• 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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Neighbors Feeding Neighbors in St. Johnsbury

St. Johnsbury Community Farm

Written By

Robyn Greenstone

Written on

October 25 , 2012

Standing in a local supermarket last August, scanning the shelves for a lemon to complete the ingredient list for my mother’s celebrated cucumber salad, I felt like a complete foreigner. I realized, as I surveyed the rows of coolly aligned produce, that it had been a full five months since I stepped foot inside a grocery store.

This is because in the warmer months, the fruits of my own garden are frequently supplemented with produce and condiments from a variety of farm stands in the St. Johnsbury area and three local farmers’ markets. And like many of my neighbors, I embark on a weekly pilgrimage to several different farms within a 10-mile radius of my house for eggs, cheese, yogurt, goat’s milk, jam, relish, grass-fed beef, lambs, and free-range chickens.

As my fourth year of residence in the Northeast Kingdom draws to a close, I am recognizing that my transformation into a loyal localvore has been greatly assisted by the St. Johnsbury Area Local Food Alliance (St. J. ALFA), which also launched four years ago. At the time, vibrant grassroots concern about having gone beyond “peak oil” led to active community discussion and the founding of St. J. ALFA. Membership in this alliance is free and open to all. The core group of members represents local farmers and other citizens who believe in the alliance’s mission of making more local food available to a greater number of local people. Impressed by the vision and the enthusiasm of the group, I joined, and now attend meetings and work parties to help its various subcommittees.

St. Johnsbury’s environs are not unlike other regions of Vermont. There is a rich agricultural bounty, honesty boxes at numerous welcoming farms, and a longstanding tradition of farmers producing food for their neighbors. But two projects run by St. J. ALFA are turning out to be quite unique.

In 2010, a local citizen donated three acres of tillable land on Old Center Road just outside St. Johnsbury’s town center. This land became the all-volunteer Community Farm, first run by a conglomeration of religious groups called Faith in Action. St. J. ALFA got involved in 2011 and assumed full management this year. It’s called a “community farm” rather than a “community garden” to highlight its unusual modus operandi. Individuals do not adopt individual plots of soil for their own use and benefit, as typically occurs in a community garden. Instead, individuals work side by side with neighbors and new friends on one large plot of land follow a suggested protocol that adapts according to need, imagination, and the initiative of its volunteers. In exchange for hoeing, planting, watering, or thinning, local citizens are invited to take home whatever produce suits them. The surplus is donated to neighbors in need.

The Community Farm is a true community project, relying on generous donations of money, time, services, seeds, plants, and products by local businesses, organizations, and individuals. The vision is to expand the farm beyond its current productive state and make it a site for educational programs run in conjunction with local schools and institutions such as the Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium, which is working on curricula involving the science of growing things. One active member of St. J. ALFA who is a teacher brings her high school students to the farm for many hands-on adventures studying and working on projects involving soil testing, soil preparation, farm layout, and planting.

At local meal sites this past summer, members of the Community Farm also offered “Eating Local” food workshops that featured food tastings and the sharing of recipes. Some of these highlighted the value of growing and eating beans as part of St. J. ALFA’s receipt of the Bean Grant, which is designed to promote beans as an important source of good, local, plant-based protein. The grant was co-written with UVM Extension and is a Specialty Crop Grant funded by the USDA and administered by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture. Work is underway for the acquisition and installation of a bicycle-powered bean thresher that St. J. ALFA hopes to house at the farm. This human-powered machine would be converted from an old chipper thresher and would provide further opportunities for active involvement (literally!) in the local food movement.

St. J. ALFA also oversees the St. Johnsbury Online Farmers’ Market, one of only a few online markets in Vermont that offer citizens the opportunity to order products and pay for them in advance online. Twenty-seven vendors from 17 towns throughout the Northeast Kingdom are currently registered in this market, and they’re not all farmers. The roster includes herbalists, bakers, jam and jelly makers, coffee roasters, and candy creators. To make the online market more convenient for customers with tricky schedules, there are now three different pick-up locations and times: Wednesday afternoons at the St. Johnsbury House, Friday afternoons at the Lyndonville Farmers’ Market, and Saturday mornings at the St. Johnsbury’s Farmers’ Market.

Consumers appreciate the Online Market because of the wide range of vendors and items, and because they can place and reserve an order for popular items that often sell out in the early hours of the outdoor farmers’ market. Their strawberries, spinach, peas, pies, and yogurt drinks will be waiting for them even if they arrive in the later hours of pickup. Some customers want the opportunity to pick up their orders quickly rather than taking the time to walk around and shop. Direct-to-your-door delivery service is also available for a fee.

The Online Market is in its second year, and there are some challenges involved in its maintenance. Its first-year trial was possible thanks to a modest grant and the phenomenal energies of a core group of 5 to 10 committed volunteers, all of whom had full-time day jobs. One of the volunteers, a farmer with an incredibly busy schedule, drove around to all the farms with coolers in his truck to collect every order and deliver the aggregation to the pickup site.

This year, another modest grant has allowed the hiring of a part-time manager, but the difficulties of minimizing cost and maximizing convenience remain. To pay for itself, the Online Market must gross $2,000 to $3,000 a week; the customer base is not yet broad enough. Some of last year’s grant money was used to hire a marketing consultant, but the implementation of the proposed strategies requires yet more volunteer hours and additional financial resources. An application for nonprofit status is pending; if approved, it would allow tax-free donations and access to many more grants, as well as helpful free services such as web page platforms.

As part of its role promoting a local food economy, St. J. ALFA also publishes an online Local Food Resource Guide listing all the CSAs and all the winter and summer farmers’ markets in the region, as well as resources for news and information on current farm policies, activities and events, local and natural food and gardening, and healthy nutrition. It holds panels and workshops, screens documentaries followed by discussions, and brings in representatives of other food-related organizations in the area.

The success of St. J. ALFA’s most unique programs, though—the Online Market and the Community Farm—will particularly encourage more people to become loyal localvores. I may already be one, but I will celebrate it all by making more of Mom’s cucumber salad. And this time, some lemon balm or lemon basil ordered from a local producer online or clipped from the Community Farm will provide that coveted suggestion of citrus.

About the Author

Tatiana Schreiber

Robyn Greenstone

Robyn Greenstone lives in Danville. She teaches at St. Johnsbury Academy and writes a regular column on herbal lore for The North Star Monthly.For more information on St. J. ALFA, or to participate in its online market, go to www.stj-alfa.org.

Robyn Greenstone graduated magna cum laude from Wellesley College with a BA in Medieval/Renaissance Studies. She received her MST from Pace University and brought her love of culture to two educational realms: classroom and museum.

For more than a decade, she served as a gallery and garden lecturer at The Cloisters, the medieval branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Concurrently, she taught humanities in Westchester’s Katonah-Lewisboro School District, launching creative interdisciplinary and literary initiatives which earned her a reputation as an engaging teacher dedicated to project-based learning and authentic assessment.

In 2002, she was awarded a Luce Scholarship and embarked on a year-long sabbatical in order to study the traditional performing arts of Japan in Osaka. She apprenticed with Otome-bunraku artist Masaya Kiritake and, upon returning to the States, organized Otome-bunraku puppetry performances in regional theatres and public schools. Her commitment to personal growth prompted her to undertake in 2007 a second hiatus from teaching in order to immerse herself in writing about her experiences in Japan.  

She has now returned to the classroom at St. Johnsbury Academy where she teaches English and US and World History to the academy’s diverse international student population. She remains committed to cross-cultural conversations and looks forward to furthering international awareness within the St. Johnsbury community.

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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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