Farmers' Kitchen—Bella Basil
Written onJune 01 , 2011
Pesto is summer. It is the bright flavor of fresh basil, the bite of raw garlic, and the smoothness of olive oil. Tasting pesto can bring the visceral sensations of warmth and sunlight to us, even in the darkest days of winter. At Bella Farm, my small crew and I grow eight varieties of basil, as well as seven varieties of garlic and many culinary herbs. We process the basil and garlic into our signature dairy-and nut-free pesto, called Bella Farm Organic Pesto.
The idea to make pesto was the brainchild of my friend Kelli Brooks. She had worked on many vegetable farms in Vermont and a few in California. I had a history with vegetable farms as well, but had most recently worked with value-added dairy producers like Does’ Leap Farm (organic goat cheese and keifer makers in Franklin County) and Butterworks Farm (organic yogurt makers in the Northeast Kingdom). While Kelli and I both loved growing vegetables, we believed that finding the right value-added product would help us create a new and exciting farm. We started Bella Farm together in 2009, and while Kelli no longer works in the field with me, she is still the chief pesto maker.
We are a very small operation. We lease three acres of organic farmland at the Intervale in Burlington and share greenhouse space and equipment with 14 other farms there. Working at the Intervale has made it possible for us to be a part of an amazing community of experienced and innovative farmers. It has also helped us reduce our start-up costs considerably. Once our farm is established, we will graduate from the Intervale and move the operation to Monkton.
The summer months find us running back and forth between the processing kitchen and the field, stocking up the freezer so we can make our pesto available throughout the year. Selling a whole product and a value-added product means that we have a great deal of flexibility in our business: the basil that looks perfect goes to the farmers’ market, while the rest goes to the pesto kitchen. At the same time, the greater the number of production steps we commit to (growing the basil, picking it, washing it, processing it, and storing it until sale), the more risk our business takes on. For that reason, I believe it’s important to have a diversity of products to sell, ranging from whole to value added.
It’s exhausting work, but we remember exactly why we do it every time we hear someone exclaim, “Your pesto tastes just like summer!” This pesto potato salad is a great twist on a favorite summertime dish. We hope you enjoy it!