, had stepped out of semi-retirement to teach. It was an intermediate class on French Canadian Amour de Maman weaving techniques. Norman was demonstrating how French Canadian settlers used a rudimentary two-harness setup (more harnesses allow more complex weaving patterns) to create interesting patterns in fine textiles that belied the simplicity of the mechanism behind their creation. As I walked into the building, the familiar smell of wood and lanolin wafted over me, and inside the converted barn that houses the school, I picked up on an atmosphere of warm and reverent learning. Upstairs, students labored on large, rustic barn looms making traditional French Canadian textiles. Downstairs, a former antiques restorer from Christie’s in London, Alan Dunning, was laboring at replacement flyers for antique wheels. The barn was filled with wool, yarn, and finished textiles to touch and experience. The school began in 1974 when a wealthy patron enabled Norman Kennedy to establish the Marshfield School of Weaving on a property with a long history of textiles. Born in Scotland in 1933, Norman grew up during years of war-related food and materials rationing. He recalls going out to the fields to pick wool off the fenceposts and tree trunks where sheep had rubbed, in order to gather enough surplus to make another small garment. When he expressed interest in learning to weave, his parents were concerned that he would miss out on more “modern” opportunities. But Norman traveled to the Western Isles in the far northwest of Scotland, leaving home to live among people who manufactured cloth on a subsistence level. For them, expert craftsmanship wasn’t a personal quest (as it can be in a time of ready availability of cheap textiles); developing craft expertise meant simple survival. Fast forward to 1966, when Norman was invited to represent Scotland as a singer at the Newport Folk Festival. Opportunities to sing and to weave in the U.S. kept presenting themselves. He traveled the country, meeting rural folks who lived as
he once did, weaving for subsistence in rural areas and selling quilts and blankets on the side of the road. When I interviewed him, he spoke of these people with the deep respect of someone who neither dismissed nor lionized them, but who understood their position from his own experiences. From them, he gathered historical skills and craft knowledge just as the embers of many textile traditions were gradually dying. And in 1974, he was invited up to Marshfield to develop a school of weaving on a historic farm where fiber animals and plants such as flax had been raised for two centuries. It felt like home to Norman. Interest in historical skills was strong in the wake of the back-to-the-land movement, and during those years Norman taught many students, some of whom went on to become teachers at Marshfield and at other schools and museums. The original school closed in 1992, after which time Norman worked as the lead weaver at Colonial Williamsburg, teaching visitors about historical textiles. It reopened in 2007, under the leadership of Kate Smith. A former student of Norman’s, she had developed her own business weaving reproduction textiles based on her well-developed expertise. Today, the school offers weekend-long retreats focusing on weaving and weaving-adjacent fiber skills such as fiber preparation and dyeing. Beginner classes are offered routinely, and classes cost $700 for beginners and $600 for returning students, with scholarships available. In addition to the Amour de Maman class, the school offers instruction in linen weaving, tartan making, various methods of traditional dyeing, wool processing, understanding written traditional weaving directions, and more. During the Armour de Maman class, I saw that the technique uses basic looms with simple set-ups that could have been built by settlers using the most basic materials. Nevertheless, by creating raised areas in the textiles, settlers could create texture and visual interest for their daily clothing. Each student in the class focused intensely on their own loom, treadling petals up and down while passing the flier back and forth. Instructors visited each student, checking progress and assisting with the next steps in the process. We paused for lunch, and a conversation ensued among teachers and students about the relationship between the Marshfield School of Weaving and sheep raising in Vermont. Continued on page 21 S p r i n g
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The Perception of Industrial Agriculture Until recently, I was a member of the UVM Extension faculty, helping to develop Vermont’s emerging livestock industries as the state livestock specialist. Over the course of not quite three years in this position, I was fortunate to meet many great people and do some fascinating work. The connectedness and engagement that I had sensed would be found within Vermont’s agricultural community were very real. The opportunities for Vermont agriculture—especially to grow excellent forage and to capitalize on the Vermont image in marketing—were tremendous, as well. However, I became increasingly frustrated with some cultural dynamics that I had not fully anticipated. My job was to help livestock producers improve their production efficiency and product quality, with the goal of building diversified livestock industries here. What I frequently encountered, however, was a belief (which surprised and alarmed me) that quality was mostly defined by production methods and farmers’ stories, not by objective attributes of the products themselves. In other words, inefficient production methods were often accepted, or even promoted, because they made a farm’s story more attractive to consumers. I encountered advocates of Vermont agriculture who seemed to feel that it was better to play to consumers’ fears (and often misconceptions) of industrial agriculture than to build sustainable industries by improving production efficiency.
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Of course, both marketing and production efficiency are important. It was challenging to encounter people who believed that the two are mutually exclusive, that Vermont’s success relies on its distancing itself from anything perceived as “industrial.” In fact, I believe that Vermont can indeed create more efficient—and thus more economically viable and environmentally friendly—farms while still adhering to Vermont values and the Vermont identity. The farm I grew up on in Pennsylvania was not profitable. Also, to keep it operational required massive amounts of time—time that became decreasingly available as my siblings and I became involved in sports, Boy Scouts, 4-H, music lessons, and a whole raft of other good things. The economic and time constraints drove my father from teaching to administration, and drove us to purchase more of our food, rather than raise it ourselves. Our productive working farm became a lifestyle farm. I continue to be thankful for the opportunity to have had that lifestyle. My brothers and I learned the need for hard work, the rewards of that work, and how to handle disappointment when the weather, or other forces that always seemed to be up against agricultural pursuits, didn’t go our way. It felt healthy and wholesome. But I’m also thankful to have realized the limitations of our farm. It was not sustainable. As I grew older and spent time working on other farms, I came to realize that, to some extent, the farm I grew up on was an unnecessary strug-
by Joe Emenheiser
technology, genetics, and price points to adjust accordingly. If an agricultural practice is truly unsustainable, it will eventually cease. It’s good to encourage folks who offer proactive solu-
“I think sustainable agriculture is a system in which many different values and methods can respond and adapt to inevitable changes in economic, environmental, and social dynamics.” tions, and to be sensitive to those whose lives may be uprooted by change in the meantime. As a scientist, I find it easy to see science as the purest form of truth. It took me a long time to realize that just because a solution is scientifically sound doesn’t necessarily mean it will gain any traction. Emotions, and particularly fear, are always going to motivate people. We fear most what we don’t understand, and when 98 percent of our population is not involved in agriculture, fears are inevitable. I hope that Vermonters can be open-minded and reflect on all the different kinds of agriculture out there before making judgments. I believe that doing so could allow us to embrace new ways of farming in Vermont that could ultimately benefit farmers, animals, consumers, and the land. Joe Emenheiser is now the animal husbandry and farm operations manager for an international biomedical company. He resides in Benson.
photo by Caroline Abels
gle; there was a resistance to adapting. Familiarity and nostalgia were certainly not without value, but they didn’t pay the bills. I do not see sustainable agriculture as one set of values or one way of producing a product. A sustainable system is one that stays viable by offering choices: lifestyle and income choices for the farmer, and product and price choices for the consumer. It saddens me that there are consumers, marketers, and even large institutions who equate “sustainable” with ”small” or “old-fashioned.” I think sustainable agriculture is a system in which many different values and methods can respond and adapt to inevitable changes in economic, environmental, and social dynamics. I’ve had the benefit of getting to know and befriend many people in agriculture, including what is often called “industrial agriculture.” Unlike we’re often led to believe, the vast majority of them are real, salt-of-the-earth folks, who hold the same values and passion for their work as I did growing up on that little, non-sustainable farm of my youth. They are trying hard to make it, doing what they love. It’s easy to focus on the corporations and forget about the people. But industrial agriculture is made up of real people, too—people who don’t deserve to be demonized. I also think it’s important to realize that most industrial agricultural practices began as innovations made by problem solvers. Sow gestation crates may no longer be considered humane, but at the time they were introduced, they were intended to counter the negative effects that sow fights had on animal welfare and producers’ bottom lines. Values and understanding about them changed, but it took time for politics,
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The Meaning of Organic Should hydroponic agriculture be allowed in organic certification? by Pamela Hunt The produce section of any grocery story offers an array of choices, from mass-produced potatoes to locally grown greens, and many items sport labels indicating the conditions under which those foods were grown. Some labels, such as “humanely raised” or even “local,” don’t have to adhere to defined standards, but one label—“certified organic”—is supposed to. Federal regulations govern what organic means and what a producer must do to earn organic certification. However, not everyone agrees that the certified organic label should be found on fruits and vegetables grown in soil-less hydroponic systems. In 2010, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), which makes recommendations to the National Organic Program (NOP), advised that hydroponically raised produce should not be certified organic. But because the NOP, which adminsters the organic standards, hasn’t acted on this recommendation, some certifying agencies around the country have gone ahead and allowed hydroponic growers to use the organic label. At the request of soil-based organic farmers, the NOSB took up the issue again last year, and some Vermonters have become deeply involved in the debate. Although many variations of hydroponic agriculture exist, all involve growing crops in a soil-less environment, with nutrition delivered through water on a substrate of coconut coir, rockwool, or perlite. Proponents of hydroponics—and its cousin method, aquaponics, which throws fish into the mix—tout its efficient use of water, a major benefit in many places in the world. Pests are minimal, and producers don’t have to deal with weeds. Plus, these systems can be installed where traditional agriculture is not possible or economically feasible, such as on the roofs of city buildings, in deserts, and on rocky, infertile soil. Many people select organic produce because it’s produced without dangerous chemicals. But according to Nicole Dehne, certification director at the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT), “It’s a much broader scope than just the absence of chemicals. The national standards require that producers maintain or improve soil fertility and increase and maintain biodiversity on their farms.” Although she said NOFA-VT sees a place in agriculture for hydroponic growing, it doesn’t support organic certification for soil-less growers, even those who don’t use chemicals. These growers shouldn’t earn the organic label because “they’re missing the whole-farm picture. The organic label is not the right fit for them.”
Seedlings at Green Mountain Harvest Hydroponics
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NOFA-VT isn’t alone in its opposition to hydroponically grown foods earning organic certification. To drum up support and raise awareness of this debate, David Chapman of Long Wind Farm in Thetford and David Miskell of Miskell’s Premier Organics in Charlotte created the Keep the Soil in Organic petition, which they delivered to the NOSB. Chapman was also a member of the task force created in September 2015 to study organic labeling of hydroponics and to offer a report to the NOSB. The task force report, submitted in July of last year, recommended that organic certification be reserved for produce grown in the ground, a practice that aligns with the common standard for organic certification in Europe. On a misty day in late October of last year, a little more than a week before the NOSB was to discuss the task force’s recommendations, Chapman, Miskell, and
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photos by pamela hunt
A Petition to Keep the Soil in Organic
other farmers, along with politicians and nonprofits, held the “Rally in the Valley” to unify farmers and eaters in support of the petition to keep hydroponics out of organic certification. Marchers and a group of 26 tractors paraded the half-mile from Chapman’s farm to Cedar Circle Farm, where a crowd of supporters awaited. Politicians joined local farmers at the podium and implored the crowd to join the fight to maintain the integrity of the organic label. Many of these people, from Senator Patrick Leahy, who helped craft the original organic farm bill, to Eliot Coleman of Maine, considered one of the “elder statesmen” of organic farming, to Jake Guest, of Killdeer Farm in nearby Norwich, have spent years if not decades defining what organic means. And the most important part of an organic system, according to these speakers, is the soil. Some voices were hopeful. “The hydroponic industry underestimates the strength of organic farmers,” said Coleman. “We refuse to let organic lose to profiteers.” Others expressed concern over what they feel is the potential weakening of the organic label. “We’ve got to speak up,” said Chapman, “or we’re going to lose organic.” Will Allen, owner of Cedar Circle Farm, explained, “I’m not against hydroponics, but I am against freeloading, and that’s what this is. They’re taking advantage and using a label that wasn’t earned.”
Not All Soil-Less Growers Seek Certification But not all hydroponic growers are seeking organic certification. Green Mountain Harvest Hydroponics in Waitsfield grows a variety of greens, from watercress to salad mixes to baby kale. The owners of this three-year-old hydroponic farm, David Hartshorn and brothers John and Ted Farr, are doubling the size of their quarter-acre greenhouse and working to become more energy efficient through solar power, LED lighting targeted precisely where it’s needed, and a wood-fired furnace that uses scraps from the Farr family’s tree business. As a soil-based organic farmer himself, as well as a hydroponic one, Hartshorn understands the philosophy behind the organic label. But for him, the benefits of hydroponics negate the need for certification. Nutrients and water cycle throughout the system in an almost perfect efficiency. “A wheelbarrow of rock fertilizer lasts six months and doesn’t get washed away every time it rains,” he says. His yield per acre is greater than from his organic farm. And because the plants are protected from the climate, he can grow and employ workers year-round, which in turn helps his community. Farther north, in Bakersfield, Shawn Robinson of Finn & Roots aquaponics farm echoes Hartshorn’s commitment to environmentally friendly and energy-efficient agriculture. In describing the solar-powered “Eco-Ark” that houses Finn & Roots’s plants and tilapia, Robinson emphasizes that for him, the most important aspect of being sustainable is efficiency. “Growing more food on a smaller footprint means that the amount of food grown per BTU of heat and lumen of light can be greater with hydroponics and aquaponics,” he says. “Basically, this type of growing is like a car getting more miles per gallon, which soil farmers may view as an unfair advantage.” But as for organic certification, Robinson says it’s not something he and his wife and business partner, Elizabeth, want. “We would rather people learn about how we grow and make an informed food and health decision,” he says. However, these two soil-less Vermont farms aren’t typical of the mammoth industrial operations that the Keep the Soil in Organic petition opposes. Whereas both Green Mountain Harvest Hydroponics and Finn & Roots offer products that are clearly labeled as hydroponically and aquaponically grown, that’s not always the case. “Most of the organic tomatoes in the supermarket are hydroponic. They don’t have to label it in any way, so you can’t tell if it’s hydroponic or not. The people in the store don’t know. It’s a secret.” Continued on page 23
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Lieutenant governor and organic farmer Dave Zuckerman at the Rally in the Valley 2 0 1 7
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seeds for change
Urine as Fertilizer?
Collecting Urine—and Attitudes—at Rich Earth Institute At the Rich Earth Institute in Brattleboro, staff, board members, and the many local “peecyclers” who contribute to the group’s Urine Nutrient Reclamation Project (UNRP) pepper their conversations with pee-related humor and hold an annual “Piss-off” contest for who can donate the most urine. Beneath the levity, though, the profound need for society to conserve water, protect land from nutrient run-off, and close a broken ecological cycle powers the organization’s efforts to divert urine from the waste stream and make it available as a high-nitrogen fertilizer. Although human waste was used as fertilizer for many centuries in many parts of the world—and still is in some regions, such as northern Europe—modern sanitation systems have separated us from this potentially powerful resource and reinforced cultural taboos that suggest urine is “dirty.” Rich Earth aims to re-value urine, which has an N-P-K ratio of about 9:1:2.5—with some variation depending on people’s diets— as well as smaller amounts of calcium, magnesium, sulfur, and micronutrients. The widespread use of urine as fertilizer will require changing regulations that currently do not adequately address this possibility. (Rich Earth has secured a permit for a mobile urine pasteurizing unit, through the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources’ Watershed Management Division, which enables its ongoing research in the field.) As a member of Rich Earth’s board of directors over the past three years, I helped the organization document the experience of its urine donors, using surveys, interviews, and informal conversations at potluck dinners to better understand the social and cultural issues associated with the nutrient reclamation project. Perhaps the most significant idea that emerged was that while people may have been a bit uncomfortable at first, their attitudes did evolve. The 150 or so people who have volunteered to collect urine at home and bring it to a central depot are clearly “early adopters” of the idea of recycling urine, but their experience suggests that attitudes among oth-
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ers can shift, as well. Over time the Rich Earth peecylers (as they call themselves) became more comfortable collecting urine, more active in water conservation, more willing and able to talk about what they were doing with friends and neighbors, and excited about what they were learning from Rich Earth’s research results. When asked in a written survey why they were participating, a typical response was to “reduce [the] waste stream, reduce fertilizer run-off and pollution, save water, [and] reduce fossil fuel use.” People often saw their participation as important because they believed it would help lead to improved water quality and soil health. Some also mentioned wanting to learn how to fertilize their gardens using a locally available resource. People were often energized about what they had discovered through the project: “I am so impressed by this simple process that turns a waste product into something so useful, saves water, and avoids chemical fertilizers in our soil. Amazing! I love the environmental education that happens when curious visitors ask about that weird jug in our bathroom. It has started some good conversations!” Of course no “weird jugs” would be needed if simple urine-diverting toilet technology became more widespread, something the Rich Earth Institute strongly advocates. When asked what they liked most about participating, one person wrote: “It is a relief to be doing something with immediate positive environmental impact.” Another said, “We will always have a lot of urine everywhere. Using it in the growing process for food production seems logical and closes the cycle. It will no longer be ‘waste.’” Contributing to what they see as important research, and following the progress of that research, has encouraged many of the participants to stay involved since Rich Earth’s founding in 2012 by Abe Noe-Hayes of Putney and Kim Nace of Brattleboro. Grants from the USDA, the EPA, the Water, Environment and ReUse Foundation, and most recently,
photo courtesy of Rich Earth Institute
by Tatiana Schreiber
four years of funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) have enabled Rich Earth to collaborate with the University of Michigan, the University of Buffalo, and other institutions to investigate numerous topics: crop yields; appropriate dilution levels; and the fate of any pharmaceuticals, bacteria, and viruses that may be present in the urine (that is, whether and how they move through soils and into plant tissues). In experiments so far, yields of urine-fertilized hay have been comparable to chemical fertilizers. The final results from the pharmaceutical studies have not yet been published, but the data indicate that while trace levels of pharmaceuticals could be detected in vegetable tissue, the levels were very low. As Abe Noe-Hayes puts it, “a person would have to eat a salad from the study plot every day for 2000 years to get a single dose of acetaminophen (Tylenol).” The NSF funding includes further research on: what happens to pharmaceuticals, hormones, and other possible contaminants in the urine; processing and treatment methods to reduce any health or environmental risks; and a significant “social research” component that takes off from what has been learned so far. I’ve now stepped down from the Rich Earth board to work as a research associate on this social research component, helping to discover the attitudes and beliefs that affect whether and how we can make the transition from flushing away our urine to seeing its value as “liquid gold,” as advocates call this nutrient-rich material. With university partners, we will be exploring these questions here in New England and in several other regions around the country during the next four years. Making this transition depends, in part, on farmers’ interest in using urine or a urine-derived fertilizer, as well as developing appropriate regulations.
Farmers weigh in With regard to farmer interest, two small surveys that Rich Earth conducted among New England farmers show that the great majority of the 61 responses were positive, though cautious. Examples of positive responses included: “I think it is a great way to start closing the nutrient cycle—counting humans as part of the whole environmental web,” and “[This] could be a silver bullet; cost effective, renewable, recycling…” and “I think that basically urine is urine and it does the job” and “It’s about time we started using this valuable nutrient in the field instead of… flushing it down the toilet.” However, a few people had initially negative responses, such as “skepticism, worry about toxins.” One organic farmer wrote: “This is a very bad idea. Organic production using composted animal inputs is all we need in order to maintain fertility. Human waste contains too many variables to be attractive to the organic producer. Can you guarantee that the humans generating the urine have only ingested organic food? I can guarantee that with the animals on my farm and that of some of my certified organic neighbors.” This suggests an important area for research: Are farmers who currently practice organic or “regenerative” methods more or less open to the possibility of using urine than conventional farmers? There may also be variation in farmer concerns about whether or how the trace levels of pharmaceuticals in the urine affect soil microorganisms.
Some of those surveyed were concerned about how the use of urine would affect their organic certification. Currently there isn’t a clear answer to this question. Organic standards prohibit the use of sewage sludge, but urine that has been collected prior to going to a treatment facility is not “sewage.” This issue has not yet been presented to the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) and will need to be addressed in the future. Not surprisingly, many farmers wondered how their customers would respond to the use of urine-derived fertilizers on their crops. The new research will seek to find out what information farmers believe would help customers feel more comfortable with this practice. Urine-based fertilizer could be used on food crops, forage crops, or non-edible crops such as flowers. In the initial surveys, most farmers said they would consider using urine on hay, but fewer were ready to say “yes” to its use on edible crops. The research will differentiate among different edi-
“I am so impressed by this simple process that turns a waste product into something so useful, saves water, and avoids chemical fertilizers in our soil. Amazing!” —Rich Earth Institute research volunteer ble crops: Might farmers be more open to using these fertilizers on perennials such as fruit and nut trees, rather than on annual crops? One farmer in the earlier surveys, for example, felt that “dry beans, barley, popcorn, winter squash, and other storage crops…would be ideal for this application.” The new social research will include in-depth interviews and small group conversations with farmers, agricultural educators, the “general public” (that is, people who eat and people who pee), planners, environmental officials, wastewater treatment professionals, and others. The research agenda also includes evaluation of tools and techniques for communicating about this issue: For example, is “peecycling” a useful construct, or is this language off-putting to some? Although not currently part of the funded research, it would also be useful to gain a clearer understanding of how the nutrients in urine move in soil, how they may behave differently under different growing conditions, and how urine or urine-derived fertilizers interact with soil biota. Learning more about these questions may help clarify how urine can most effectively be applied to keep nutrients out of waterways and on the land where plants can use them. The Rich Earth Institute is eager to hear from potential collaborators who may want to work on these topics. For more information about Rich Earth Institute, see richearthinstitute.org. Tatiana Schreiber is an independent academic and journalist, and operates Sowing Peace Farm in Westminster West, selling seedlings of heirloom and unusual eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, and medicinal plants. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Iishana Artra contributed research for this article.
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SOIL HEALS Continued from page 11
SOLAR Continued from page 9
language, and offers farming as a lifeline that can help others the way it did him. Staff Sergeant Zach Morris, who started a farm in Indiana, puts it beautifully in a video posted on the FVC website. “I have not found anything remotely close to what farming provides as almost like a reset button for the human soul. What a lot of vets are finding is that a cubicle job is not bringing fulfillment to them.” Surrounded by young lambs and rolling green pastures, he says, “I didn’t know what peace was for a while. This is what I needed to heal.” Mark Bowen intends to continue reaching out to more veterans and even hopes to offer internships on his own farm. He is in the process of finishing his home, and the plans include an apartment above the garage where people can stay and get on-farm experience. It speaks to the brotherhood (and sisterhood) of the military experience that in his plans for his own future he is including a means to help his fellow vets. Plans for the spring are a little up in the air, however, since there have been rumors of the redeployment of his unit. Regardless of what he experiences in uniform overseas, when Mark returns, he has a farm to come home to, and a greater community of farmer-vets who will have his back.
enthusiasm enough for them to make prudent decisions for the future of their farmland. However, for those with suitable sites to work with, there’s a hot-off-the-press resource. The “Guide to Farming-Friendly Solar,” written by Kimberly Hagen of UVM Extension’s Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Alex DePillis of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, and Chris Sargent of Two Rivers Ottoqueechee Regional Planning Commission, was created to provide farmers with a range of information as they consider adding solar panels to their buildings or land. In the six-page document, the authors address the cost savings that ag operations can garner by generating their own power through a variety of methods, or by installing energy-saving equipment. (This may be particularly crucial for dairy farms, which have a substantial need for electricity to power coolers, milking machines, barn ventilators, and more.) The report also examines some of the ways in which Vermont farmers have added solar power to their operations without making deep cuts in their graze-able land. At McKnight Farm in East Montpelier, for instance, Seth Gardner has to maintain a buffer zone between his organic fields and his neighbor’s conventional ones, in order to safeguard the integrity of his organic crop. By putting solar panels in that buffer, which is fortunately located near power lines, he was able to convert unused land into something beneficial. Things are a little different at Maple Ridge Meats in Benson, where Greg Hathaway converted his family’s old dairy businesses into a beef operation. During calving season, he has pregnant cows graze around the panels and keeps yearlings there, too. He receives a monthly fee from the solar company. For farmers, who historically struggle to make a living, any occasion to add value to their land, especially when there’s an opportunity for dual use—such as having pigs romp around in fruit orchards snacking on the drops or stationing mushroom logs near an irrigation pond—can be compelling. The upshot of the solar panel report is that, while all of the farmers interviewed approached solar with a great deal of circumspection, all of them found ways to fold the panels into their farming operations. The pamphlet’s overall tone is cautiously optimistic, but encourages eager farmers to consider the land first. As report author Kimberly Hagen notes, “It takes a lot of consideration and thought when good farmland is concerned, and that all options [that don’t involve the use of ] prime farmland are thoroughly considered.” The “Guide to Farming-Friendly Solar” can be found on the UVM Extension website.
Laura Sorkin is a writer, farmer, and co-owner of Runamok Maple in Cambridge.
Suzanne Podhaizer is a cooking coach, food writer, chef, and dancer living in Burlington. She owns Farm-to-Table Consulting, a business that aims to help farmers sell more food by teaching people what to do with it once they bring it home.
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WEAVING Continued from page 13 Over rustic soup, I spoke with Kate, Norman, and instructor Melissa Dunning about the wool supplied at the school. Kate feels very strongly that the purpose of the school is the preservation of the craft of practical weaving, and that purchasing and using local wool is a large part of that mission. She buys much of the wool needed at the school from Broadview Farm just down the road and has it spun to her specifications. As I am a shepherd myself, I’m always curious to discuss the properties of wools with anyone. For the purposes of reproduction textile weaving, Kate looks for Border Leicester, Romney, or a cross of the two for the best textile yarn. (Border Leicester and Romney are strong wools, but not rough or harsh.) Norman Kennedy chimed in to say that Vermont shepherds need to do a better job of keeping their wool clean. He has been gifted or sold a great deal of Vermont wool that he found unusable due to dirt and hay contamination issues. We also talked about how breeds popular in Vermont right now are not the correct breeds for the fabrics. When wool subsidies to small U.S. producers ended during the Clinton administration, sheepraisers with breeds producing mid-range and coarse-grade wool soon found that the cost of shearing was greater than the price they could attain for the wool they had. Hair sheep breeds like Katahdin and Dorper gained rapid popularity among shepherds who focus on meat, not wool. Vermont shepherds gradually moved away from traditional breeds to either embrace hair sheep or to raise a breed whose wool would be desirable when directly marketed. Consumer demand for softer wool, colored wool, and unusual breeds factored into the rise of Shetland, Icelandic, Finn, and Jacob sheep, breeds that are colorful, versatile, and variable in color and texture. Meanwhile, breeds that had been perfect for traditional textile weaving, such as Cheviots, Border Leicesters, and Romneys, lost some prominence. Although Kate appreciates the now-more-prevalent Icelandic and Shetland wool for its traditional textile purposes, she notes that Icelandic wool is not appropriate for reproduction textiles or for substitution in traditional techniques. She also notes that absent a diet heavy in seaweed and wild heather, North American Shetlands don’t always produce wool that’s as soft as that of their British Isles counterparts.
Nevertheless, new sources of wool are always emerging in Vermont, and the school’s needs are met primarily by Vermont flocks. Although the textile styles employed at the school hail from around the world, the use of local wool roots the school in a sense of place. The weavers view their craft as an expression of their closeness to the land and focus on functional fabrics with attractive design rather than strictly decorative items. From the sustainability of the wool, we moved to a discussion about the sustainability of the craft. The group of students I was with readily admitted to being of the grayer generation, but they noted that a solid one-third of the school’s students are in their 20s and 30s. Cost of attendance was noted as a barrier, and finding the time to weave is a challenge for people with small children or nascent careers. Nevertheless, the baby boomers in the group spoke admiringly about millennials’ appreciation for the work of weaving and their willingness to embrace crafts. One student said she thinks more young people want to understand and connect with the processes used to make their possessions. With admiration, all of the students and teachers agreed that millennials forged in the turmoil of the Great Recession had both respect for the craft and a practical orientation that they believed would sustain weaving into the future. The school is not a place for sighing after dying arts! After our lunch chat, the class regrouped to listen to Norman Kennedy recount his travels in Louisiana, where he gathered folk knowledge from Cajun families. As he talked about the struggles of Louisiana’s poor, he was actively combing and carding cotton. Most people carding cotton need to use their full concentration, and even then they experience frustration. Each skillful brush of his cards oriented the short, delicate cotton fibers into perfect rolags ready for spinning. I thought about a remark from earlier in the day: that the craft, skill, and traditions of weaving have transcended human lifetimes. It was a privilege to bear witness to this transcendence, firsthand. Katie Sullivan raises Bluefaced Leicester and Cormo-cross sheep in Williston with her partner, Matt. She loves the whole process of turning grass into sheep and sheep into meat and wool.
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ORGANIC Continued from page 17 Muddying the waters a bit is that some of the large growers, such as Driscoll’s, now describe their farming methods as “container growing,” not hydroponics. In 2010, the NOSB recommended that organic production should take place in soil, but that recommendation was unclear to many people. “I talked to people on the board who said they meant that it should be grown in the ground,” he says, “and I’ve talked to others who said, no, we meant that containers should be permitted if they’re based on a fertile soil,” even if that soil is coco coir or peat moss. Chapman sees the popularity of the organic label among consumers as part of the reason why many hydroponic growers want to become certified organic. “There’s now a market,” he says, “and as a result, there’s money to be made. And the big guys look at that and think, how can we possibly make it so we can call ourselves organic?”
Why Soil? What makes soil so important to the organic movement? That’s a question Chapman asks himself frequently. He says a healthy, fertile plot of land supports crops that contain complete nutrition that he doesn’t believe hydroponics can replicate. “They can make big tomatoes and peppers, but I don’t believe they can get all the nutrients that should be in our food in the correct balance, down to the very tiny parts per million. I don’t think anybody has the wisdom to get that right, whereas the mycorrhizal fungi and bacteria in the soil do get that right because that’s how it evolved over a long period of time.” Growing food organically can also help restore the ability of soil to sequester carbon. According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, regenerative agricultural practices, such as organic farming, can help to reduce atmospheric CO2 while increasing soil productivity and resilience to flooding and drought. Chapman believes that when hydroponic growers tout their products as a solution to desertification of arid farmland, they are addressing a symptom, not solving the root problem. “The real recycling of water is what happens in fertile soil with plants growing on it,” he says. At the November NOSB meeting, the task force’s report, which recommended against organic certification for hydroponic growers, was on the agenda, but the board ran out of time to discuss it. It sent the issue to the Crop Subcommittee and tasked that group with writing a proposal to be voted on at the April 2017 NOSB meeting. “It’s unheard of for a proposal from a subcommittee to be voted down,” says Chapman, “but this is a different issue because there is so much money involved. Organic agriculture is at a fork in the road. This is a time when things are going to go one way or the other in organic farming, in terms of what we call organic.”
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Pamela Hunt lives in South Burlington with her husband and two dogs and writes about travel, food, and general Vermont goings-on. Follow her at pamelahunt.com.
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Springfield • Brattleboro • Bellows Falls • Townshend • Putney
Singular Syrup by Amy Wright and Darrell Bussino Vermont Birch Syrup
A few years ago, our friend Bucky came home from a visit to his daughter in Alaska with a bottle of Alaskan birch syrup. For a few months we talked about how we could combine our large stand of birch trees with his 30-plus years making maple syrup. We began to consider producing birch syrup in Vermont. In 2014 we did an experiment, tapping 400 trees. We had no idea how the sap would run, or how much sap to expect. There aren’t many birch syrup producers on the East Coast and no standard for making birch syrup. Plus, the ratio of birch sap to syrup is three times greater than that of maple (120 gallons of sap to 1 gallon of syrup). The first time we boiled, we watched as the clear, sweet sap gradually turned darker shades of red, but we ran out of sap before we could draw off (after an eight-hour boil!). The next night we drew off our first batch of syrup. We made about 10 gallons that year and considered the season to have been a success, as we quickly sold all of the syrup. We now tap around 1,100 trees, and sell our syrup at farmers’ markets, co-ops, and general stores around Vermont, as well as online. Our syrup has also been featured on menus in Vermont and Boston. You may have heard that birch syrup is bitter or sour, or tastes like medicine, but we haven’t found that to be true. Birch syrup has a more complex flavor than maple syrup and tastes a bit like molasses, with undertones of raspberry and caramel. We sample our syrup at farmers’ markets around Vermont and most people are pleasantly surprised by the flavor, even those who are hesitant to taste it. We often hear, “It tastes a little like molasses, and something else…” And that something else can be different for each person.
Darrell Bussino, Amy Wright, Bucky Shelton We find birch syrup to be more of a cooking syrup than a pancake syrup (although some do like it on their pancakes), and a little goes a long way. We drizzle it on roasted vegetables, particularly Brussels sprouts, asparagus, and carrots, and we have used it as a glaze on salmon and meats. Our daughter adds it to seltzer water to make a drink that tastes like cream soda. It’s also great drizzled over cheese on a cheese plate or over ice cream. We are always experimenting, and we love to hear ways that our customers are using our birch syrup. Let us know! Vermont Birch Syrup Company is located in Glover and owned by Bucky Shelton, Darrell Bussino, and Amy Wright. Syrup is sold at the Hunger Mountain Co-op in Montpelier; Currier’s General Store in Glover; Newport Natural Market & Café and Pick and Shovel, both in Newport; Littleton Food Co-Op in New Hampshire; and at farmers’ markets around Vermont. Find us online at vermontbirchsyrupcompany.com and on Facebook, where we post our summer market schedule.
Birch Glazed Carrots Here’s a favorite recipe that’s in our brochure. Credit goes to Jeff at Klondike Kate’s restaurant in the Yukon. 3 large carrots 1⁄4 cup low-sodium or homemade chicken stock, or rich vegetable stock 1 tsp. butter 1 Tbsp. birch syrup 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley (Italian flat-leaf preferred) pinch salt pinch pepper
Slice carrots to desired thickness. Place in a saucepan, add stock and butter, and cook until liquid is absorbed. Drizzle the syrup on the carrots as they’re nearly finished cooking. Simmer for a minute or so until the syrup caramelizes a little. Remove from heat, add parsley and the pinches of salt and pepper, and serve.
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Putney Farmers’ Market “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” ~ George Orwell, 1984 The Book Nook — proudly feeding the mind since 2006.
136 Main Street, Ludlow VT 05149 • 802–228–3238 email@example.com • thebooknookvt.com
Sundays 11 am–2 pm May 28–October 8 accepts debit, Credit,EBT, crop cash
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Lunch and Dinner Menu - Homemade Desserts - Kid’s Menu Vermont Microbrews - Rick’s Famous Pizza
Live Music on Saturdays www.rickstavernvt.com Route 30, Newfane, VT 802–365–4310 Closed Tuesday
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(802) 463-9404 Open 7 days a week Full Service Independent Bookstore
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335 River Street Springfield, VT 802 885 3363 springfieldfood.coop • open 7 days
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Full service locall Free Falls, Vermont 32 The Square, Bellows
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Wild leeks or ramps (Allium tricoccum)
Saturday, March 11
Art of Growing Food 9:30–11am A true kitchen garden opens your senses both in the garden and in the kitchen; in this presentation, you will learn six steps to successful kitchen garden design, based on classic design techniques that anyone can follow, transforming an ordinary vegetable garden into an extraordinary Europeanstyle potager. Presenter: Ellen Ecker Ogden. Cost: $15. Gardener’s Supply, 128 Intervale Road, Burlington. gardeners.com/vermont-gardening-workshops-and-seminars
Saturday, March 11
Heirloom Kitchen 11:30am–1pm Picture a kitchen garden that embraces flavor, fragrance, and beauty. It takes you on a path to the past, showing you exceptional heirloom varieties. In this lecture, be inspired to take a new look at what to plant and why, and discover old varieties that you can bring back to your garden, to add color, aroma, and exceptional taste. Presenter: Ellen Ecker Ogden. Ellen recommends you take Art of Growing Food prior to this seminar. Cost: $15. Gardener’s Supply, 128 Intervale Road, Burlington. gardeners.com/vermont-gardening-workshops-and-seminars
Wednesday, March 15
Moody Blues all day One-day intensive dye workshop using natural dye extracts. For this class we will be using a wide variety of dyestuffs along with indigo to produce a palette of complex blues, greens, purples, and turquoise/teals. Indigo is the primary basis for this class that will use a natural vat to dye and overdye wool/mohair yarn samples. Cost $150. Vermont Tech, Randolph Center. vtc.edu/ag-course/moody-blues 802-535-5315
Wednesday, March 22
The Many Meanings of Maple 7pm This presentation examines the many meanings of maple sugaring. Maple is enormously important to Vermont’s economy, ecology, and heritage. Champlain College professor Michael Lange will discuss sugaring ethnographically, based on more than five years of research among sugarmakers all over the state, to learn from them what sugaring really means to Vermont. Rather than discussing the practical aspects of sugaring, such as how to tap a tree or how an evaporator works, his talk focuses on how and why maple has become so important to Vermont’s identity, and how and why it helps us shape who we are as Vermonters. Charlotte Library, 115 Ferry Road, Charlotte. charlottepubliclibrary.org 802-425-3864
Friday, March 24
Vermont Farmers’ Market Conference 8am–4:30pm Farmers’ markets are integral to our thriving local food culture. This one-day conference offers an array of learning and networking opportunities for market managers, board members, and organizers. VTFMA Member Markets may send one representative for free; NOFA-VT/VTFMA members $40/ person; Non-members $50/person. Vermont Law School, 164 Chelsea Street, South Royalton. nofavt.org/farmers-market-conference 802-434-4122
Saturday, April 1
How to Grow More in Less 9:30–11am Whether you rent or own a home, every gardener is stretched for time and resources. Gardening more efficiently in a smaller space makes sense not only to reduce your work, but also to grow more plants. Plus, many of these techniques can be used for renters who might be moving and want to bring their garden with them Presenter: Charlie Nardozzi. Cost: $15. . gardeners.com/vermont-gardening-workshops-and-seminars
Saturday, April 1 and Sunday, April 2
Made in Vermont Marketplace 9am–4pm The Made in Vermont Marketplace is the only trade show in Vermont that showcases the wide variety of high-quality products made right here in the Green Mountains. From wood producers to specialty food products to Vermont’s finest spirits and so much more. This is your opportunity to come and enjoy browsing, tasting, and purchasing products made all under one roof. You will be able to meet and talk with each artisan, maker and manufacturer of these fine goods. With more than 125 exhibits, you will discover products you did not know existed in Vermont. Champlain Valley Exposition,105 Pearl Street, Essex Junction. madeinvermontmarketplace.com
Monday, April 10
Finding Home: Vermont’s Historic and Growing Diversity 7pm Since the 1990s, refugees fleeing violence in their homelands of Bosnia, Somalia, Burma, Iraq, Bhutan, and elsewhere have been actively resettled in Vermont. This illustrated lecture, given by Vermont Folklife Center CoDirector Gregory Sharrow and based on his field research, explores the vital cultures of Vermont’s immigrant communities, both historic and new, and highlights foodways, religious culture, and traditional arts as they relate to personal and community identity in our state’s evolving cultural landscape. Latham Memorial Library, 16 Library Lane, Thetford. thetfordlibrary.org 802-785-4261
Monday, April 24
Book Discussion: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver 7:30pm Part of the Sustainability series. Green and sustainable have become such buzzwords, they have almost lost their meanings. This series explores how different authors and communities understand the multiple definitions and connotations of ecological sustainability and try to make it work in the world. Wake Robin Retirement Community, 200 Wake Robin Drive, Shelburne. wakerobin.com 802-985-8998
Saturday, May 27
Farm to Medicine Cabinet Plant Walk 10am–12pm This weed walk will introduce you to medicinal plants commonly found on different parts of the Vermont farm landscape and invites you to engage in deepening the local food movement by incorporating nature-based local medicine as part of a resilient food system. Cost $12. Shelburne Farms, 1611 Harbor Road, Shelburne. shelburnefarms.org 802-985-8686
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Temple Chiropractic Supporting the health care needs of the community for the past 35 years Specialist in the treatment of non-surgical back & neck pain
Your Local Solar Installer will answer your call,
DR. VERNON R. TEMPLE Chiropractic Physician
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meet your budget, AND build your project.
802.869.2588 • 802.490.0640 Consultation • Design • Installation • Service
DR. DAVID PARELLA Chiropractic Physician
Energy Efficient COOLING and HEATING saxtonsriversolar.com
102 Saxtons River Road Bellows Falls, VT 05101 802–463–9522
We do not sell your SRECS Prioritizing Life Cycle Environmental Costs, EU and USA Components Serving VT, NH, MA.
East Hill Tree Farm Nursery for Fruit Trees Nuts and Berry Plants
every sundAy 10Am - 2pm Shop with the Wonderful Producers in Our Region Local Musicians Weekly
J.K. AdAms Kitchen store, rte 30, dorset
outdoor mArKet opening dAy mAy 14 h.n. WilliAms store route 30, dorset, vt 35 regional producers bringing Veggies & Fruits, grass fed Meats & Poultry, award winning Cheeses, fresh Eggs, Maple Syrup & Honey, freshly baked Breads & Pastries, Specialty prepared Foods, Pottery, Soaps, Confections, Jewelry & More! WWW.DORSETFARMERSMARKET.COM
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A Wood-Fired Artisan Bakery In Alstead, NH Available in Stores & Farmers’ Markets Throughout the Region
www.orchardhillbreadworks.com 28 local banquet
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Don’t miss out on our
BARE-ROOT PLANTS! Orders due March 20 www.easthilltreefarm.com (802) 454-7874 3499 E. Hill Rd Plainfield, VT
Bless up the Earth!
Bare-root trees are awesome!
Promoting VT & NH Farms, Inns & Restaurants Strategic Brand Development & Management through Distinctive Print & Digital Marketing Communications & Special Events 802-485-7274
PamKnights.com Growing Small Businesses Since 2000
From your local farmer...
...to your local Co-op!
RTE 9 WEST BRATTLEBORO, VERMONT (802)254-8399 WWW.CHELSEAROYALDINER.COM OPEN DAILY 5:30AM—9PM
Mon - Sat 7–9, Sun 9–9 2 Main St, Brattleboro BrattleboroFoodCoop.coop
CHAMPLAIN ORCHARDS & CIDERY
A foodies landmark pleasing locals & tourists for 27 years!
Famed for our Local Grass-fed Burgers, Micro Brews & Fish-Fry Fridays! Ice Cream Window Opens in April, featuring First of the Season pure VT Maple Cream!
Elmore Roots Nursery Be Fruitful and Multiply
Vermont Fruit, Grown with a Conscience
Find us at your local grocer’s or stop by our Farm Market for fresh fruit, pies, cider donuts, and sweet cider. Get your growler filled, too! Orchard Made, Every Single Drop.
We have seeds. We’ve got sprouting jars ...and lids. We even have sprouting workshops!
Get your Spring Sprouts Check us out! On! www.uppervalleyfood.coop UVFC ~ 193 North Main St, WRJ, VT ~ (802) 295-5804
unusual fruits and nuts you can grow yourself
new online catalog at elmoreroots.com or call 802-888-3305
Williamsville Eatery Serving Dinner Thursday — Sunday 9 Taps of Top-Notch Craft Beer & Cider Wood-Fired Pizza every Thursday & Sunday Night
802 365 9600 WilliamsvilleEatery.com In the village of Williamsville, Vermont
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Slow Food Vermont ‘Snail of Approval’ awardee
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by Mari Omland and Laura Olsen Green Mountain Girls Farm
This is a slightly adapted excerpt from the May 23, 2016 e-newsletter sent by Mari Omland and Laura Olsen, who run a diversified vegetable and pastured livestock operation in Northfield. We share it to illustrate that farmers—despite their reputation for being solitary and individualistic—are often more steeped in community and connected with their neighbors than most of us. Perhaps, using different names and different places, any Vermont farmer could have penned this reflection. “Neighbor” and “community” are two words that show up frequently in our weekly farm blog. When it comes to community supported agriculture, it isn’t all about a “CSA” or “farm share.” As we go back through the week-by-week accounts, the community support from our neighbors is a consistent weave—the threads varied and colorful! It started the day we first looked at the property. Across the street a large old maple was being taken down, and this gave us the chance to meet Kati and Tad. In subsequent months, Tad and his tractor broke ground for our first garden, and his brushhog helped the goats convert the chokecherry and poplar saplings into a mix of grass, forbs, legumes, and other lushness that now makes our pasture. Kati patiently answered our questions about perennials and fruit trees she had planted. She led us to the fantastic network of trails her dad, Bill, had created and their clan had maintained, each tour replete with place names, introductions to neighbors, and tutorials in local and natural history. And she welcomed our herds and flocks to her grass—which we all loved—and came to the rescue when animal escapes or fence tangles occurred. Then there’s the Farley family. Magen inaugurated our barn with her horse, Funnyface. She and her parents, Donna and Mark, interrupted their normal routine of shopping at Shaw’s approximately 410 weeks ago and have gotten up to 70 percent of their calories from the farm since! When hail lay thick around the tomatoes and tomatillos on the evening of July 16, 2009, the whole family came down to rake the ice from the tender vegetation. Mark has volunteered his “sturdy” carpentry skills and even sturdier math and computer knowledge along the way, and Donna has been unstoppable in sharing her enthusiasm about the farm, from meeting lots of folks at the farm
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stand and showing them the ropes to dropping everything and making pie crust when the WCAX news crew was heading down to do a story on pasture-raised lard. Where would we be without their loyalty and encouragement? Ray and Hannah shared information on their guesthouse, and Ray has made sure our winter bedded packs have plenty of sawdust. Liz and Roy wove their way into all of our hearts, helping to pot up hundreds of tomatoes and exercising their green thumbs when we fell behind in early years. They too have introduced their loved ones to the farm with special gatherings here, and together with Kati, they have helped us to host Scrag Mountain Music’s spectacular evenings of music. Rodney and Theresa have been our go-to’s for the few but intense moments when we’ve had to put animals down in emergencies. We can still see their teenage sons, Rion and Casey, using all their strength and flexibility to assemble our first hoop house. Pam, Jacob, MacKenzie, and Cooper keep a close watch on our land and animals from across the street. Morgan, Brock, and Amelia have all mowed and worked farm events. And Katie, although no longer living in the neighborhood, gave us a nod from Boston on her blog, Grumpy When Hungry. And then there are all of you who wave or stop to encourage us. And there are the skilled and dedicated youth (and not-so-young-but-hardy!) who have been willing to work hard here. Tessa was one of our first hires. Anyone wanting to get a sense of all she added to this place should glance at the rock walls she put up with Gary, her dad—at least two heart-shape rocks are there to remind all of us what the working landscape demands. Speaking of Gary, he and his skid steer make easy the removal of our winter “bedded pack” from the barn to our compost windrows. And there, in the hot compost, our zillions of microbial neighbors do their work, transforming our community-wide efforts into soils that sequester carbon, water, and nutrients, making possible even more nourishing future harvests. We are grateful for all the support and aim for reciprocity. We take being responsible neighbors seriously. And we believe that we wouldn’t be here without the help of our neighbors. Thanks to all!
Photo of the Farleys (with Laura, middle) courtesy of Green Mountain Girls Farm
46 Depot Street Ludlow, VT
Proud to Support Our Local Farmers All Year Round
Your Community-Owned Grocery Store Wine, Cheese & Specialty Foods Since 1996 802-228-4128 www.wineandcheesedepot.com
82 S. Winooski Ave, Burlington, VT • Open 7am - 11pm every day (802) 861-9700 • www.citymarket.coop
Work with our business advisors and production planners to bring a great product to market. Center for an Agricultural Economy & Vermont Food Venture Center 140 Junction Road, Hardwick 802-472-5362 www.hardwickagriculture.org
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SUPPORT your values by supporting Rural Vermont - become a member today!
15 Barre Street Suite 2, Montpelier, VT 05602 www.ruralvermont.org (802) 223-7222
Rudyard Kipling slept here.
You can, too!
MEMORABLE VACATIONS IN EXTRAORDINARY HISTORIC PROPERTIES FIVE HISTORIC HOMES TO CHOOSE FROM INCLUDING RUDYARD KIPLINGâ€™S NAULAKHA
YOU GET THE WHOLE HOUSE!
Landmarktrustusa.org Dummerston, VT | 802 254 6868
A quarterly magazine devoted to covering local food, sustainable farming, and the many people building the Vermont food system.