• 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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One Greenhouse, Many Winter Greens

Photo of Carol’s greenhouse by Sharon Mueller

Written By

Sharon Mueller

Written on

March 01 , 2008

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?

Carol’s greenhouse is not the ordinary structure you find in the backyards of most home gardeners. It is unique because, in her effort to grow food year-round, Carol has installed an innovative soil-heating system and moving track lighting that you don’t often see in small-scale greenhouses. Plus, she is on her way to eliminating the use of fossil fuels to power her greenhouse–an important goal in this age of skyrocketing energy prices.

On a day with a mix of clouds and sun, I stopped by Carol’s house on Clay Hill Road to find out more about her greenhouse. Jeem Peterson, the builder, was happy to answer my questions. (Carol was out running errands; I would catch up with her later.) Construction had started last fall, and was not quite complete at the point that I visited. But did that stop Carol from planting? No way! She wanted to provide the Upper Valley Food Co-op in White River Junction with fresh herbs and spicy greens.

Making the best of a location on the northwest side of a hill, the 16-ft. x 24-ft. greenhouse is very well-insulated. But Carol realized that soil temperature is much more important for the growth of hardy greens in winter than air temperature, so she and Jeem designed a system much like radiant floor heating (in which tubes of warm water are placed beneath the floor of a house to warm the rooms). Call it “radiant dirt heating.” Tubes of warm water are spread out under the beds. These tubes are connected to a 500-gallon, 4-ft. deep water culvert in the middle of the greenhouse, which provides a heat sink. Pipes carry the water up to the peak of the greenhouse to be heated by four black-fabric swimming pool heaters that capture the warmth of the sun (when it’s out). In the depths of winter, when the sun hides behind the hill for the months of December and January, the water is heated by a cattle water heater (which will soon be replaced by a more efficient in-line one).

In addition, two grow lights hang from a track above the veggies to help make up for a deficit of winter sun. Powered by electricity, they glide slowly back and forth in the early and late hours, extending the day and fooling those little plants. Jeem showed me the electric box with a thermostat, and boxes that said things like “vent fan” and “heat tank.” Above, on the north wall, he pointed out the “windoors”–used doors from The Cover Store, a local salvage shop, turned sideways and turned into windows for summer ventilation.

Jeem was obviously a man in his element. In response to my query about why he builds greenhouses like this, he said, “I do this to lower the number of petro calories to grow food. We need to feed ourselves, and stop paying people from far away to grow it for us. Let’s pay our farmers!” A worthy sentiment.

So, back to Carol, who has worked in the natural foods industry for over 25 years as a natural foods store owner, sales rep, and wellness educator. Some of her greens she eats, and some she sells to the Upper Valley Food Co-op. Yes! Spicy greens are delivered, by Toyota Prius, from Carol to Co-op. Carol says she’s a novice, keeps a gardening notebook, and is always learning. She’s having fun eating her way through this experiment!

What got Carol started? About four years ago, she noticed that a couple of expensive local restaurants were serving old mesclun shipped all the way from California. Her response was, “We can do better than that!” Up went the hoop house, which extended the growing season some, and many winters were spent reading about growing food year-round–books by the likes of Eliot Coleman and Shep Ogden. But she started dreaming of a sustainable greenhouse that would go further than Eliot’s techniques. Hmmm... A wood-fired greenhouse? Who would tend the fire if she were gone for a few days? And given the site orientation, some kind of back-up would probably be necessary. Carol duly noted the sun pattern for a couple of years. With the goal of someday weaning herself from fossil fuel, but willing to initially use minimal amounts, she enlisted Jeem to help create the structure that now sits just across the driveway from her home.

“I’m a nutcase when it comes to my passion for year-round growing,” Carol says. “I get as excited about winter growing as an athlete about his favorite sport. When it comes to producing fresh food here in the winter, people tend to roll over and give up. But we can do more! In addition to some large operations like Pete’s Greens (in Craftsbury), we can find ways for homes, small market gardens, to feed ourselves and our neighbors while supplementing income. Some survivalists say the sky is falling. Au contraire! I am running towards a local food system that is rich in variety, abundant and delicious.”

With any luck, we’ll be seeing much more of Carol’s bounty on the produce shelves at the Upper Valley Food Co-op.

Photo of Carol’s greenhouse by Sharon Mueller

About the Author

Sharon Mueller

Sharon Mueller

Sharon Mueller is the produce manager and a board member at the Upper Valley Food Co-op in White River Junction. She gardens with family and friends at her home in Springfield. Writing about local food and the future of the regional cooperative economy is a budding interest.

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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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Home Stories Issues 2008 Spring 2008 | Issue 4 One Greenhouse, Many Winter Greens