• Publishers' Note Spring 2010

    Publishers' Note Spring 2010

    In May 2009, the Vermont Legislature took a bold step toward strengthening sustainable agriculture in the state. Our lawmakers passed a bill called The Farm to Plate Investment Program, which seeks to increase economic development in Vermont’s food and farm sector by creating food- and farm-related jobs, improving access to healthy local foods for Vermonters, and expanding local and regional markets for Vermont products. Since the bill’s passage, the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund has taken the lead in working with a variety of ag-related groups to develop the 10-year strategic plan mandated by the bill.

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  • Gardening Like the Forest

    Gardening Like the Forest

    Modern gardeners have grown accustomed to segregating different types of plants into different places—herbs in one bed, veggies in another, perennials and flowers somewhere else, while the orchard stands alone. But this isn’t the way things work in a forest. Nature functions in wholes, enabling cooperation between species to generate robust, resilient systems that optimize the use of available sun, water, nutrients, and space.

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  • Set the Table with Switchel

    Set the Table with Switchel

    Long a staple in Northeast hayfields as a thirst quencher and restorative, switchel—alternatively called “haymaker’s punch” —was a colonial era proto-Gatorade, a source of both hydration and electrolyte replenishment. Recipes vary, but the most common ingredients were molasses, cider vinegar, and ginger, mixed to taste in a jug of very cold well water. While the concoction could have provided benefit to all manner of laborers and sporting folks, its use was particularly common among the workers of the hayfield and the children who carried the switchel jug to them.

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  • The World in a Glass of Milk

    The World in a Glass of Milk

    My first memory of drinking milk was walking through the lunch line in my grade-school cafeteria, picking up a red-and-white half pint carton of low-fat milk from an ice-filled service container, and placing it on my plastic tray. After sitting down at a table, everyone would pick up their wet carton and shake it vigorously to blend the frozen crystals with the unfrozen milk. It tasted cold and refreshing, like an unsweetened ice milk slushy, and was a perfect match for a sticky-sweet peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a bag of salty chips.

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  • Pie Local

    Pie Local

    Any critics of the local food movement—anyone who has ever insinuated that it’s elitist or indulgent—should know that at The Pizza Stone in Chester, a pie starts at $8.99. That’s for a large—eight slices—with extra local goodness baked right in: Vermont cheese, meats, veggies, and flour. What allows this new and popular eatery to keep its pies so locally sourced and reasonably priced?

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  • Mycelium Launching

    Mycelium Launching

    Terra Fructi. It sounds like perfect Latin. But Emily Bragonier and Liz Richards will be the first to acknowledge that they took linguistic liberties in creating a name for their new mushroom farm in Westmoreland, New Hampshire. “It’s actually grammatically incorrect,” Liz admits. “My mother, who is a Latin teacher, told us that terra fructi literally means ‘the earth fertile,’ which doesn’t necessarily say ‘mushrooms.’ But we hoped people would hear it and think of the fruits of the earth.”

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  • Restoring Vermont’s Heritage

    Restoring Vermont’s Heritage

    “The farming of our fathers was exceedingly simple, content to draw from a virgin soil the supplies of simple wants, instead of aiming itself for their increase. With the impoverishment of the soil, with the forests almost swept off the face of the country and the consequent climate change, with the multiplied wants of society and development of so many new industries, the highest intelligence and energies are required to remodel our system of agriculture so that it may fully meet the demands made upon it.

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  • Red Hen’s All-Vermont “Cyrus Pringle”

    Red Hen’s All-Vermont “Cyrus Pringle”

    Those who have been following the various “Localvore Challenges” happening around the state will know that bread made from local flour has always been one of the biggest “challenges” for localvores. In 2006 and 2007, Randy George, owner of Red Hen Baking Company in Middlesex, produced special “Localvore Loaves” using whole wheat from Vermont, but each loaf came with a full-page disclaimer about why the bread didn’t meet normal Red Hen standards. In the disclaimer, Randy explained that he hoped someday he would be able to make an all-local wheat flour bread that he would be proud to sell alongside his other loaves. Most localvores thought the bread was pretty good, but Randy didn’t feel right putting the Red Hen name on it without his caution and explanation.

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  • King Arthur Flour’s  100% Vermont Bread

    King Arthur Flour’s 100% Vermont Bread

    Wheat breeding for the past century has focused almost exclusively on high-yielding varieties suited to the climates of the Midwest and West, not to New England. Due to our thin and rocky soils, hilly lands, and increasingly wet summers, Vermont wheats don’t have the easy virtues of wheats grown in the Midwest; one might kindly describe them as developmentally challenged. For a long time, this served as an impediment to bakers, and breads were rarely baked exclusively from Vermont grains.

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  • Celebrate with “Vermatzah”

    Celebrate with “Vermatzah”

    Matzah has been used for centuries to celebrate Passover and the start of spring. Now it can be used to celebrate local wheat and heritage grains, too.

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  • A Farmhouse Feeds Its Neighbors

    A Farmhouse Feeds Its Neighbors

    When Joseph Kiefer and Martin Kemple founded Food Works in 1987, phrases such as “food security” and “local food system” had yet to come into common parlance. It was ambitious—maybe even radical at the time—to think of using gardens and locally grown food to address the root causes of childhood hunger.

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  • A Nose to Tail Heart to Heart

    A Nose to Tail Heart to Heart

    If I seem a little distracted, it’s most likely because I have to finish an order of cow’s tongue, warm up a duck’s heart, or explain the difference between fat-back and bacon to a curious but suspicious patron. It’s not that I don’t want to sit and talk—I’d love to have a beer with you, talk about where our ingredients come from, let you know that the rabbits really do like to be fed carrots, note the difference between Muscovy and Peking duck. It’s just that right now, there’s a couple in front of the Belgian taps who are waiting on their cheese plate. Be right back…

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  • Farmers' Kitchen—Seeing Purple

    Farmers' Kitchen—Seeing Purple

    Many people mark the arrival of spring with the sighting of the first robin. On our farm, the true harbinger of spring is the sight and taste of the first asparagus that noses its way out of the ground. Growing outdoors is a challenge for all farmers in the Northeast Kingdom—where, as the saying goes, one is never sure if a July frost indicates the last frost of spring or the first frost of fall. Asparagus means that spring not only has arrived but is here to stay, a cause for celebration.

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  • Last Morsel—A Perfect Day

    Last Morsel—A Perfect Day

    Each year, Monkton Central School in the Champlain Valley holds its annual Farming in Monkton Writing Contest. Students in grades 3 to 6 are invited to write a sketch about farming, and entries are evaluated by a local judge. Following is the 2009 winning entry, written by 11-year-old Ashley Turner. It’s a fictional account, based on her real-life experiences on various Monkton farms.

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  • Editor's Note Summer 2010

    Editor's Note Summer 2010

    There’s so much about modern American culture that our farmer ancestors could never have imagined. The popular Facebook game FarmVille comes to mind. That’s where you sit at your computer “harvesting” corn and squash from your virtual farm while studying spreadsheets to make sure your farm is profitable. Yes… your farm… your computer farm.

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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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  • Set the Table with Tortillas

    Set the Table with Tortillas

    I have to admit, having lived in California for more than 20 years, I have a soft spot for Mexican food. Actually, that’s putting it mildly; I could eat it every day. So when we relocated to Vermont to start this latest adventure in our lives, I figured I’d be saying adiós to some beloved friends. No more fresh tortillas steaming hot in a basket to accompany those creamy refried beans.

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  • Buried Treasure

    Buried Treasure

    A buried kimchi pot looks like a small bump in the ground.

    The buried kimchi pot at Laughing Lotus Farm looks like a small bump in the ground in someone’s dooryard, which a visitor could walk past without a second glance.

    “But imagine a field of buried kimchi pots!” Dave Brodrick enthused minutes after I arrived at Laughing Lotus Farm and walked past the bump in the dooryard. I imagined a field of the same small bumps.

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  • Mami and Papi

    Mami and Papi

    My partner, Meg, and I made our first journey to Mexico in the two weeks before Christmas 2009. We enjoyed some beach time on the Pacific, caught a couple of monster fish, and rode a few waves. We were joined there by our friends Isaac and Melissa, Craftsbury residents who are in the Peace Corps in Panama. After a week on the beach we rode the bus inland to Ixtapa. This is four hours southwest of Mexico City, in the state of Guerrero, and is home base for the Reyes Vargas clan. The Reyes Vargas have nine children, and we have gotten to know seven of them over the past four years.

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  • New to America,  Old Hands at Agriculture

    New to America, Old Hands at Agriculture

    There’s something exciting happening at the Intervale. “So what else is new?” you might say. “There’s always something interesting happening at the Intervale.” But not every day do you see families from more than four different countries, speaking a mix of different languages, planting lenga-lenga, molukhia, or Asian mustards side by side in a lush valley in Vermont. This summer that will be the scene at the gardens at Ethan Allen Homestead, a field at the Intervale Center in Burlington, and on farmland in Shelburne.

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  • Human Manure

    Human Manure

    In gardening, we cannot escape cycles—not that we’d want to, since they’re what keeps the whole party going. There are the obvious cycles, like the eternal cycle of seasons, and the accompanying growth cycle from seed to seedling, to plant, flower, or fruit, and back to seed again. But there’s another cycle taking place in every garden and on every farm that is the most fundamental of all, but nearly invisible.

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  • Farmer's Kitchen—Strawberry Fields

    Farmer's Kitchen—Strawberry Fields

    There’s something exciting happening at the Intervale. “So what else is new?” you might say. “There’s always something interesting happening at the Intervale.” But not every day do you see families from more than four different countries, speaking a mix of different languages, planting lenga-lenga, molukhia, or Asian mustards side by side in a lush valley in Vermont. This summer that will be the scene at the gardens at Ethan Allen Homestead, a field at the Intervale Center in Burlington, and on farmland in Shelburne.

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  • Last Morsel—Three Weeks in June

    Last Morsel—Three Weeks in June

    We arrived at the campground in Watsonville, California, long after dark. Stepping out of the van, I paused, tilting my ear toward the distant sound of crashing waves. Overhead, the moon gleamed, half full beneath a thin layer of clouds. I turned toward the west—at least where I thought west was—and gazed at the ocean. It was glinting, shiny, and mysteriously still. I gazed at it for a long time, absorbing the distant calm of the water. Waves, I thought to myself, must not look the same from a nighttime distance, in hazy moonlight.

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Mycelium Launching

Emily Bragonier and Liz Richards

Written By

Andrea Ward

Written on

March 01 , 2010

Interview by Andrea Ward

Terra Fructi. It sounds like perfect Latin. But Emily Bragonier and Liz Richards will be the first to acknowledge that they took linguistic liberties in creating a name for their new mushroom farm in Westmoreland, New Hampshire. “It’s actually grammatically incorrect,” Liz admits. “My mother, who is a Latin teacher, told us that terra fructi literally means ‘the earth fertile,’ which doesn’t necessarily say ‘mushrooms.’ But we hoped people would hear it and think of the fruits of the earth.”

Liz, a film professor at Greenfield Community College in Massachusetts, and Emily, a sustainability graduate student-turned-writer, relocated from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Walpole, New Hampshire in May 2009, intending to one day start a vegetable farm. They are now cultivating several varieties of organic mushrooms in an indoor growing space in Westmoreland, and will be selling to local markets, restaurants, and retail outlets by the time this issue hits the press. Liz and Emily are colleagues of mine at BuildingGreen in Brattleboro, and in recent months I’ve had the pleasure of hearing about their farm plans. I recently spoke with the couple about the challenges of starting a small food business, what they hope to bring to the area’s local food movement, and how they went from urbanites to artisanal mushroom growers in less than a year.

Why mushrooms?

Emily: Our goal was to eventually start a small, variegated vegetable farm with bees and chickens, and we wanted to farm biointensively [a closed-loop system that focuses on building soil]. That still seemed a few years away when we moved here, but when we talked about our plans we also envisioned that growing mushrooms outside on logs would be part of it. Mushrooms are fresh; they support the local economy—all the regular reasons. And we wanted to provide a food item that wasn’t already prevalent locally, which mushrooms didn’t seem to be. We were coming from Pennsylvania where local mushrooms are ubiquitous—though they’re mostly from very large, industrial farms using practices we wouldn’t want to emulate. Most of the mushrooms you find in the supermarket—buttons, portabella, and crimini—most likely come from Pennsylvania.

Liz: We do have some mushroom-growing experience; we grew lion’s mane mushrooms in our basement in Pittsburgh, and we also grew shiitakes on a log in our backyard. We didn’t have ideal conditions, though, so neither experience yielded as many mushrooms as we had hoped. I have a good deal of vegetable gardening experience; I grew up working in my dad’s 1 1/2-acre garden and have gardened throughout my adult life. I didn’t realize until I was off on my own that most people don’t go out every day and pick vegetables from their backyards for dinner. That was just normal for us. I think I introduced Emily to gardening when we met, and I think it really made an impression on her, so much so that she was drawn to study agriculture in graduate school.

What varieties are you growing?

Liz: We decided to grow oyster mushrooms for two main reasons: they do well in cold-weather environments and they are known to be the easiest gourmet variety to grow. An added benefit is that they are rather prolific; they often fruit multiple times. What turns some growers off from many of the Pleurotus varieties is that they are heavy spore producers—spores get all over the place and can gum up fans and air filters.

Emily: Our gray oysters—the oyster variety we’ll start with—will be certified organic. [Terra Fructi itself is not certified organic but is sourcing organic spawn and following organic principles.] We’re also going to grow lion’s mane, which is another type of oyster. If we can master the oyster we plan to move into maitake—people everywhere have been asking if we’re going to grow maitake. They’re very popular and very healthy; they have medicinal properties.

Liz: Aside from reishi, maitake are possibly the most powerful mushroom. The variety of medicinal properties among mushrooms is amazing. They can be anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, cancer-fighting—a lot of really great nutritional and medicinal content. So we’ll start off simply, but we’d like to explore reishi as a possibility if we find that there’s a market for medicinal mushrooms in the area.

How are the growing conditions different than what you would need for vegetable crops?

Emily: Right now we have an indoor growing space. Mushrooms thrive within a certain range of temperatures and humidities, depending on the type of mushroom. They grow in a substrate—we’re using organic straw, but you can use any number of things: grain, straw, coffee beans, wood chips. The substrate is sterilized, either by boiling it or pressure-cooking it or autoclaving it some other way. It then goes into a bag [a plastic bag specifically made to grow oyster mushrooms] with the spawn—this is called “inoculation,” when you introduce the spawn into the substrate—and stays in the incubation room for two to three weeks. During this time the mycelium will start to run through the substrate—mycelium is comparable to a root that grows into a network; a good way to think about it is that mushrooms are the fruiting body of mycelium.

Liz: You can also inoculate cardboard and have your mushrooms grow out of cardboard. Many common mushrooms, like buttons and portabellas, are grown out of manure. People also grow shiitakes by inoculating a plug of sawdust and implanting it into a log.

Emily: Once you’ve established that the mycelium have spread through the bag, you poke holes in the bag and move it to the fruiting room, where there’s a slightly different set of conditions—at least four to six hours of light, consistent temperatures for each type of mushroom, and very good air flow. Circulation is key, because oyster mushrooms in particular produce too much carbon dioxide for an enclosed space.

Liz: After the mushrooms are harvested, the substrate can be composted—it’s an excellent soil amendment because it’s full of mycelium. We’re using the plastic bags based on the advice of another grower, but the types of mushrooms we’re growing can also be raised in jars, which can be sterilized and re-used. We’d like to move in that direction because it would make us more sustainable.

Where do you plan to sell your mushrooms?

Liz: We plan to sell them at farmers’ markets in the area, local co-ops, restaurants, and we’re considering creating a mushroom CSA. There is one other mushroom grower that we know of in the Monadnock area—Dave Wichland of Wichland Woods.

What has been the greatest challenge of starting a 
local food-based business?

Emily: It’s been a big leap of faith. We left something that was comfortable and familiar in the city looking for a better way of life, and we’ve had to rely on a lot of outside advice. The thing about growing mushrooms is that there’s no perfectly prescribed way to do it; everyone seems to do it differently based on their experience, so we’ll be learning as we go. There are moments when I still wonder if we did the right thing, but now that we can actually focus on growing the product and making it good, I know that it’s going to be incredibly satisfying. When we harvest our first crop, I’m probably going to cry.

Liz: It has been scary at times—I left a full-time, tenure-track position so we could fulfill our dream of starting a farm. There’s a lot of uncertainty, but it helps to remember that people grow mushrooms all over the world in places where they don’t have the technology we have here. And the community response has been incredibly supportive. Anytime you do something to be part of the local economy around here, people will go out of their way to support you. If we said we were going to make wing nuts, there would be somebody saying, “That’s great!”

Emily: But mushrooms taste better than wing nuts.

Photo by Barbi Schreiber

About the Author

Andrea Ward

Andrea Ward

Andrea Ward is a freelance writer and an editor at BuildingGreen in Brattleboro. A recent transplant from the upper Midwest, she hopes to have her first Vermont garden this summer and dreams of the perfect tomato.

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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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