• 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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Barnstorming

Incarcerated Vermonters help save treasured buildings

Amanda Griggs, bottom row second from left; upper left and bottom left Corrections Department administrators.

Written By

Sarah Alexander

Written on

December 08 , 2012

Barns, of course, are a staple in Vermont agriculture, providing a place to house livestock, store hay and grain, and keep farm vehicles and equipment. Unfortunately, though, their upkeep can be dauntingly expensive and time consuming, especially with cows to milk and food to produce.

Joe and Sylvia Maille of Shelburne have been farming for as long as they can remember. Joe’s parents purchased the dairy operation in 1919 and now Joe and his son Jim have further developed the original operation. The Maille family milks around 50 cows today and sells their milk to Dairy Farmers of America, a dairy marketing cooperative.

Until late October, one of the Maille’s barns was in rough shape. Built in 1939, its interior sills and exterior siding had become rotten, it needed jacking up, and the silo called for a complete restoration.

“Honestly, I thought this barn was going to be something we would never be able to completely restore,” Jim told me. “The price of milk just keeps dropping while the price of fuel and labor continues to go up. When I first got the phone call I thought—c’mon, nobody seriously offers to paint your barn for free.”

The phone call was from the Vermont Barn Painting Project, which provides farmers with free labor and maintenance. The project’s rehabilitation work focuses on deteriorating barns and is performed by inmates in Vermont correctional facilities. For the Mailles, the restoration was performed in October by a work crew of women from the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility.

When I asked about the progression of the project, Jim said, “They’re only on their second week here, but it looks great. They never stop.”

The pilot project is a partnership between the Vermont Agriculture Agency, the Vermont Corrections Department, the Preservation Trust of Vermont, the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation, the State of Vermont Chief Marketing Officer, and Vermont Works for Women. Allen Lumber, Sherwin-Williams and Pizzagalli Properties provide donations and necessary funds.

This cluster of state agencies, non-profits, and private businesses constitute a unique collaboration. It meets the Agency of Agriculture’s mission to directly enhance landscapes for the growth and viability of local agriculture. And through the support of Vermont Works for Women, it assists women seeking purpose and a sense of accomplishment. It allows inmates to work as a team in a beautiful outdoor setting, provides them with useful vocational skills, and prepares them to enter the work force after the completion of their sentence.

••••

Upon my arrival at Maille Farm, I met Rachel Jolly, the director of programs at Vermont Works for Women (VWW). Rachel spoke of the extensive history that VWW has in making huge strides among women and girls. “We’ve done numerous carpentry training programs with incarcerated women, but nothing to this caliber—nothing that has them this engaged.”

I had arrived at 11 am, 30 minutes before the crew took a lunch break. In that half hour, I observed six women—all non-violent offenders—smoothly applying new coats of paint on the milk parlor door and removing siding from the top of the barn with the help of a gigantic boom, all while talking, smiling, and laughing.

Amanda Griggs was there, too. An organic farmer, potter, woodworker, and yoga teacher by trade and passion, Amanda was hired by VWW as the onsite safety and carpentry instructor for the Maille Farm project. “I love this role,” she told me. “It’s an opportunity and, of course, a challenge, but so rewarding. I get to see women do things they never thought they’d do.”

Amanda begins each morning with a basic carpentry lesson and leads the women in a short yoga class. Then they write down goals for the day, making sure to cross off each task as they finish.

“My favorite part is seeing how truly unselfish these women are,” said Amanda. “At the beginning of this project, I had the women write down their goals, and each and every person wrote servicing farmers, supporting agriculture, and helping others. They are truly happy to have an outlet for giving back to the community.”

To my surprise, many of the women, who chose to remain nameless for this article, were more than willing to talk to me—excited, even, at the thought of a new face and fresh perspective.

Asked about what it was like working on the project, one of the women commented, “Your days go by faster, you leave tired, and you get to be outside. It’s also great to be able to help someone, especially a farmer, and in this current, weakened economy.”

Some women spoke of the joy of using a skill saw or a hammer, others of how they overcame their fear of heights by going up in the boom lift.
The women on the crew were all from a housing unit of non-violent offenders at the correctional facility called the Delta Unit. They were interviewed and chosen to join the crew based on their hopes and vision for the project as well as their experience.

As for the Maille’s Shelburne barn, it was not the first to be restored through this project. Earlier this summer, the Gingue Farm in Waterford received a facelift thanks to an all-male work crew from the Northeast Regional Correctional Facility in St. Johnsbury. And almost three years ago, the Molly Brook Farm of Danville was restored.

The farms that participate in the program are chosen for their geographic location. They must be close to the correctional facility where the workers would come from, but also near a highly traveled area, so that visitors and Vermonters alike can relish in a beautiful, restored agricultural landscape.

••••

As a writer, I usually leave an interview with quotes and scenes swimming through my head. I wonder how I can capture a certain idea, what will my catchy headline be—the list goes on.

But on this particular drive home, it was only the sound of laughter that echoed in my head. It was then that I began to realize just how much I have in common with these women from the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility. Their mid-work smiles and laughter sent me back to the summers I spent on farms—the working landscapes where I have felt the most in my element, the best, most true, version of myself.

Working on these farms provided me relief from the fast-paced college lifestyle I was so desperate to get away from. I imagine a similar relief was felt by the women at Maille Farm—serving their time in the open air, rather than behind bars. Whether it’s a freshly painted barn door or a bountiful harvest of beaming orange carrots, that incredible feeling of pride and accomplishment is the same.

About the Author

Sarah Alexander

Sarah Alexander

Sarah Alexander lives in Burlington and is majoring in environmental studies at UVM. Her future plans include living on a few acres and merging her passions for writing and agriculture. For now, she daydreams of raising pigs and driving her Volkswagon bus across the country.

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A quarterly magazine devoted to covering local food, sustainable farming, and the many people building the Vermont food system.

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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