• Editor's Note Spring 2008

    Editor's Note Spring 2008

    The word ‘chores’ is spoken often in New England’s farming community, but people who work outside the agricultural sector don’t use it much. Last time many of us heard the word was when our mother told us to go do our chores–or no allowance! Nowadays, we ‘run errands’ and ‘go to work,’ reflecting our estrangement from manual labor. We certainly have as much to do as farmers, especially if we’re parents or are working two jobs to make ends meet; all of us are busy in our own way. It’s just that farmers rarely get a day off.

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  • One Greenhouse, Many Winter Greens

    One Greenhouse, Many Winter Greens

    In the depths of winter, a visit to Carol Stedman’s new greenhouse in Hartland provides a breath of spring. A sea of tiny greens waves hello. Claim a seat on the cement blocks that ring the 2-ft. high garden beds, bend over, and take a whiff of soil and fresh growing things. This is what I did on a recent January day. With snow blanketing the out-of-doors, the air temperature inside was only slightly higher than outside, not really warm. But the soil… a thermometer stuck deep in the dirt read a balmy 60 degrees. What was going on?

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  • 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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  • Collapse of the Colonies

    Collapse of the Colonies

    The word “localvore” may have been Oxford American Dictionary’s word of the year for 2007, but a close runner-up was “colony collapse disorder,” an unexplained phenomenon in which bees disappear mysteriously from their hives. The two words are more related than one might think, though. Given the risk this disorder poses to the foods we eat in Vermont, it’s important to ask: how serious is colony collapse disorder in our state?

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  • Sweet Honey in the Raw

    Sweet Honey in the Raw

    Todd Hardie is shy and quiet, but when asked about his favorite subject–bees–he is eloquent and full of great information. Todd has been keeping bees since he was a young boy. His knowledge about bees, honey, and apitherapy–the age-old tradition of therapy from the beehive–seems boundless. And his passion and commitment to sharing that knowledge with others comes through in his business, Honey Gardens Apiaries.

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  • Set the Table with Asian Greens

    Set the Table with Asian Greens

    With names such as shungiku, komatsuna and takana, Asian greens may seem somewhat intimidating to even an experienced home chef. In recent years, Americans have become familiar with unusual greens such as bok choy and mizuna, but if you’re the adventurous type, a vast array of even more interesting Asian greens awaits. And while these varieties are not available at the corner store, local farmers who grow them can provide the freshest quality, and may also supply helpful tips for using them.

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  • Zack Woods Herb Farm

    Zack Woods Herb Farm

    The growing demand for locally-sourced products in Vermont is leading residents to look beyond vegetables and meat to another important item for consumption: herbs. As a result, herb farms such as Zack Woods Herb Farm in Hyde Park, founded in 1999 by Jeff Carpenter and his wife, Melanie Slick Carpenter, are enjoying amazing success as Vermonters seek out local herbs not just for inclusion in homemade meals but for medicinal use as well. At Zack Woods, 35 medicinal herbs are grown for a host of ailments, and the Carpenters are working hard to keep up with demand.

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  • Three Square—Spring 2008

    Three Square—Spring 2008

    Growing up in Vermont, I ate chokecherries, dandelions, venison, and tempura day lilies. When I returned recently, to live here full-time, I began to notice how often the conversation in Vermont turns to food. What’s for dinner? For the next few issues of Local Banquet, I’ll visit a variety of people at home, peer into their iceboxes, and find out what they’re eating and why. And because these can often be personal subjects, I’ve omitted last names.

    Susan is chopping an enormous white radish. “You’re in the store and you think, why the hell would anyone buy this?”

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  • A Missing Link in the Local Food Chain

    A Missing Link in the Local Food Chain

    In good weather, the drive between southwestern New Hampshire and the Capital District of New York state can be breathtakingly beautiful: there’s the view from Hogback Mountain, the wind farm in Searsburg, the Bennington obelisk. But at 4 a.m. during a December snow storm, while pulling a trailer loaded with lambs over a foggy two-lane road, the drive is tedious at best and can be downright hairy.

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  • Cooking the Sting Out

    Cooking the Sting Out

    If you take care, and wear the proper gear, you can harvest an abundant and fascinating wild edible. Folks who have been stung by this rascal know what I’m talking about, while those who haven’t had the pleasure of eating it will undoubtedly come to appreciate this nutritious and tasty plant.

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  • Writing Down the Farm

    Writing Down the Farm

    The logic is straightforward and simple. It goes like this: Farming is the one business that everyone needs, because everyone eats. Add to it the fact that children grow up—often faster than adults can imagine. And when Vermont children become adults, they may want to become part of the local food system, either as a farmer or an eater.

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  • Farmers' Kitchen—Try a Little Tenderness

    Farmers' Kitchen—Try a Little Tenderness

    There are some meals that spell COMFORT to all who eat them. Leave your teeth behind. Savor the smell and the melting texture. Give yourself over to a sensuous repast.

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  • Last Morsel—The Taste

    Last Morsel—The Taste

    I roasted a loin roast from one of the pigs I’d raised—dinner plans had been canceled because of the ice storm.

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Editor's Note Spring 2008

bird house

Written By

Caroline Abels

Written on

March 01 , 2008

The word ‘chores’ is spoken often in New England’s farming community, but people who work outside the agricultural sector don’t use it much. Last time many of us heard the word was when our mother told us to go do our chores–or no allowance! Nowadays, we ‘run errands’ and ‘go to work,’ reflecting our estrangement from manual labor. We certainly have as much to do as farmers, especially if we’re parents or are working two jobs to make ends meet; all of us are busy in our own way. It’s just that farmers rarely get a day off.

As you’re reading this, farmers throughout Vermont are doing chores–familiar, backbreaking, invigorating chores. In corn fields and along rows of kale, in sheep pens and chicken coops, in gleaming milking facilities or seated on the bottom side of a bucket under a cow’s udder, farmers engage in the repetitive work that keeps their operations going. In winter, this work eases up a bit for fruit and vegetable farmers; for folks who work with animals, there’s something to do for 365 days a year.

I don’t know about you, but I like traveling to far-flung states and countries, going on vacation to slice through my daily routine and experience a new part of the world. For farmers, though, this isn’t easy to do. Sometimes I want to wave a magic wand and give all Vermont farmers two weeks off, not because they don’t enjoy chores–most of them do, and wouldn’t want to live any other way–but because many farmers I’ve spoken with tell me they get tired sometimes. And when farmers burn out, the rest of us often end up watching another piece of farmland get lost to development and see another source of local food evaporate.

I can’t wave a magic wand, that’s obvious. But what if I became a magic wand?

Like my friend Julia.

Every Sunday evening, Julia helps one of her neighbors, a dairy farmer, with evening chores. The two meet at the farmer’s dairy barn–which is firmly fixed on the crest of a hill outside Craftsbury, comfortable in its faded wooden skin–and proceed to shoo away the black barn cats, scrape the day’s manure into the trench that runs behind the cows’ platform, feed each cow a couple scoops of grain, turn on the compressor for the vacuum pump, and assess which of the two dozen cows needs to be milked that night. Then they hook up the portable milkers to the cows’ teats and to the pipe delivering compressed air, and wait. After they feel a cow’s ‘bag’ and deem it empty, they remove the milker and pour the warm contents of the portable tank into the bulk tank. When the milking’s done, they carry heavy bales of hay from a far section of the barn to the cow’s stalls. They haul buckets of water to the heifers and watch the water get slurped up in seconds. Then they put their hands on their hips, decide they’re done for the evening, call the dogs, and head back to their respective homes.

The days when Vermont residents regularly joined their farmer-neighbors to help with chores are a distant memory, but they may be coming back. Many CSA’s invite customers to work a few hours a week in exchange for a discount on their share; it isn’t purely voluntary work, but it’s something. Recently, Lee Findholt of Wicked Good Farm in Hinesburg started a farm-sitter network for folks in Chittenden County who have fewer than 30 barn animals (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/farm-sit). In East Haddam, Connecticut, a woman named Cathy Kerkes has started a business called “The Fairy Barnmother.” She takes care of people’s horses, sheep, and other barn animals for a fee. Your wish has been granted, reads the blurb on her business card.

All of us who enjoy local food can become volunteer fairy barnmothers if we have the patience to learn the ropes of a particular farm and the commitment to show up when we’re needed. I’m grateful to have the kind of job that allows me some spare time to assist farmers with chores. I used to stop by my friends’ vegetable farm near Brattleboro to help Jim and Lori pick corn, weed the cilantro, fill the CSA bags. Soon I’ll be moving to the Montpelier area, where I hope to earn the trust of another farmer who says, “Want to help with chores?” Then I’ll be a magic wand of sorts–not a panacea for all the challenges of farming, but a reinforcement against them. I’ll be someone who helps spread the hay, fills the water buckets, and closes up the barn door–but the door will be closing a little earlier than usual.

–Caroline Abels

About the Author

Caroline Abels

Caroline Abels

Caroline Abels is the editor of Local Banquet and the founder-editor of Humaneitarian.org, a website that inspires people to buy and eat humanely raised meat.

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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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