• Eat it on the Radio

    Eat it on the Radio

    In his book Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, Vermont author and environmentalist Bill McKibben focuses on the importance of strong communities for the health and well-being of the planet and its people. He suggests that we can strengthen our home regions by producing more of our own food, generating more of our own energy, and even creating more of our own culture and entertainment. To achieve these goals, McKibben advises, we need to build or rebuild local institutions that draw people together, and one such institution that he cites in his book is a low-power radio station in the Mad River Valley: WMRW-LP Warren, 95.1 FM.

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  • A Passion for Artisan Soap

    A Passion for Artisan Soap

    My soap-making journey started a decade or so ago, when I was becoming more and more sensitized (allergic) to mainstream, detergent-type soaps. Eventually I just couldn’t use them anymore. As I researched the subject, I became alarmed at what was being used in cosmetic products on the market, not to mention all the harmful chemicals leaching into our waterways as a result of those products. I decided to start making my own soap, and the enthusiasm I had back then for soap making has now turned into a passion and a business for me. My only regret is that I didn’t start making them sooner!

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  • Halal in the Hills

    Halal in the Hills

    Art Meade is a 59-year-old livestock and poultry farmer with a thick Maine accent and a farm on Route 100 in Morrisville. He also happens to run the only state-licensed slaughter facility in Vermont that caters to Muslims who practice halal slaughter. This is the Muslim tradition of swiftly slitting the throat of a domesticated meat animal with a sharp knife; the animal is believed to be killed instantly and painlessly (though there is some debate about that). Muslims, who are directed by their religion to eat halal meat, can purchase such meat in Vermont stores, but some prefer to do the slaughter themselves.

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  • How to Start a Community Garden

    How to Start a Community Garden

    Back in January, as my husband and I searched for a place to live in Middlebury, we had big plans to create a summer vegetable garden. But it quickly became clear that housing in town with gardening space wouldn’t be easy to find. Apartments that advertised a “big yard” always seemed to have a “scruffy lawn,” and few landlords reacted well to my desire to dig out a portion of that lawn to plant vegetables.

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  • The Story of Bread

    The Story of Bread

    Green Mountain Flour, a new artisan bakery in Windsor owned and operated by Zachary Stremlau and Daniella Malin, takes a unique approach to its craft: it uses local wheat, local milling, and local fuel to create its flours, breads, and pizzas. Here, woodcuts that comprise the bakery’s logo tell “the story of bread,” echoing a time in early New England when, according to Zachary and Daniella, “the farmers knew the miller, the miller milled with stone, and the baker baked with fire.”

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  • How to Get Grounded

    How to Get Grounded

    On a road in Cabot, not far from the land that Laura Dale and Cyrus Pond bought this past March, you can look out to the west at a horizon dominated by the undulating spine of the Green Mountains. For many young farmers in Vermont, the cost of land can seem as daunting and insurmountable as the largest of those mountains in the dead of winter.

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  • Tapping for Taste

    Tapping for Taste

    There are people in Vermont who prefer fake maple syrup—not just people who are looking for something cheaper but who actually prefer the stuff made of corn syrup. There are other people in Vermont who don’t talk to those fake syrup types. And there are Vermonters who stand by Grade B for all occasions and others who keep a little Fancy on hand.

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  • Classy Wheat

    Classy Wheat

    Last year, I arrived at The Putney School as their new gardener and was tasked with getting the high school students at this Putney boarding and day school excited about gardening. Early on, the farm manager told me he had planted some wheat on the edge of one of the farm’s hayfields. I was intrigued.

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  • Farm Camp—Planting Confidence, Harvesting Strength

    Farm Camp—Planting Confidence, Harvesting Strength

    As I downshift off the Putney exit of I-91, my husband, Jerry, is roused from his dozing by the hollow sound of several hundred jostling maple syrup jugs. It’s April, time to buy containers for our maple syrup at Bascom’s 10% container sale, and time to post Farm Camp flyers.

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  • The First Localvores

    The First Localvores

    I have always been fascinated by wild foods. When I was a kid growing up in Indiana we had a copy of Euell Gibbons’ book Stalking the Wild Asparagus, and I remember how exciting it was to read about eating cattails, making acorn flour, and brewing sassafras tea. As I recall, the cattail stalks tasted a bit like mild turnips, the acorn flour was tannic and needed a lot of processing before being edible, and the tea tasted like something just this side of root beer. Little did I know as a kid that wild edibles such as cattails and acorns were just a couple of the foods historically gathered and consumed by the first people to inhabit the state I would one day call home.

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  • Getting Everyone to the Table

    Getting Everyone to the Table

    Back in January, as my husband and I searched for a place to live in Middlebury, we had big plans to create a summer vegetable garden. But it quickly became clear that housing in town with gardening space wouldn’t be easy to find. Apartments that advertised a “big yard” always seemed to have a “scruffy lawn,” and few landlords reacted well to my desire to dig out a portion of that lawn to plant vegetables.

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  • A 10-Year Stroll

    A 10-Year Stroll

    With hundreds of spectators lining Main Street in Brattleboro, the groomed and bedazzled heifers are led down the center of the street to the cheers of onlookers. Hundreds of cows preen for the delighted crowd, followed by more farm animals (bulls, goats, and horses), tractors (also decorated for the parade) floats, clowns, marching bands, street performers, and all manner of groups touting their various farm affiliations.

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  • Cookbooks, Culture,  and Community

    Cookbooks, Culture, and Community

    The case for local nuts. No, I’m not talking about your odd mother-in-law, your bizarre ex-boyfriend, or that whacko who expresses herself, extensively, at town meeting. And I don’t mean aficionados or extremely enthusiastic people. I mean those portable nuggets of nutrition, held aloft by tree limbs. A nut, technically speaking, is a big seed enclosed by a hard shell. And even though you’re now fantasizing about almond and macadamia instead of weirdo and diehard, I’m here to tell you about what nuts we can grow in Vermont, and why.

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  • After the Fire

    After the Fire

    Barn’s burnt down…now I can see the moon. –Chinese proverb

    Yet the converse is also true: Yes, we can see the moon, but it won’t shelter tractors, nor can vegetables be washed, packed, and stored inside its lovely glow. Oh, the moon is beautiful, but what can it do for food and a business after the fire is put out?

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A Farmhouse Feeds Its Neighbors

Food Works’ Two Rivers Center Opens a New Root Cellar and Builds from There

Two Rivers Building

Written By

Elizabeth Ferry

Written on

March 01 , 2010

When Joseph Kiefer and Martin Kemple founded Food Works in 1987, phrases such as “food security” and “local food system” had yet to come into common parlance. It was ambitious—maybe even radical at the time—to think of using gardens and locally grown food to address the root causes of childhood hunger.

But their deep commitment to the issue compelled them to create a nonprofit organization that to this day is devoted to teaching gardening, food preparation, and nutrition to children in public schools.

“Historically, Vermont has long met its food needs and we can do so again,” Kiefer says. “We want to move beyond food shelving and hunger relief. We work to strengthen local food systems and empower children and others to grow, prepare, eat, and preserve their own foods—because we all have a need for that connection.”

As founders and mangers of a nonprofit, Kiefer and Kemple are multi-taskers who exercise, daily, a variety of skills as educators, fundraisers, philosophers, and visionaries. And recently, they’ve added another role: “farmstead revivifiers.”

In 2001, Food Works purchased an historic farmhouse and acreage on the edge of Montpelier. The goal was to create a food and agriculture center that would strengthen central Vermont’s local food system. “The geography and the history of this place is special. This is sacred earth,” Kiefer says. “We feel that this is meant to be a gathering place, a commons, as we learn to feed ourselves in changing times.”

Ownership of the new property, known as the Two Rivers Center, has put Food Works on the cusp of a new phase. The staff are developing new programs and partnerships within the community as they breathe new life into the Two Rivers building and the land.

“It had felt awkward to us to preach about growing your own food from a third-floor office,” Kemple says. “Expanding to become the Food Works at the Two Rivers Center allows us to be on the land and walk our talk.”

A Confluence

The Two Rivers Center is located at the confluence of Stevens Brook and the Winooski River. A confluence—a place where two or more rivers join and flow together—creates a synergy in the natural world and is a rich place for plant and animal life. But humans are drawn to these natural junctions, too. River bottom land provides rich agricultural soils for farmers, and communities dependent on river transport have often been built at confluences.

And so it is fitting that the confluence at the Two Rivers Center has been significant in Vermont’s history. It was owned and farmed by a settler named Jacob Davis, who traveled up from Connecticut and established the first permanent homestead in what is now known as Montpelier. (An interesting aside: Davis donated his original land holding for the site of the Vermont State House.) In Davis’s time, all food was local food, and the task of feeding himself motivated him to establish his farmstead where Stevens Brook joins the Winooski River. That location, and the original 1836 farmhouse, is the Two Rivers Center today.

There have been many changes in the intervening 175 years. The farm’s original land base of 200 acres has been reduced to fewer than 20, and it is easy to miss sight of the farmhouse amid the traffic and business signs. The new rotary at the junction of Routes 2 and 302 is the common point of reference for the Center’s location, not the rivers.

And yet, “ideal” is the word Kemple uses to describe the property. “It is an island in the middle of a lot of change,” he explains enthusiastically. He connects the site to the mission of the Center saying, “Our surroundings are emblematic of what it means to live on the land in an age of development and industrialization.”

After Food Works bought the property from the Margaret and Sam Hoare family in 2001, four acres were recultivated, sprouting crops such as salad greens, potatoes, and garlic. Three greenhouses were built, making it possible to harvest fresh produce in the “shoulder” seasons of late spring and early fall. And in the summer months, the land became the site of day camps for children in the Center’s Gardens for Learning.

Each summer, campers engage in the age-old pleasure of being outside with friends, mentors, and the natural world. They tend and harvest seasonal vegetables and culinary and medicinal herbs, and prepare meals with food they’ve grown in the gardens. Not only is this skill-building, it is fear-dispelling: for many of these children, summertime means an unwelcome rise in their food insecurity as the assurance of a daily meal through their school lunch program ends with the academic year.

“We’re very serious about this as a way to reduce hunger,” Kiefer says. “It’s empowering.“

A Solid Foundation

Progress is taking place not just on the land but at the farm­house, too. Initial work has been done to reverse the damage caused by vandals when the house was unoccupied. Interior walls have been stripped of crumbling plaster, setting the stage for future renovations.

But the most recent—and most dramatic—transformation to date is the creation of a below-ground community root cellar and space for a first-floor community kitchen. The first step was to suspend the farmhouse ell on overhead supports. Will Eberle, a central Vermont carpenter and timber framer, then worked on the project with a crew of young people who were on an alternate path through high school. They built a firm foundation from cinderblocks and capped it with a solid hardwood floor of local lumber. 
Then the recession hit, funds ran out, and the project was put on hold. But it got a lucky break when Brian Van Hoy moved to central Vermont. Van Hoy is a certified “green” builder who, in the fall of 2009, was healing a broken leg. During his recovery, he donated his expertise to the root cellar project. Young people installed insulation, ventilation ducts, and climate control mechanisms under his supervision.

To the casual eye, the root cellar may seem to be just a hole in the ground, or the foundation of a weathered building. But when it opened in November 2009, it became a new link in the local food system. Now Food Works is able to operate its Farm to Table program—through which farm-grown produce is sold at wholesale prices to central Vermont institutions—in winter as well as summer.

On a recent winter day, Food Works’ Farm to Table Coordinator Sara Lisniansky, assisted by Leah Erlbaum, were busy filling bulk orders for 25 customers. The vegetables had been grown on 11 central Vermont farms and stored in the root cellar. The variety was astounding: potatoes, garlic, winter squash, parsnips, celeriac, beets, cabbage, and more. Banish the thought that local food is only available in the growing season!

The buyers of these products were diverse, too. Eaters of all ages and varying economic backgrounds later enjoyed this fresh produce in schools, hospitals, senior centers, the cafeteria at the National Life building, and at Goddard College, among other locations.

“The farmers love it,” says Kiefer. “They can grow food for people who might otherwise not be able to afford it.”

A Time for Partnerships

“We’re at a critical juncture,” Kemple reflects as he describes the next phase of progress on the house. “We are actively looking for community partners to join with us.”

Food Works is collaborating with members of the community on the planning of a teaching/processing kitchen and food business incubator on the first floor. They also envision building a Quebec-style bread oven and creating a living history museum, library, local foods eatery, and general store.

Kiefer is filled with enthusiasm as he talks about the future. “We want people to say, ‘Wow!’ Here’s what a food-based economy looks like. See all it can do!”

Photo courtesy of Food Works

About the Author

Elizabeth Ferry

Elizabeth Ferry

Elizabeth Ferry is a writer and photographer in South Royalton who values local and sustainable agriculture. Her photographs and articles can be viewed on her website. The Food Works root cellar is named in honor of her parents, Ronald and the late Sylvia Ferry, for their support of the organization over many years.

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Vermont's Local Banquet Magazine illuminates the connections between local food and Vermont communities. Our stories, interviews, and essays reveal how Vermont residents are building their local food systems, how farmers are faring in a time of great opportunity and challenge, and how Vermont’s agricultural landscape is changing as the localvore movement shapes what is grown and raised here.


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