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local banquet winter 2016–2017 | issue thirty-nine

Québec: A special issue


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In the village of Williamsville

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102 Saxtons River Road Bellows Falls, VT 05101 802–463–9522


C ON T E N T S w i n t e r

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issue thirty-nine

U.S. Customs and Immigration border inspection station at Morses Line, Vermont, 1940.

4 Editor’s Note 6 Set the Table with… Poutine

8 Along the Route des Vins 12 So Close and Yet So Far Exporting Food to Canada

14 Au Marché Québec Farmers’ Markets

16 Neighbors to the North Of Loaves and Land Seeding Relationships A Vintner Mentor A Plethora of Produce Fields of Gold A Porcine Quest

24 Seeds for Change To Market, to Bank

27 Winter Farmers’ Markets 30 Last Morsel


Editor’s Note “If you’re going to Québec City, you have to visit a cabane à sucre,” said Claire. I figured she should know. Married to a Québecois man, and a frequent visitor to our neighboring province to the north, Claire (who wrote an article on poutine for this issue, see page 6) gave me this advice with an air of authority. And her good advice was confirmed as soon as my partner and I walked into Cabane à Sucre Leclerc in Neuville on a chilly, snowy evening. It was mid-March, the height of maple sugaring season, when Québec residents celebrate the sap by gathering in banquet halls and auditoriums and restaurants and sugar shacks to feast on maple-infused foods. The word cabane means hut, cabin, or shack in French, and sucre means sugar. So yes, we were visiting a sugar shack, but not just one where people make maple syrup; one where people party. As we approached this particular cabane—run by the Leclerc family—we heard oom-pah music coming from inside the banquet hall and realized from the license plates that we would be the only Americans there. Glad that we both speak conversational French, my partner and I told the lady at the entrance that we had a reservation and sat down at a long group table covered by a plastic red-checkered tablecloth. Pretty soon, we were feasting on maple-glazed sausages, maple-glazed ham, pea soup and potatoes, simple baked beans, white bread with butter, and a custardy, mapley dessert. We were able to chat with others at our table (whenever the DJ’s music quieted down long enough for us to hear them), but we unfortunately couldn’t sing along to all the Québecois folk songs that everyone was chanting heartily. My partner, being an adventurous fellow, decided to participate in one of the group games that followed the meal. Two men sat in chairs and competed to see who could more quickly roll up a heavy water bottle attached by a long string to a wooden rod. I then participated in the “ladies’ game,” which was to toss a ball around a circle and try not to get caught with it when the music suddenly stopped. I had wanted to put together a special Québec issue of Local Banquet long before I attended my first cabane, but the experience affirmed for me how lucky we are to live so close to another culture—one with its own folk songs, celebrations, and culinary traditions. It’s a culture worth exploring—not as a tourist, but as a guest. In this issue, we offer a bit of insight into Québec agriculture, not by providing a survey of what’s grown there, but by looking at the relationships being built between Québec farmers and Vermont growers and food producers. By all accounts, Vermonters in the local food industry are feeling very welcomed by their counterparts to the north—just as my partner and I felt warmly welcomed inside that cozy cabane. —Caroline Abels

On the cover: Farmer’s stand at Marché Jean-Talon, Montreal, Québec; photo by Meg Lucas Contents page: Customs and Immigration border inspection station at Morses Line, Vermont, 1940; photo courtesy of Department Of Homeland Security.

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Publisher Schreiber & Lucas, LLC Editor Caroline Abels Art Director Meg Lucas Ad Director Barbi Schreiber Proofreader Marisa Crumb Contributors Sarah Galbraith Claire Fitts Georges Elena Gustavson Helen Labun Jordan Suzanne Podhaizer Dorothy Read Tatiana Schreiber Jen Rose Smith Laura Sorkin Katie Spring Katie Sullivan 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 info@localbanquet.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…

Poutine

I was not born into poutine. I married into it. I grew up in California, in a world of dayboat salmon, tofu, and spinach salad. I only became vaguely aware of the odd sounding “poutine” when I moved to Vermont. French fries with gravy and cheese curds? I mean, that all sounds weird enough without including the word “curds” at the end. So I didn’t give it a try until I met my now-husband, who is not only Québecois, but has fry oil in his blood. His extended family owns a fast food snack bar in Bedford, QC, that has been touted (by folks in the know) as having some of the best French fries in the region.  On my 30th birthday I invited a handful of my girlfriends plus my freshly minted boyfriend up to Montreal for a day and night in the big city. We “summited” Mont Royal, ate some spectacular Ethiopian food, perused the Museum of Fine Art, then went back to the “cheap but not too cheap” hotel room we were all sharing. The ladies stocked up on some drinks at a nearby SAQ liquor store while my new man went to procure the poutine. Everyone (minus the Canadian) was dubious about gravy-soaked French fries that you eat with a fork. But to a person, we all decided that the Québecers were onto something and that poutine was, in fact, delicious. It’s not a refined food. It’s not something you muse about over a fine bottle of wine at a fancy restaurant. It’s something you have at the end of the night. You use it to soak up the booze and you snuggle up into the ridiculous indulgence. No one is exactly sure how poutine came about (there are a few competing stories), but we do know that the calorie-laden goodness was developed in rural Québec roughly 60 years ago and that its name is rooted in the French word for pudding. Now, just a few years

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shy of collecting a pension, it’s finally having its “moment.. Poutine was a fun late-night food with my besties, but I didn’t become a true poutine convert until my beau told me that, while poutine might indeed be a religious experience, it doesn’t adhere to a strict doctrine. There are whole restaurants dedicated to serving nothing but poutine in its many variations. “Classique” is russet fries, cheddar curds (fresh, unaged cheddar chunks, the squeakier, the better), and BBQ gravy (Canadian BBQ is a far cry from American BBQ —think of it as a light brown gravy that emphasizes the onions and garlic). Italian poutine subs out the gravy for a bolognese. All-dressed poutine varies from restaurant to restaurant, but always has a generous heaping of toppings. And from there, anything is fair game. The recipe developer in me fell in love. There is little I love more in this world than being allowed to mess with my husband’s cultural foods. So he and I started fantasizing about all the poutine possibilities and our pants were getting tighter with each more fantastical idea. The good foodies we were, we decided to invite some friends over to enjoy the bounty. And thus was born THE POUTINE PARTY. It has become an annual event in our house that our friends count the days until and don’t count the calories

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for. The first year we bought the fries from a local pub, but quickly dropped that idea and invested in a fryer. Even though we use it only once a year, it was worth the money. My husband mandolins the potatoes and soaks them in water overnight—a trick handed down by his French fry perfectionist of a grandfather. And before the days of kiddos underfoot, I would make the cheddar curds myself. I love making cheese so much, but some things are best left to those who have a spare two hours to stand next to the stove and stir (or who have the machinery to stir for them). Now we jump the border and pick up a few kilos to bring home. We always buy a few other cheeses as well (feta and smoked blue come back every year), but cheddar curds really are the king. The key to a good poutine is cheese that is melty, not melted. I heard about some poutine being served in San Francisco that was made with shredded cheese. Just no. The cheese should be melted on the outside and firm and squeaky on the inside. Poutine is not a burrito.  As for the gravies, they have always been my job. I love making gravy. It’s so hands-on and something you can really dance to in the kitchen. Unless we’re going with a bolognese, all of my gravies start with a butter and flour roux, but from there I kind of go wild. Country sausage gravy is a much-loved favorite

photos of claire’s poutine party by caroline abels

by Claire Fitts Georges


in our house (my husband was so excited when I told him that I needed to make some for this article). Plus, we always make a beer gravy with whatever beer we have on tap in the keg. Pesto was an awesome addition one year and everyone loved this year’s Indian vindaloo gravy. Traditional BBQ gravy we often made from a mix we bought in Québec, and we did that for a few years, but then we moved on to more creative endeavors. Mushroom and onion gravy is delicious, as is a smoked gravy (if you happen to have some smoke juices available). The gravy options are endless. And then there are the toppings. So many topping choices. Peas are a popular one that surprised me. I don’t think of peas as that popular in the states, but they seem to show up everywhere in Québec. And you can’t forget the bacon. Or smoked meat, if you’re going for the Montreal experience, smoked meat being a Montreal thing. Mushrooms, onions, corn, fresh or sautéed peppers, even corn dogs are an option. There really is no end to what you can top a poutine with. You could even make it a dessert poutine with sweet potato fries, fruit, brie, and chocolate, if the mood suits you. Poutine is becoming so trendy in Vermont that it’s starting to show up in unusual places. Like southern BBQ and white tablecloth restaurants. Some of them get it right and some… don’t. I got poutine at one fancy restaurant that put the gravy on the bottom so that the fries stayed crispy. I was confused. The gravy is a sauce, not a dip. The fries should be slathered with gravy. And the cheese should not melt all the way. There needs to be chunks of gooey cheese intermingled with the fries. I got another fancy poutine that not only melted the cheese, but burned it a little to make it crispy. I love me some burnt cheese, but unless you’re going to top the melty cheese poutine with it, just go put it on a pizza please. If you’ve never tried poutine, start easy and traditional, but then go wild. Try fancy poutine. Try crazy poutine. Have fun, indulge, and then perhaps, go to the gym. Claire Fitts Georges is the owner of Butterfly Bakery of Vermont, a mom of two wee ones, and a recipe developer in Montpelier.

Poutine Gravies Sausage Gravy I’m pretty sure that pork is the state meat of Québec. It’s everywhere. So it’s only fitting to make a poutine gravy with pork sausage. Fitting and delicious. 1 lb. Vermont breakfast sausage (loose, no casing) 1/4 cup butter 1/4 cup flour 3 cups whole milk 1/2 teaspoon salt pepper Melt the butter in a medium pan over medium heat. Add sausage, break it up with a spoon or fork, and cook it until it is cooked through. Remove the sausage and set aside, but keep the fat in the pan. Continue cooking over medium heat. Whisk in the flour with a fork and keep stirring until there are no lumps and it starts to dry out. Slowly add milk, one splash at a time, incorporating it into the flour mixture, taking care to whisk out any lumps. Once the mixture becomes loose, whisk in the rest of the milk and add salt and pepper to taste. Mix the sausage back in and remove from heat.

Classique Gravy My husband says that his family’s restaurant uses a different ratio of beef to chicken stock “than everyone else,” but he won’t tell me the ratio. I guessed. Feel free to do your own guessing, too. Most answers aren’t wrong. 1/4 cup butter 1/4 cup flour 1 teaspoon garlic powder 1 teaspoon onion powder 3/4 cups beef stock 3/4 cup chicken stock 1 tablespoon white vinegar salt pepper Combine the beef stock, chicken stock, and vinegar in a bowl and set aside. Melt the butter in a medium pan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour, onion powder, and garlic powder with a fork and keep stirring until there are no lumps and it starts to dry out. Slowly add broth mixture, one splash at a time, incorporating it into the flour mixture, taking care to whisk out any lumps. Once the mixture becomes loose, whisk in the rest of the broth and add salt and pepper to taste. 

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Along the Route des Vins

Innovation and cooperation have led to success for QuĂŠbecois winemakers by Jen Rose Smith

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photos by jen rose smith

In the first unpredictable weeks of spring, workers at Québec’s Léon Courville vineyard lay the bones of 1,200 tiny bonfires between the vines. A clear, cold night in March can destroy two years’ harvests, so before the vintners go to sleep, they rig alarms that will sound when temperatures become dangerously cold. If the alarm rings at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, they head into the dark with a lit torch, igniting pyre after pyre to keep the buds from freezing. The blazes lit, they stand guard with fire extinguishers until dawn; there’s little point saving the vines from a late frost if you accidentally burn the vineyard to the ground. These bonfires are just one way of keeping the vines warm; other Québec vineyards use enormous turbines or helicopters to push warmer layers of air toward the soil. But even if they successfully nurse their vines through the dangerous spring, Québec’s winemakers also face freezing winters, strict distribution laws, and relatively brief experience with wine production compared to their European or American counterparts. A quick trip along the province’s thriving Route des Vins, however, shows that difficult conditions have helped produce a spirit of cooperation and creativity—along with some remarkably good bottles. Today’s winemakers may be the most successful in Québec’s history, but they’re not the first. Samuel de Champlain brought root stock from France in the early 17th century, planting vitis vinifera transplants that didn’t survive the winter. After vineyards in the Niagara Falls area became increasingly successful in the mid 19th century, Québec saw a government-sponsored burst of winemaking activity that fell flat by 1870. The modern history of Québec wines didn’t start until 1981, when Christian Bartomeuf planted Marechal Foch, Seyval Blanc, and pinot noir grapes at his Domaine des Côtes d’Ardoise, in Dunham. As the story goes, Christian went rogue to sell his first bottles in the spring of 1983. Every province in Canada has a government-run alcohol distribution center, and the Société des Alcools du Québec, or SAQ, made no allowances for selling locally made wine. The SAQ was created at the end of Québec’s period of alcohol prohibition, and as in the United States, post-Prohibition laws were created with large-volume producers in mind. SAQ regulations were impossible for small producers to navigate—until Christian poured a pivotal glass of wine. According to Domaine des Côtes d’Ardoise, SAQ’s top brass was invited for a tasting at the illegal vineyard in 1984. Upon sampling Christian’s wine, the laboratory director declared: “Why, it’s drinkable—it’s even sellable!” That faint praise led to changing laws, but there’s lingering anger in Québec’s wine country about the ongoing struggle with the SAQ. When five vineyards were given permits in 1985, vintners were saddled with taxes of more than 40 percent, and vineyards couldn’t hold on-site tastings. Grapes could not be

sold between vineyards, wine could not be shipped, and bottles could not be sold to restaurants. A second set of laws in 1996 invigorated the wine-growing region of Québec, where 1.5 million bottles are now produced annually across 364 acres and 63 wineries. Within the province, six regions are recognized—the Eastern Townships, Montérégie, Québec, the Basses Laurentides, Lanaudière, and Centre-du-Québec—but 80 percent of the wines are produced in the Eastern Townships and Montérégie, the two warmest, southernmost regions. More than 30 years after the first vineyard went legal, Québec’s vintners retain an improvisational spirit of trial and error. The first wave of grapes was almost entirely made up of hybrid varieties, such as the cold-hardy grapes developed by the University of Minnesota. Even those, however, struggled to survive, and vineyards made innovative use of geotextiles, swathing the vines in heat-retaining fabric to protect them from the cold. Wines made with hybrid grapes are still the essence of Québec wine, from the fruity, white St. Pépin to marquette, a robust descendant of pinot noir. According to Yvan Quirion, a winemaker at the Domaine des Saint Jacques and the president of the Québec Winegrowers Association, southern Québec’s growing season resembles that of southern Burgundy, Alsace, and southern New Zealand. Without California’s powerful sunshine, Québec winegrowers will never produce high-alcohol, powerhouse wines like Sonoma County’s big cabernet sauvignons. At best, said Yvan, “Québec wine can be fresh and fruity like the cooler wines of the world, and we tend to make pretty dry wine.” I recently tasted those fruity, dry wines while on a trip along the Route des Vins (French for “wine route”). There’s no single wine trail in Québec; instead there are clusters of wineries scattered across the province, linked by rolling back roads and an extensive network of cycling trails. The greatest concentration is in the Eastern Townships, a rural swath of low hills and fields that’s easy day-tripping distance from my home in northern Vermont. On my journey I stopped at a pair of vineyards in the Eastern Townships—Léon Courville and La Bauge—which use almost exclusively hybrid grapes in their wine production. At Léon Courville, the Réserve St. Pépin 2012 was light and elegant, with a green fruit flavor balanced with minerals. The wines at La Bauge were similarly dry, from the super refreshing Équinøx to Sølyter, a buttery, chardonnay-like wine made exclusively with Seyval Blanc grapes planted 25 years ago. And with vines, age matters. Traditionally, very young vines are associated with unpredictable acidity, and as the vines mature, their roots reach farther and farther into the soil for water, nutrients, and minerals. The slate-rich soils of Montérégie and the Eastern Townships aren’t naturally very nourishing to grapes, so the plants work hard to grow their root net-

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works: although mature vines may stand just five feet above the ground, their roots can spread 100 feet below the surface of the soil. Not all wine experts agree that deep roots mean a more complex terroir, but mineral flavors were pervasive in the wines I tasted while following the Route des Vins, and local vintners believe these flavors are part of what make Québec’s wine distinctive. While Québecois grapes are naturally lower in sugar than warm-climate varieties, those cold winter months offer another path to sweetness: ice wine. German vineyards have long made wine by letting the grapes freeze on the vine, which concentrates the fruits’ sugar and produces a syrupy-sweet dessert drink that’s balanced by cold-climate acidity. It’s a natural fit for Québec, and Québec ice wines have racked up awards around the world. At Léon Courville, I sipped a Vin de Glace made from 2013 Vidal grapes, and while it lacked the subtle minerality of the vineyard’s drier options, the wine was full flavored and sweetly intoxicating—it recalled tangy dessert apples like Cox’s Orange Pippin or Ananas Reinette. Speaking of apples, great lines of apple trees fill the spaces between vineyards along the Route des Vins, and even following 2015’s heavy fruit crop, the trees were heavily laden. Growing apples in this chilly country isn’t quite the uphill struggle that grape production is, and winemakers have made fine use of their local apple crop. Apparently not content to kick off Québec’s modern grape growing era, in 1990 Christian Bartomeuf also invented ice cider, a creative New World answer to traditional ice wine. Some ice ciders are produced by allowing the fruit to freeze on the trees, but in Québec, freshly pressed cider is often left to freeze outside; as the winemakers remove ice from the cider, the remaining juice is concentrated into a sweet nectar prior to fermentation. On my trip, I noticed that slender bottles of ice cider were lined up alongside a more recent innovation: fire cider. Like ice cider, it’s reduced before fermentation, but uses heat rather than freezing weather. If cold, frosty days are one of Québec’s best tools for creating sweetness, the other must be the maple syrup evaporator: When making fire cider, fresh juice is reduced in a syrup pan, then fermented, and while the resulting drink recalls the sweet-tart flavor of ice cider, it’s deeper, lighter, and less sweet. The fire cider I tasted at Dunham’s Union Libre Cidre & Vin had an aroma of caramelized apples and a bright, slightly acidic flavor. They’re just one of five producers of fire cider in Québec, and they’ve been playing with their production method in a way that perfectly captures the inventive spirit that I found all along the wine trail. The vintners at Union Libre spike some of their fire cider with apple brandy, then age it in oak barrels for a product that recalls Normandy pommeau, an aged blend of brandy and fresh cider. Despite all that snow, and those famously cold winters, Québec’s wine trail will likely be transformed by climate change. Scientists in the Canadian government’s agriculture department have released a pair of maps that show Québec’s effective growing degree days in colors that range from a polar-blue to fire-engine red. The baseline, from 1971 to 2000, shows a tiny

Visiting the Route des Vins For more information on visiting wineries along Québec’s Route des Vins, including a map, see laroutedesvins.ca. Car: There are endless routes through the Route des Vins by car, but the most compact stretch is outside Dunham, where a series of wineries (and one very good brewery, the Brasserie Dunham) are located minutes apart. Bike: The rolling terrain of Québec’s wine country is perfect for bicycles, and the website suggests four rides that range from 30 to 61 miles, with plenty of spots to drink and eat along the way. A “Taxi-Vélo” is available to support one-way bike rides and flagging cyclists (877-766-8356). Guided tours: Special guided tours of the Route des Vins are available through Kava Tours (laroutedesvins.ca), which offers half-day, full-day, and ice wine options.

wedge of red land where Montérégie, the Eastern Townships, and the banks of the Saint Lawrence River basked in more than 1,800 effective growing degree days. In a second projection that spans 2010 to 2039, the red area spreads to Québec City, bleeding across the province into the base of the Gaspé Peninsula. After years of working to create a wine region in Québec’s cold climate, a wine region climate may be coming to Québec. When French explorer Jacques Cartier sailed up the Saint Lawrence River on a June day in 1534, he saw native grapes growing on what’s now called the Île d’Orléans, just downstream from present-day Québec City. With the wishful thinking of a sailor who has spent long months at sea, he called the island “Île de Bascuz,” a nod to Bacchus, the wild, Roman god of wine and agriculture. The name didn’t stick, but on Québec’s Route des Vins, Jacques vision is finally bearing fruit. Jen Rose Smith writes about travel, adventure, and drinks from her home in northern Vermont. She is the author of the Moon guidebook to Vermont. You can learn more about her work at: jenrosesmith.com

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SO CLOSE AND YET SO FAR

Québec may be nearby, but exporting food to Canada requires skill and patience. by Helen Labun Jordan

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forms whenever they cross any border, including state borders (they’re in 20 states already). Nonetheless, no one in Vermont is loading up a truck with local food to sell and driving it north without a nod to bureaucracy.

The Maple Trade If you’re looking for an example of a strong food trade between Vermont and Québec, maple may be the place to start. This trade in maple has existed since before anyone even drew a Canadian border, and it remains relatively large. In 2015, Canada exported more than $32 million U.S. dollars worth of maple products to Vermont. That’s almost three times the value of all the farm products that Vermont sent to Canada that same year. The value of Vermont maple entering Canada is lower, around $3 million—a difference that is proportional to the countries’ populations. At Butternut Mountain Farm, based in Morrisville, they’ve handled syrup from Canada almost since the day they opened more than four decades ago. They’re one of the largest maple packers in the country, packing not only a little more than half of all of Vermont’s roughly 1.5 million annual gallons of syrup, but also maple from beyond our borders, too. The cross-border

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illustration by meg lucas

Ask people in agriculture about the challenges of selling Vermont food in Québec, and folks tend to have the same first reaction. “There’s paperwork—which nobody loves,” observes Dave Ellis of Butternut Mountain Farm. “There’s always red tape and bureaucracy [in international sales],” admits John Belmont of Food Export Northeast. “There’s legal back and forth, there’s forms…that’s why we have a compliance officer, and he’s a lawyer,” says Hallie Picard of Caledonia Spirits. Some people refer to the height of the stacks of forms, some to the number of times forms need to be re-filled out, some to waiting for clarification on how to fill out said forms. The road from Vermont to Québec may be short, but it’s paved with paperwork. Of course, paperwork isn’t the end of the world. John Belmont, whose organization assists Northeastern food producers in exporting their products around the world, notes that Canadian red tape is less onerous than most. Dave Ellis describes the transportation of maple—after all the paperwork is done—as “fairly manageable.” And Caledonia Spirits has a compliance officer who helps navigate the paperwork because they face new regulations and new sets of


syrup transportation works well. It still isn’t flawless, though. “There’s always a bit of biting your nails [when trucks reach] the border, and you wonder ‘How. is this going to go?’” says Dave Ellis, purchasing and supply chain manager at Butternut Mountain Farm. There are always questions. Plus, the way agents read the regulations can change—so, for example, a label that has been accepted for 20 years suddenly needs to be rewritten. “They’re not being mean,” says Dave. “There’s a certain amount of subjectivity… Maybe they’ve just been to a refresher course that led to a new interpretation or new attention to some detail.” Producers also need to think about bilingual labels and differences in the sort of information (such as nutrition) that each country requires. Up until a few years ago, the U.S. and Canada didn’t even agree on the fundamentals of maple syrup grading; an enormous amount of work has gone into creating a uni-

Figuring out the logistics of navigating sales across the Canadian border can be confusing, and can change with different products. form system between the two countries and between states within the U.S. In 2104, Vermont formally adopted the new labels, which combine the term “Grade A” with flavor and color descriptors and reduce five classifications (including Grade C) into four.    The majority of Butternut Mountain Farm’s international trade consists of bringing syrup into Vermont from Canada. These imports allow Butternut Mountain Farm, to commit to purchasing sugarmakers’ whole crops. Buying by the crop means that the sugarmaker may not be providing barrels in the exact mix of grades that Butternut Mountain’s clients are looking for. When a large buyer who doesn’t care about a Vermont-specific origin places an order, Butternut knows they can supplement what they’ve received from Vermont with barrels from Canada to match the buyer’s specific requests. Finding a way to fill these types of bulk purchases is important— they account for more than 80 percent of our total maple syrup sales. Could our famous Vermont syrup sell as Vermont syrup in Canada? “Well,” Dave Ellis says diplomatically, “just like Vermonters would rather have Vermont syrup, Canadians would rather have Canadian syrup.” No word on where New Hampshire syrup falls in that hierarchy.

Gin Mixes It Up Maple syrup might find its footing in international trade through anonymous bulk purchases, but other Vermont foods are trading as premium products sought out by name. One of these products with name cache is Barr Hill Gin. “They love our gin and they want our Tom Cat [barrel aged gin] up there,” says Hallie Picard, a brand ambassador at Caledonia Spirits. In the world of high quality craft spirits, Caledonia’s products are considered both delicious and relatively local, and its flagship product Barr Hill gin is enthusiastically received at

Montreal cocktail bars. “It’s all about connecting with the right distributor who can make [in-country] connections for you,” says Hallie. Caledonia’s broker in Canada “seems to know everyone cool in the city [of Montreal]” and curates the list of places where their gin appears, establishing it as a sought-after product for craft cocktail connoisseurs. Québecers clearly know the Barr Hill name because, as Hallie reports, they often come to the Caledonia tasting rooms when visiting Vermont, excited to try all of Caledonia’s spirits. (Only Barr Hill is available in Canada). Finding the right audience to sell to in Canada is particularly important given the high price of Caledonia Spirits’ Barr Hill once it reaches Québec shelves. By the time a bottle lands in a customer’s hands, its price has more than doubled from the U.S. retail price. The increase reflects fees imposed that Caledonia must pay to import liquor, and reflects the overall high price of alcohol in Québec, where alcohol is controlled by the Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ). Luckily for Caledonia Spirits, prices for craft spirits tend to cover a wide range, and many of their competitors in Québec are also imports. Working with SAQ and understanding their rules ranks high on the list of challenges Caledonia Spirits faces in Québec, but the SAQ-abetted high price tag isn’t a deal breaker.

The Cost of Cheese Unfortunately, price tags can be a deal breaker for one of Vermont’s most popular products: specialty cheese. Canada structures its dairy industry (along with its poultry and egg industries) using a supply management system. In essence, a committee sets a national milk production target, factoring in trends in demand and the minimum price that dairy farmers should receive. They prod the dairy industry to meet (yet not exceed) that target through instruments such as quotas for domestic production and very high tariffs (in the 250-percent range) on imports beyond what is allowed by the import quota. The goal is to guarantee viability of Canadian dairy farms, which are largely concentrated in Québec and Ontario. That system makes it difficult for Vermont dairy producers to break in, and a strong U.S. dollar isn’t helping. The short story is that even the best deal a Vermont cheesemaker can offer may not come close to competing with a Canadian producer selling domestically. An additional price problem arises from the small scale on which Vermont cheesemakers operate, notes Zoe Brickley of the Cellars at Jasper Hill in Greensboro Bend. Customs charges by the full pallet or the full truckload, and a small specialty cheesemaker may not have enough product to send a full load. This system adds more cost to a product that was already going to be expensive for Canadian customers. In the end, it proved to be one economic hurdle too many for Jasper Hill selling their cheeses in Canada. The company did manage to send soft cheese into Montreal markets during two holiday seasons, though, working with an enthusiastic distributor who wanted his customers to have access to “something special” during the holidays. And Montreal remains a tantalizing prospect for Jasper Hill. “It’s our

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Au Marché On a sunny, crisp day in early September, a friend and I meandered over the border to visit three Québec farmers’ markets. All small—and interestingly, without any prepared food vendors—the markets were notable for their beautiful vegetables, copious amounts of honey, and meat for sale in plugged-in, portable chest freezers. The route from Sutton’s market, to the market in Lac Brome, to the more urban market in Granby, makes for an enjoyable day trip from Vermont, with the lovely town of Sutton definitely worth a stop. —Caroline Abels

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Clockwise from upper left: Vegetables for sale at Sutton farmers’ market; staff at Ferme Pettigrew’s stand in Sutton; a vegetable stand at Granby market; honey samples from Ferme Pettigrew; Les Jardins de la Grelinette’s stand at Lac Brome market; a sign for Frelighsburg’s market.

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Neighbors to the North How a handful of Vermont food producers have built solid relationships with Québec growers Over the years, we at Local Banquet have heard about Vermont farmers and food producers who have thriving professional relationships with growers and food manufacturers in Québec. So for this issue, we asked some of our writers to highlight a handful of these cross-border relationships. What follows are six vignettes about Vermont and Québec producers working together to strengthen our regional food system. —Caroline Abels

Every week at Red Hen Baking Company in Middlesex, six tons of flour is mixed, kneaded, and transformed into 18,000 loaves of bread. And five tons of that flour comes from Les Fermes Longpres, a farm run by Loic Dewavrin and his two brothers in Le Cedre, Québec, 150 miles from the bakery. The remaining ton is sourced from Vermont grain farmers, namely Gleason Grains in Bridport and Aurora Farms in Charlotte. But while the bulk of Red Hen’s flour is not Vermont grown (the company can’t source enough from Vermont to meet its needs), the shift away from Midwest wheat to 100 percent regionally grown wheat has led to an improvement in the quality of grains sourced by Red Hen owner Randy George. “We need to think beyond Vermont when we’re talking about local,” Randy says. “It depends on the crop. It’s remarkable what [Loic] is doing in Québec, and I’d be supportive of it wherever it was happening.” The landscape of Québec, with its flat and open land, is more conducive to growing large tracts of crops such as wheat. Vermont’s flat land, by comparison, is limited and concentrated in the Champlain Valley, where dairies claim

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the bulk of the fields. While Randy has a long history of supporting Vermont grain growers, when it comes to sourcing grain he says, “It’s always been my goal as a baker that wherever I’m sourcing my grain and other ingredients, the farmer who’s working the land is caring for the land.” Randy found that commitment in Loic, and he describes Les Fermes Longpres as “beyond organic,” not only eschewing chemical inputs, but also employing crop rotation, intercropping, and companion planting to naturally increase organic matter in the soil.   The two first met at a gathering of the Northern Grain Growers Association in 2012. Randy was later invited to visit Loic’s farm with Jack Lazor of Butterworks Farm and was impressed with both the farm’s growing methods and its new on-site mill, which processes the grains into flour. Before partnering with Loic, Randy had sourced flour from a Kansas farm, but following poor yields and high prices due to drought in the Midwest in 2013 and 2014, he increased his commitment to sourcing regional wheat, and began buying from Loic in 2015. The partnership between Red Hen and Les Fermes Longpres is indeed a

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mutually beneficial one. Because of Red Hen’s scale, the bakery is able to make a meaningful impact on the business of any grain grower. During visits to the Northern Grain Growers Association conferences, Loic saw the potential for regional grain sales in the Vermont market. He’s had a harder time getting Québec bakers interested in what he’s doing, but the enthusiasm coming from Vermont led him to begin construction of his grain mill before getting commitments from any bakeries. He set up his business specifically to cater to larger buyers in the wholesale market (Vermont grain growers tend to sell to individuals through smaller direct sales), and by the time his mill was completed, Red Hen stood first in line as a regular wholesale buyer. When talking about Loic’s farm, Randy comes back again and again to the care for the land. “In early August this year they were harvesting,” Randy recalls, “and you see the fields of mature wheat before the combine goes through it, and there’s clover or alfalfa growing between the wheat plants. They go through and harvest the wheat and chop up the straw and spit it out the back. When they’re Continued on page 23

photo courtesy of red hen bakery

Of Loaves and Land


photo courtesy of high mowing seeds

Seeding Relationships

Some 20 years ago, when Tom Stearns of High Mowing Seeds was living in Holland, Vermont, just on the border with Québec, he met Laurier Chabot at a biodynamic agriculture conference. Laurier, who has farmed in Québec since 1978, was president of the Biodynamic Association, and he invited Tom to spend a week accompanying him on Québec farm inspections for the association. “Northern Vermont can seem like the middle of nowhere,” Tom says, “but you go across the border and [southern Québec] is filled with little towns and small farms growing grains, fruits, vegetables. It’s not nearly as dairy dominated as Vermont is, and it has a distinctly European flair.” The sheer density of vegetable production in the region was eye-opening for Tom, who was just launching High Mowing Seeds, now based in Wolcott. In the area around Sherington and Napierville, along the Saint Lawrence River south of Montreal, Tom notes that there are 10,000 acres of vegetables being grown in the two towns—five times the amount of vegetables grown in the whole state of Vermont. That’s a result of “muck soils,” rich in organic matter, that derive from drained swampland; it’s a type of soil present in Vermont as well, but not nearly as extensive or deep here.

“In some of these places there’s over 100 feet of muck,” says Tom, and skilled growers in the area have been gradually turning it into very high-quality soil for vegetable and fruit production. As a vegetable seed grower, Tom wanted to expand his networks. Building on his connection with Laurier, he has developed collaborative relationships with two distinct clusters of folks in Québec. One is a group of conventional farmers in the Sherington/Napierville area. Although High Mowing sells exclusively organic seeds, Tom says these farmers are “smart growers, good stewards of their land, paying attention to insect and disease issues and how to handle them using techniques other than chemical sprays,” so High Mowing is conducting variety trials with these farmers on a scale that isn’t readily available in Vermont. “For example, they’ll say ‘I want to trial a new variety, do you have enough seed for five acres?’” These farmers also have the equipment and production methods that enable them to trial “complicated vegetables” like baby leaf spinach, arugula, fennel, carrots, and parsley as opposed to things like potatoes. “This is the most advanced vegetable production east of the Mississippi on the contiWi nte r

nent, and it’s two hours away,” says Tom. High Mowing provides the seeds, and the farmers provide the data on their experiences. High Mowing staff also visit the farmers to collect their own data. No money is exchanged. Because the climate is similar, as are the pest and disease problems, Tom is able to see how these varieties perform under pressures that are similar to what they would be exposed to here. “To have this encyclopedia [of knowledge, experience, data] so close is incredible and amazing, and almost no farmers in Vermont know about it,” says Tom. The other Québec network Tom is involved with is through Dan Brisebois, Dan’s wife Emily Board, and the other members of a 17-acre organic cooperative farm west of Montreal called the Tourne-Sol Cooperative Farm. Tom has conducted several trials on the farm, and has grown some of Tourne-Sol’s varieties at High Mowing’s research farm in Vermont. This has led to connections with other farmers in the area, as well as to a project Dan is closely involved with: the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security, a 10-year effort to increase awareness around sustainable and organic seed production across Canada. Continued on page 23

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When David and Linda Boyden started Boyden Valley Winery in Cambridge in 1996, they had zero experience in viticulture or oenology, save for a class that David had taken at Cornell University. Initially, they planned to grow fruit other than grapes to make wine, because like most farms in northern Vermont, their farm is in a zone 4 region, which means average low temps of -25. Not exactly chardonnay-friendly temperatures. But around that time, David’s brother, Mark, was traveling up to Québec to buy tractor parts for his farm and told David he should join him to meet a local vintner who was successfully growing grapes in a climate even colder than in Cambridge. David accompanied his brother on that trip and started a relationship that was to result in one of Vermont’s pioneering grape wineries. In Québec, David met Robert LeRoyer, who runs his own winery, Vignoble LeRoyer St. Pierre in Napierville, about 30 miles southwest of Montreal. Robert grows varieties such as Marechal Foch, Cayuga, Geisenheim, and cabernet franc to make white, red, and rose wines. He had been making wine since 1989 and was using a variety of techniques to keep his vineyard thriving in challenging growing conditions. “The Québec guys were the innovators,” David says. “All of us [Vermont winemakers] started with connections to Québec.” Robert offered to mentor David and the two became good friends, sharing a passion for making fine wines in an unfriendly climate. Robert consulted for Boyden Farm and offered advice for varietals and techniques. As David recalls,

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“Having Robert helping us in the beginning was really instrumental. He gave us great insight into cold-climate viticulture and enology.” One technique was to hill the vines in late fall to protect them from icy winds in winter. David has since changed to varietals that don’t require hilling, but those early lessons resulted in very good yields from his first few plantings. Québec vintners also collaborate with Cornell University and the University of Minnesota, which are the leading research facilities for grape growing in cold climates. With advice from Robert, Minnesota, and Cornell, David and Linda broke ground on a section of the family farm (which had previously been a dairy farm) and started Boyden Valley Winery. Since those first grapes were planted, the Boydens have developed their own techniques and planted even more varietals, creating wines that have won six silver and eight gold medals in national and international competitions, plus numerous other awards. They are especially known for their exceptional ice wines, experimenting with both white and red varietals to develop complex profiles that are reminiscent of fine port wines. Twenty years later, they remain grateful to Québec growers like Robert LeRoyer who were so forthright with advice. Although they admit they do not see their old friend as much as they used to, David and Linda will always acknowledge their debt to their fellow oenophiles up north. —Laura Sorkin

photo of Robert leroyer and david boyden courtesy of boyden valley wines

A Vintner Mentor


photo courtesy of Deep Root Organic c0-op

A Plethora of Produce Imagine two Caesar salads: Both are tossed in that classic salty dressing and topped with croutons, tomatoes, and parmesan cheese. And both salads have, as their base, crisp and crunchy romaine lettuce. The lettuce in one salad was grown in California, while the lettuce in the other was grown in Québec. Is there a difference between the two? In flavor and texture, probably not. But there are subtle, yet very important, differences. When the base ingredients —romaine hearts—have traveled 3,000 miles from California, the salad exacerbates many environmental problems, such as the Western drought and carbon pollution from transportation. “We’re trucking food 3,000 miles when we’re trying to figure out what to do about climate change,” says Jeff Jones, sales and marketing director at Upper Valley Produce (UVP), a wholesale produce distributor based in White River Junction that sells to most major supermarkets in the Northeast, including Stop & Shop, Hannaford, Whole Foods, Shaw’s, and Price Chopper, as well as to many food co-ops. The salad made with Québec-grown lettuce, however, only traveled 200 miles and offers several benefits, such as fewer transportation miles, greater freshness, and more nutrients from having been harvested more recently. Québec also has more plentiful water resources than California. Jeff is working hard at persuading big supermarket chains—where he says 90 percent of Vermont consumers shop—to consider sourcing produce grown in Québec. Between the months of June and November, Québec is able to grow all of the same produce that California grows well, but with less environmental impact. “I want buyers to see that Québec checks off all their boxes: fresher, cheaper, closer—ding! That’s everything they care about.” But Jeff is up against a few challenges. For one, buyers at the big mar-

kets have longstanding relationships with distributors that source from California and Texas. On top of that, some of Vermont’s consumers insist that only produce grown within our state is truly local. “The word ‘local’ has been like this lightning rod,” Jeff says. “And there are purists.” But the landscape in Vermont, he notes,

a region], we can’t rely on California, and we can’t exclude Québec just because there’s a dotted line on a map.” Tony Risatano agrees that Québecgrown produce offers great benefits to Vermonters. He’s the sales manager at Deep Root Organic Co-op, a wholesale aggregator and distributor of

does not lend itself easily to mediumor large-scale produce production. “Vermont’s landscape doesn’t bode well for salad, tomatoes, and fruit,” he says. “Vermont can produce some, but not a lot.” Jeff believes that the term “regional” is better than “local,” and that Vermonters should look beyond political boundaries to see the whole Northeast region as their food shed. He defines regional as within a 250-mile radius from his facility in White River Junction, an area that includes the Atlantic Ocean and Québec’s many hundreds of flat acres of dark, glacial soil. “This region has everything we could ever want,” Jeff says, “and we’re trying to limit ourselves with borders. If we’re going to start feeding ourselves [as

regional produce, based in Johnson. This grower-owned cooperative has 23 member farms, seven of which are in Québec, and which range from small to large. A few of Deep Root’s Québec growers have been members of the co-op for 20 years. Deep Root offers a wide range of products, and they carry produce 12 months out of the year. Items from Québec include lettuce, zucchini, and radicchio in May; herbs and field cucumbers in summer; and carrots, root crops, and winter squash from fall through winter. There are also two hothouse growers producing cucumbers and tomatoes 10 or 11 months out of the year. Deep Root sends this produce to loca food co-ops Continued on page 23

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Jack Lazor called me at 8:00 p.m. the other night, which surprised me. I’m used to dairy farmer hours, and 8:00 p.m is past bedtime for most dairymen and women I’ve known. But Jack was ebullient and excited for the opportunity to talk about his friends in Québec. In addition to running Butterworks Farm, an organic cow dairy in Westfield, Jack Lazor grows grain. At his farm east of Jay Peak, the landscape geology and barn architecture actually resembles Québec more than New England. Jack has been visiting with friends in Québec since the 1970s, when he first moved to Vermont. He developed fluency in French and used it to forge relationships with folks in Mansonville, Stanstead, Waterville, Ayer’s Cliff, and Compton. To this day he routinely discusses farming techniques, varietal research, and the effects of farm policy with his friends in the North. Jack misses the more open, friendly, pre-9/11 border he once enjoyed. It used

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to be easier for him to mill grain in Québec, purchase Canadian seed varieties, and just go visit friends before increased permitting and notification requirements made his business relationships in Québec more challenging to maintain. The delays and the suspicion at the modern border now make a trip to Canada a much more carefully planned endeavor, he says. Nevertheless, Jack still regularly meets with his friends in Québec, and he expresses delight that Randy George of Red Hen Baking Company has developed relationships with Québec grain growers. While Vermont agriculture has focused on large-scale dairy, the structure of farming regulations in Canada has allowed a broader array of cash-crop activities. Because nearly all crops are grown under quota systems, farmers must settle on a crop that has available quota space.  With dairy nearly full, farmers have chosen to grow common grains, and newer farmers are growing

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less-common grains. When wet summers caused crop failures that forced Vermont farmers out of the oat-growing business in the 1960s, Québec farmers persisted and were rewarded with ongoing innovation and increased stability for all crop activities, while Vermont oat growers lost their mills and infrastructure, hastening the demise of Vermont’s grain-growing economy.   Although quotas contravene popular American narratives around ideas of freedom and self-determination, Jack believes they protect farmers from boom-andbust cycles and provide the kind of price stability that permits his friends to invest in the health and fertility of their farms in ways that Vermont farmers cannot.   The subtext of our conversation was the value of having a different perspective on policy and regulation within farming. Jack notes that the diversity of farming in Québec supports stronger infrastructure and more diverse research efforts for developing better products and methods. For example, Jack points to improvements such as drainage tiles, which are common in Québec and allow for more reliable grain-growing despite our increasingly unpredictable climate. The wide variety of sustainable enterprises in Québec also allows farmers to make use of multiple well-supported endeavors. If they grow grain, there are mills. If they grow hay, there are cows who will eat it. Farmers aren’t forced to blaze their own trails and set up completely new networks for incoming seed and outgoing product, with processing in the middle. Jack also remarked on how many farmers in Québec rotate their crops and how well they care for their soil.  At the Continued on page 23

photo of jack lazor courtesy of butterworks farm

Fields of Gold


photo courtesy of vermont salumi

A Porcine Quest “Yeah. I don’t know if you still want to do an interview with me.” It had been a week of phone tag with Peter Colman, owner of Vermont Salumi, and after breathlessly rushing through an explanation of why I was reaching out for an interview, his response was matter of fact. “I almost never source from Québec right now.” Vermont Salumi, a small company making fresh sausages and hand-tied salami in the Italian tradition, is based just outside Plainfield. Pete’s products often grace the plates of fine dining establishments in Vermont, as well as farther afield in Boston, Rhode Island, parts of New York, and New Hampshire and Maine. You can also find them at specialty food purveyors, local markets, food co-ops, and farm stands. Googling Vermont Salumi brings up dozens of articles and profiles, and Pete has been around long enough now to watch and experience the impacts of the local food movement as a small producer. For the past year, Vermont Salumi has been able to successfully source its pork exclusively from Vermont producers for its fresh sausage line, but that hasn’t always been the case. Like many businesses in the Green Mountain State, Pete has faced the same needs that other specialty food producers and restaurant owners often face when seeking to

bring a local product to the table: quality, quantity, and consistency. Pete initially used Vermont pork when he launched his business in 2010, but as demand for his products grew, he struggled not only with finding pork that was of the quality and consistency he needed for his handcrafted and high-end product, but with finding pork in the quantity he needed—thousands of pounds of specific cuts. The lack of access threatened to be a major frost heave in the road toward growth. “But I drive two hours north of my house,” Pete told me, “and find hog houses dotting the back roads of Québec the way sugar shacks dot the back roads of Vermont. You should go up there sometime. It’s amazing.” Indeed, the province of Québec, with its flat, fertile topography, has a deep and rich history of pork production. It goes hand in hand with its history of growing grain. The pigs are close to their grain-based food source and the result is high-quality consistency and less expensive cuts in great quantity. The large scale and skilled production attracts distributors like Du Breton, which works with multigenerational, family, owned farms that raise hogs on non-GMO grain and, in some cases, in Certified Humane operations that eschew the use of gestation crates for breeding sows. The company

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was Pete’s choice when he ventured into purchasing from Québec. “Working with Du Breton was great,” he told me. “They have great products, service, and consistency. They were the first hog farmers we approached north of the border, and because everything went so well, I never looked for others.” Pete likened his purchase of Québec pork to that of a growing Connecticut food producer deciding to source maple syrup from eight trees growing in the backyard versus sourcing syrup from Vermont, where maple production is efficient, family owned, and cutting edge. “It’s okay to admit that Vermont is not there yet,” he said, referring to the scale of local pork production. With a couple of Vermont producers now producing enough pork to provide Vermont Salumi with what he needs, Pete was very clear. “Just being local isn’t enough. There has to be a real, inherent value associated with an elevated price point.” “I like to buy Vermont,” he added, “but companies like mine need to get to a certain scale so we can absorb the costs of local ingredients without impeding our growth. Stay small and starving or are we going to grow?” —Elena Gustavson

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Eat great all winter long lettuce help


LOAVES Continued from page 16

PLETHORA Continued from page 19

done, the field is green with the next crop growing up, putting nitrogen back into the soil.” It’s clear that what Randy is creating at Red Hen is rooted in both the quality of the grains and the quality of the land. “All this work with farmers has been so exciting to me,” he says. “That the relationships we have are meaningful to their businesses, too, is gratifying. We want to feel good about the bread we’re making and about the imprint on the agricultural landscape.” With Québec-grown wheat as a main ingredient, all of Red Hen’s bread is now made with regionally grown wheat. Some loaves even feature 100 percent Québec grown and milled flour. “As a baker, you feel envious of the chefs who can name all the farms where their vegetables and meat come from,” Randy says. “I feel so fortunate to have connected with Loic.”   —Katie Spring

such as City Market, Buffalo Mountain, and Hunger Mountain, and supplies Vermont-based distributor Black River Produce, as well as regional and national chains such as Whole Foods. Tony points out that a city like Burlington can’t survive on local food alone. To supply a concentrated population base with the freshest food, sourcing must be spread out over a greater land base. He says that if a pin were dropped in the center of Burlington, all of Deep Root’s growers would fall within a 50-mile radius of it. He echoes Jeff Jones when he urges people to think beyond the map. “Erase those political borders in your head and look at it,” Tony says. “It’s all right there. Borders aren’t really real. What’s real is distance.” —Sarah Galbraith

SEEDINGContinued from page 17

FIELDS Continued from page 20

The project includes training activities, research and community garden work around seed security, and public access to seeds. Tom recently conducted a training webinar with the Bauta Initiative. “Québec is really fertile,” says Tom, noting that the Saint Lawrence River valley is 100 miles wide and hundreds of miles long, while the Lake Chaplain valley from the shore to the Green Mountains is just 10 miles wide. “Basically their little bread basket is almost the size of the state of Vermont.” Connecting with Québec farmers has allowed Tom to dramatically extend his capacity for trialing seeds, and gives him the opportunity to connect with the vibrant food and farming culture of Québec. “Even if I lived farther away, it’s such a huge advantage that I would go there anyway, to get access to these farmers, these fields. It’s just a huge learning experience.” —Tatiana Schreiber

same time, he said he wouldn’t necessarily favor Québec agricultural policy over America’s.   From my own sheep-farming experience, I know that farmers must be experts in many fields: crop health, animal health, feed science, soil science, accounting, marketing, and social media. Jack Lazor can add international trade, farm policy, and grain quota regulatory systems to that list. —Katie Sullivan

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seeds for change

To Market, to Bank

A petite vegetable farm in Saint Armand shares lessons in profitability. by Suzanne Podhaizer Québecois grower Jean-Martin Fortier draws a distinction between a good living and a good life. “’A good living’ mostly refers to how much money you make,” he tells me during a phone call. A good life, in contrast, takes into account “how your time is spent, and to what purpose.” Just four miles north of the Vermont/Québec border, in Saint Armand, Jean-Martin and his wife, Maude-Hélène Desroches, have been building their version of a good life in the form of a petite, intensively planted farm—one that is unusually profitable. The business is called Les Jardins de la Grelinette, after an implement known in English as the broad fork. The tool, which is used to aerate soil without disrupting its structure, is one of the keys to their success. So is paying acute attention to detail, and maximizing efficiency at every turn. In his book The Market Gardener: A Successful Grower’s Handbook for Small-scale Organic Farming, published in English in 2014, Jean-Martin lays out what the couple have learned over a decade running a profitable, human-scaled business, and provides a guide for others who wish to do the same. The volume has a 4.8-star rating on Amazon.com and is currently the bestselling book in the “sustainable agriculture” category. Who is the book for? For anybody who’s ever had a hankering for making a living with their hands in the dirt, growing food for their community. Although the book is geared towards small-scale farmers, much of the information in it would also be useful for a serious home gardener, one who is looking for ways to bring efficiency to the hobby, and to maximize output and quality. At Les Jardins, Jean-Martin and Maude-Hélène grow enough vegetables on a mere one-and-a-half acres to feed more than 200 families. They offer their products through a CSA, bring hundreds of bags of salad mix—a combination of lettuces, arugula, and chicory—to their local grocery store, and send the rest of their produce to be sold in Montreal. One of the pleasures of reading The Market Gardener is in realizing that starting a small farm can be achievable for those who are passionate about agriculture but don’t have access to lots of capital. In the book’s second chapter, Jean-Martin lists the start-up costs for creating a market garden business similar to his. Including the purchase of a greenhouse and a pair of hoop houses—plus all of the requisite equipment for working the land, destroying weeds, and keeping out pesky deer—the total comes to $39,000 (which, at the current exchange rate, is an encouraging $29,240 in U.S. dollars). Once Jean-Martin has convinced the reader that it’s possible to make a living as a market gardener, the remaining contents of his book seems even more invaluable. Chapter by chapter, he breaks down and shares the secrets of Les Jardins’ successes. He tells the story in clear and detailed prose, with line drawings illustrating concepts that benefit from being rendered visually.

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One of the crucial early chapters is about selecting farmland, which doesn’t necessarily mean shelling out money to buy it. Like many operations in Vermont, Les Jardins started on rented property. “I know a lot of rich people who would like somebody farming on their land,” Jean-Martin says. Although negotiating such arrangements has its own set of challenges, he believes it can be a valuable way to get started. Eventually, the micro-farm’s successes allowed Jean-Martin and Maude-Hélène to invest in their own property, which now serves as their business and their home. But even if you’re not settling on a site permanently, its quality can dictate the success or failure of an operation. Whether renting or buying, some people, Jean-Martin suggests, rely too much on the presence of existing infrastructure, or even the beauty of a plot’s “bucolic landscapes and spectacular views… Choosing a site for the wrong reasons can make the work of a market gardener much harder,” he says. The Site Evaluation checklist in the book offers a comprehensive set of questions that buyers or renters should ask themselves each time they consider a piece of property. That checklist is just one of the detailed charts that make the book valuable by giving exact details about the thought processes and practices that make the farm so efficient. One such graphic illustrates Les Jardins’ 10-year crop rotation plan, showing how plots are switched from producing garlic, to greens, to plants in the nightshade family. The rotation was created with pest suppression and soil nutrition in mind. And the couple never deviates from it. “We don’t improvise,” Jean-Martin explains. “There’s a reason why we do everything.” Another section spells out, in exact terms, how the couple and their interns germinate and transplant seeds in order

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photos of Les Jardins de la Grelinette by Alex Chabot

to manage the quality and quantity of the vegetables they produce. They start nearly everything indoors, preferring the work of transplanting to the uncertainty of sowing crops directly in the field. “Transplanting ensures perfect density, allows the crops a considerable head start over the weeds… It’s also much easier to ensure optimal germination,” Jean-Martin writes. And it allows for regularly scheduled successive plantings of many of their crops. Because they eschew tractors—both because of the expense and because of the impact they have on soil— the team at Les Jardins direct-seed or transplant their crops into permanent raised beds. “They provide the most space and labor-efficient layout for the market gardener, and the most beneficial growing environment for plants,” Jean-Martin explains. “After many years growing in such a system, I find it hard to even imagine growing vegetables any other way.” Other secrets to their success: growing crops that customers are excited about, such as tomatoes and greens, and minimizing those that are hearty but less enticing. At Le Jardins, they don’t do storage crops. “When we stop [for the year] people are very disappointed. It’s like ‘Oh no, back to the grocery store.’” But, Jean-Martin continues, that absence works to their advantage when spring rolls around. “When we start again, boom! It’s fresh, it’s exciting,” he says. Perhaps that’s why, after a decade, they have so many of the same customers. With this book in hand, what else does a prospective market grower need to do to have a good chance at success? Read other books, for one thing. Jean-Martin included a list of his favorites in a bibliography. And most important, work on other farms. “Spend at least a year working on somebody else’s farm, hands down,” he told me on the phone. And then, give yourself another year to prepare your own garden, “making the permanent beds, putting up greenhouses, building a wash station.” That way, when you begin, the infrastructure will be in place, and you’ll be able to focus on the crops, and the customers. Over the last few years, Les Jardins’ sales have settled in at around $150,000 per year, and 50 percent of that is revenue. Given that the family home is located on the farm, and that the expenses built into the business cover some of the costs of living—such as a truck and electricity for the property—there is ample money on which the couple can live. Before they had kids, Jean-Martin says, he and Maude-Hélène used to take off in the winters and go surfing in Mexico. And they’re able to put money away for retirement. “In the end, it goes a long way,” he says of the money they make. Which brings us back around to the idea of a good life: “I feel that when you’re growing vegetables, and you’re the family farmer of a group of people—if you can do it profitably without overworking yourself, and you’re outside, and you get to work with ecology on a daily basis—it’s a good life. I’m having so much fun doing this… This job is the best… I never want to sound cocky, but this works.” Suzanne Podhaizer is a writer, chef, cooking teacher, and consultant.

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150 miles: Farm to Oven

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CLOSE Continued from page 13

most local urban area, there’s a good cheese culture there, and we still have a good relationship with the [Québec] distributor,” Zoe says, adding that they’re continuing to work on their options.  

Border Aids Figuring out the logistics of navigating sales across the Canadian border can be confusing, and can change with different products. It’s also important to keep in mind that the question Vermont producers face isn’t simply whether they can navigate those logistics but whether it is worth their efforts to do so, rather than focus on domestic markets that have the same (or larger) concentrations of customers. Those outlets may require less paperwork, allow a better price, and carry different marketing implications. For example, Vermont food in Boston may be desirable as a relatively local product, while in Montreal it is a non-local import and requires different marketing as such. On the other hand, some products might find a niche in

Québec—Butterfly Bakery of Vermont’s Heady Topper-based hot sauce, for example, has great appeal to Québecers familiar with “Heady Topper” beer by Vermont’s Alchemist brewery and who know the beer itself will never be easily found in Montreal. For those with wanderlust, resources do exist to help producers navigate all the intricacies of the border. The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, for example, is part of the Food ExportNortheast trade association, which provides resources ranging from online tutorials to individualized market research to assistance meeting specific guidelines. When in doubt, producers can start with their helpline, which Chelsea Bardot Lewis, business development section chief at the agency, says is their most popular resource. These types of resources can help producers make smart decisions when looking across the border for a market. It’s not an impossible journey by any measure, but perhaps one that’s best not undertaken alone. Helen Labun Jordan is owner of Hel’s Kitchen (helskitchenvt.com) catering in Montpelier.

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Norwich Farmers’ Market Tracy Hall | Downtown Saturday 10am–1 pm December 10, 17; January 14, 28; February 11, 25; March 11, 25; April 8, 22 norwichfarmersmarket.org

Rutland Vermont Farmers’ Market VT Farmers Food Center | 251 West Street Saturday 10am–2pm December 3, 10, 17, 24, 31; January 7, 14, 21, 28; February 4, 11, 18, 25; March 4, 11, 18, 25; April 1, 8, 15, 22, 29 vtfarmersmarket.org

St. Johnsbury Caledonia Farmers’ Market Welcome Center | 51 Depot Square Saturday 10am–1pm December 3, 17; January 7, 21; February 4, 18; March 4, 18; April 1, 15 facebook.com/St.J.Farmers.Market

Windsor Farmers’ Market Windsor Welcome Center Saturday 11am–2pm December 3, 17; January 7, 21; February 4 18; March 4, 18; April 1, 15 windsorfarmersmarket.blogspot.com

Putney Farmers’ Market Green Mountain Orchard | 130 West Hill Road Sunday 11am–2pm December 4, 11, 18 putneyfarmersmarket.org

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My Family’s French Canadian Kitchen Whenever I catch a whiff of cinnamon or cloves, my mind drifts to my mother’s kitchen and the French Canadian food traditions that shaped how I learned to cook. The story of my grandparents’ families is shared with hundreds of thousands who immigrated from French Québec to work in the mills and farms of New England in the decades before and after 1900. My grandmother, Dolora Martel, or “Mémé,” was only 4 when she arrived from St. Francois, Ile d’Orléans, Québec. Alfred LaFlamme, my grandfather, “Pépé” was born in this country, son of a day laborer who hailed from that same village in Québec. They raised 10 children and eventually settled in the Brattleboro area, where I probably have more cousins than I can count. They brought their food stories with them, a cuisine that evolved from French roots, modified by the climate of Québec and New England: lots of pork, wild game, hearty stews and soups, corn in every form, yeast breads, pickles, apple-and-berry everything, custards, fruit galettes, and sweet maple pies. Every scrap of food they hunted, raised, or gathered was used—nothing wasted. Spices in sweet and savory dishes included cinnamon, cloves, ginger, allspice, and nutmeg, liberally used, along with maple and molasses. Meals were slow-cooked, hearty, full of carbohydrates and fat. They fed large families and hard workers who burned every calorie. What wasn’t served up fresh was cured, salted, canned, dried, smoked, or pickled, to preserve for the rest of the year. Many of the special dishes were tied to Catholic religious holidays. Bountiful Christmas Eve feasts are what my food memories are made of, and two recipes in particular stand out: a rich, savory meat pie called “tourtière” and the beautifully elaborate “Bûche de Noël”, a rolled sponge cake sprinkled with brandy and decorated as a Yule log with chocolate frosting, meringue “mushrooms,” piped holly leaves, and cinnamon candy berries. The tourtière was made with ground meat, pork, or pork and beef, with potatoes and cracker crumbs, baked in a flaky lard pastry. It was served dripping with brown gravy. Every family had their own version and spice mix, and sometimes more than one—our larger family has three or four versions, including one with cheddar cheese on top! The preparation of the meat pie is a bit peculiar: you boil

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the meat for nearly an hour. This changes the texture and extracts all the fat, allowing you to leave only what you want in the final dish. In my family, the ground pork included less important pieces of the pig—another way to make use of all scraps, even for holiday food. The dish was sometimes made with a meat-and-cracker filling, no vegetables. You can use any type of ground meat, including turkey and chicken, just don’t mention that to one of the old guard! I created a version using soy sausage and a gluten-free crust, topped off with wild mushroom gravy that pleases everyone from meat eaters to vegetarians. My niece Keri loves this one. But make no mistake, it is still Mémé’s tourtière!. Other favorites from my family’s kitchens include pea soup with salt pork; a spicy páte called creton, which also featured the boiled, spiced pork; Indian cornmeal pudding with lots of molasses and spices, baked in the ever-present cast-iron frying pan; my aunt’s salt-cod cakes; buckwheat crêpes, filled sweet or savory (my own grandchildren are becoming experts at making these); maple-boiled dumplings; mincemeat desserts; and maple sugar pies, an extremely sweet treat made with both maple and brown sugar and sprinkled with nuts and raisins. My teeth ache thinking of that one! And dumplings simmered in maple syrup? Not as sweet as you might expect, since the poaching syrup is cut in half with water. The dumplings were used as a simple dessert or side dish to pork. My mother also loved to fry bacon in maple syrup as well. She’d be right on top of the food trend today. Family food tells family history, and offers a sense of connection with the generations. Along the way, the recipes evolve, the essence of the originals enhanced to reflect the times we live in. But they remain “the old family recipes,” and if we’re really lucky, we get to cook them in grandmother’s cast-iron frying pan. Dorothy Read is a freelance writer who lives in Bellows Falls. She has worked for local newspapers, magazines, and radio, and operates a small inn that specializes in traditional recipes served up with stunning local ingredients. She is currently working on a cookbook of vintage recipes with a modern twist.

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photo courtesy of Dorothy Read

LAST MORSEL

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Vermont's Local Banquet Magazine Winter 2017