By Elise Annes
More than ever before, Vermonters are putting their mouths and money where their minds and hearts are. Best-selling books describe the expansion of industrialized food production and consumption, but here the local food movement has demonstrated growth and fortitude. Traveling in Vermont you are more likely to pass by a farmstand than a drive-thru. This is something that localphiles talk about as self-determination. Eating locally grown and produced food means that food choices are based not only on what the world’s food system can supply, but also on what our Vermont fields are able to produce. This is the idea that we can have our cake, if we grow it too.
It is more than just speculation that local food is in demand. In a 2007 Tufts University survey, “Civic Agriculture in Vermont,” 90 percent of farmers or farm markets and co-op managers agreed that Vermont is seeing an overall rise in local food production and consumption. Ninety-three percent agreed that Vermonters are increasingly thinking about where their food comes from.
Buying local food from a conserved Vermont farm is possible at nearly 60 farmstands across the state. Additionally, many products from conserved farms including cheese, yogurt, maple syrup, milk, and meat, are sold at wholesale.
We recently spoke with several people who are farming on conserved land. What we heard is that buying locally is good for our health, economy, and the environment. But most of all, we heard that purchasing food from a local farmer is good for community. As Peter Griffin, owner of the Old Shaw Farm in Peacham, humbly and graciously put it, “We’re the farmers in town now and our neighbors stop us on the street and say, ‘It is so nice to have you here. This farm is important to our town.’”
Here are some of the farmstands that sell food grown on land conserved with VLT:
Old Shaw Farm
Peacham-Groton Road, Peacham
Peter and Maryellen Griffin
Nearly 40 vegetables, fruits, and herbs, including salad turnips, sun gold cherry tomatoes, corn, and French melons.
“When we decided to make a go of our own farm we looked around for a long time,” recalled Peter. “We saw this place in 2002 and it was way too expensive, but it was conserved [by Margaret Seiden in 1997]. We decided to still approach Margaret and let her know that ‘we’d like to be here and farm but we can’t pay what you’re asking.’” Well, Peter and Maryellen did buy the beautiful, conserved 15 acres and old farm house at a significant reduction because Margaret did not want to sell to anyone but farmers. “Because it was conserved, we could afford this farm,” Peter said. “It had the best soil we’d seen in 10 years.” With five acres in production at a time and four greenhouse structures, the Griffins are in their fifth year of farming. They have a farmstand and a growing 52-member community supported agriculture enterprise (CSA). Peter and Maryellen describe the positive and sometimes quirky community building aspects of their farmstand operation. “Running a farmstand isn’t for everyone,” explains Peter. “You really need to literally open your home. Last week we found someone in our kitchen looking for a scale. It didn’t faze us or our kids. They were just trying to weigh their tomatoes.” If you happen to be in Peacham and looking for tomatoes or other vegetables, visit the Griffins from mid-June through October.
River Berry Farm
91 Goose Pond Road
off of Route 104, Fairfax
David Marchant and Jane Sorenson
Pick-your-own strawberries and raspberries, eggs, and a mixture of vegetables, including lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers.
In 1997, David and Jane conserved River Berry Farm. This decision allowed them to buy the adjoining land that was originally part of the farm. Now they have 40 acres in production and sell both retail, at their farmstand, and wholesale, through the Deep Root Organic Truck Farmers Cooperative. Their food ends up at shops from City Market in Burlington to regional Whole Foods supermarkets. Area residents can choose to pay River Berry Farm up front and then use the credit for anything in the store throughout the growing season. Even with their successful wholesale business, David and Jane still sell quite a bit locally. “The local food movement allows our business to stay around,” says David. “People come through and enjoy healthy, quality food at a good price.” Visitors can plan a trip to River Berry Farm from May to October.
Farmstand at the Cobble
570 Charlotte Road, Hinesburg
Wendy Ordway and Gary Clark
Vegetables and fruits, including: strawberries, peas, potatoes, squash, tomatoes, herbs, onions, garlic, and melons.
Speaking with Wendy Ordway about her farmstand, one can tell that she values hard work and the ways of old. She describes her decision to name her farm in geologic terms—a cobble, which can be found in her farm’s pasture, is a rock fragment that has been naturally rounded. The farmstand that she owns with Gary Clark is an old-fashioned wagon with sides and an awning, but the business is anything but outdated. Their CSA customers doubled this past year, and business is still growing. The CSA is made up of “very loyal, wonderful people who are appreciative of everything they get from the CSA,” Wendy shared. They attribute their farm ownership to conservation. “Farmland conservation is the only way that we could have afforded to buy the farm; it is for those who really want to work a farm.” The Farmstand at the Cobble also demonstrates to visitors that farming can be a labor of love. “In this little valley we have the last frost in spring and the first frost in fall, but people who frequent our farm know just what we’re up against,” said Wendy. The farmstand is open between mid-June and the end of October.
1101 Cloudland Road, Pomfret
The Emmons Family (802) 457-1520
Variety of beef cuts, including specialty meat products such as beef sausage and teriyaki beef jerky (all nitrate-free). The farmstand also offers roasting chickens and turkeys for Thanksgiving.
With more than one thousand conserved acres, a forest management plan for timber and wildlife habitat, and a portion of the Appalachian Trail traversing the property, the Emmons family is committed to several conservation values, and of course sound stewardship. Cathy Emmons describes the enjoyment of people visiting the farm: “People come by because they want to buy local meat. Our roasting chickens always sell so quickly! We’re even considering adding some agritourism to help out with the cost of managing this farm so our kids can stay in the business.” Cloudland Farm is a true family business; Elizabeth Emmons donated the conservation easement to VLT in 1991 (she turns 90 this year). And, Elizabeth’s grandchildren help out quite a bit on the farm. You can visit Cloudland Farm most days year-round and, as the sign says, if you are passing through Pomfret, “take a chance or call in advance.”
614 US Route 7, Bennington
Keith Armstrong (802) 442-6715
Vegetables, including: sweet corn, zucchini, summer squash, tomatoes, lettuce, and lots of pumpkins. The farmstand also offers maple syrup and, in December, Christmas trees.
It was the will of the community that first allowed the Armstrong family to own the original 68-acre farm in Bennington. “When my great-grandmother and her five sons were left after my great-grandfather died at just 37 years of age the townspeople went and bought this farm for them,” recalled Keith. Afterwards, it was the will of Keith Armstrong’s grandparents, parents, and his own dedication that has kept this Bennington treasure selling some of Vermont’s finest vegetables. “My mother used to say when times were hard that there wasn’t enough money in print to buy this place from us,” Keith continued. After 130 years in business, Keith says his opening day this season bodes well for a good year with a 50 percent increase in vegetable sales and a 300 percent increase in syrup sales. Keith’s commitment to his farm is matched perhaps only by his jovial nature, which might make it hard for you to leave his farm on your next visit. The Armstrong Farm is open when the sweet corn is ready in mid-July and then stays open through Halloween.