• Editor's Note Winter 2010

    Editor's Note Winter 2010

    Vermont is facing many challenges when it comes to local meat production: Grazing land is expensive, there aren’t enough facilities in which to process animals, and many residents refrain from buying local meat because they don’t know how to cook the unusual cuts sold by small farms. What exactly do you do with a pork loin or lamb shoulder?

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  • A Breed Apart

    A Breed Apart

    On a 40-acre hillside in Corinth, Ben Machin raises a flock of 60 Tunis sheep. They’re a “heritage breed”—a domesticated breed of animal that has a long genetic history but is now endangered. As industrial agriculture continues to rely on just a few breeds designed for maximum growth in the shortest amount of time, more sustainable farmers are raising heritage breeds as an alternative—and to save them. Ben, a 35-year-old farmer who also works as a forester with Redstart Forestry and Consulting, is managing the flock that his great-grandfather started in the 1920s. Local Banquet editor Caroline Abels recently spoke with Ben about his unique sheep and why heritage breeds matter.

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  • A Boost to the Butchers

    A Boost to the Butchers

    In March 2009, in an attempt to help strengthen Vermont’s meat-processing infrastructure, the Vermont Farm Viability Enhancement Program awarded $40,000 in grants to four facilities. For recipient Tony Brault, it was perfect timing; he had been planning to add on a spiffy retail area to his slaughterhouse. But for grantee Gary Barnes, who runs a meat market, the amount he was awarded would barely begin to cover the cost of adding on a separate processing area for wild game, so as of this writing, he had not collected the grant funds. Nevertheless, the grants helped both of these meat facilities in northern Vermont, with and without funding, and here’s how.

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  • We Have Sausage

    We Have Sausage

    Late in life my father was able to get the spicy breakfast sausage he loved as a kid sent north to him from the general store in the small southern town where he grew up. It was better than caviar, he once noted. Packed in dry ice, it was shipped only in the winter, when the weather was safe for fresh meat to travel. And when my infrequent visits home coincided with those deliveries, he would call out in greeting the welcome words, “We have sausage!”

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  • Farming & Feasting with the Robinsons: Winter

    Farming & Feasting with the Robinsons: Winter

    In the not-so-distant past, eating locally was a way of life and a matter of necessity. For four generations, the Robinson family farmed in Ferrisburgh, at the place known today as the Rokeby Museum. The museum’s collection includes correspondence and household records detailing the family’s ways of farming, preserving, and eating. In the last of this four-part series, we take a look at how the Robinsons cooked, ate, and farmed in the late 1800s.

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  • Close to Home

    Close to Home

    We’ve always believed that if you eat meat you should be able to kill it. We had our chance to put our beliefs into action this year.

    On two very different days, one in early July, the second in late October, we gathered with four friends to kill the 30 chickens and 10 turkeys we had co-raised. Although this past July wasn’t the hottest on record, the day we gathered was warm and the rain held off. On a cold and raw late October morning we met up again to process turkeys and a few older laying hens.

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  • Dairy farmers raise veal—with a conscience

    Dairy farmers raise veal—with a conscience

    It’s bad luck to be born a boy—on a dairy farm, that is. A farmer’s face will often fall at the sight of a newborn male calf, who obviously will never grow up to produce milk. “Girl?” someone might ask on hearing of a birth on the farm. “Nope—a bull,” the farmer might say. “I’ll call the truck.”

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  • Older dairy cows could become steady source of local beef

    Older dairy cows could become steady source of local beef

    It all starts with a single surprising statistic: 40,000 mature dairy cows leave the state each year. They are so-called “market cows”—dairy cattle who have stopped producing milk at an economically viable rate. They are culled from their herds and trucked primarily to Pennsylvania, where they and other cows from the Northeast are slaughtered and processed. Their meat then enters the industrial food distribution system.

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  • Windowsill Greens

    Windowsill Greens

    In the dead of winter—when fresh salad greens are scarce, expensive, and probably not local—I grow shoots (the stem and first leaves of a plant grown in soil) and have fresh, colorful, crispy, and delicious greens that are ready to use every day. Pea shoots, sunflower greens, buckwheat lettuce, radish greens, and broccoli greens are my favorites—they offer a fantastic mix of flavors and make a great-looking tossed salad. Shoots are also inexpensive and easy to grow, benefit your compost pile, and provide colorful trays of growing plants that can make the dark days of winter a little brighter. Good-bye cabin fever!

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  • Farmers' Kitchen—Green Mountain Ducks

    Farmers' Kitchen—Green Mountain Ducks

    North Branch Farm, in the mountains of Ripton, is an unlikely place for ducks, but we’ve been raising them on a very small scale each summer for the last four years. Pekins are our favorite meat ducks to raise—they’re fast growing and white and beautiful. And they have lots of fat.

    “Lots of fat?” you might ask. “Why would we want that?” Or maybe you already know. Local duck fat is a localvore’s dream. Any food lover’s dream, actually. It is delicious to cook with as a replacement for oil or butter, and it keeps beautifully in a glass jar in the fridge.

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  • Last Morsel—Carnivore with a Caveat

    Last Morsel—Carnivore with a Caveat

    I stopped eating meat at the impassioned age of 14, when a biology teacher showed a film called Diet for a New America, which graphically described the many and various evils of the modern meat industry. I dumped that day’s turkey sandwich in the garbage and didn’t touch meat again for nine years. My reasoning was three-fold: I believed that vegetarianism was better for my body, better for the planet, and decreased the total suffering of the world. I knew that certain responsible farming practices could, in theory, mitigate or overcome most of my objections to meat, but I’d never seen them in practice and didn’t know how to judge them or trust their claims.

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  • How to cut a chicken

    How to cut a chicken

    The kitchen skills of our grandparents have largely gone unused since the appearance of ready-made foods in American grocery stores. Yet if we want to eat local food, we must often cook from scratch. Here is a guide to cutting a whole, uncooked chicken—a necessary skill if we want to eat the fresh local birds that Vermonters are beginning to raise again in large numbers. Once you’ve broken down a chicken, you’re good to go with all sorts of recipes!

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Windowsill Greens

sprout salad

Written By

Peter Burke

Written on

December 01 , 2009

In the dead of winter—when fresh salad greens are scarce, expensive, and probably not local—I grow shoots (the stem and first leaves of a plant grown in soil) and have fresh, colorful, crispy, and delicious greens that are ready to use every day. Pea shoots, sunflower greens, buckwheat lettuce, radish greens, and broccoli greens are my favorites—they offer a fantastic mix of flavors and make a great-looking tossed salad. Shoots are also inexpensive and easy to grow, benefit your compost pile, and provide colorful trays of growing plants that can make the dark days of winter a little brighter. Good-bye cabin fever!

You can grow 12 to 16 ounces of salad greens with nothing more than five small trays, a kitchen cupboard, and a windowsill. No lights or fancy equipment are needed. Any window, even a dimly lit northern window, will work perfectly. And you can expect a harvest in just 7 to 10 days. There is no garden produce that comes close to being so plentiful in such a short time.

Ready, Set, Shoot…

To get started you will need small trays, soil, and seeds. For trays, start with aluminum foil half-loaf bread pans measuring 3” x 6” and about 2” deep. These are available at most markets in packages of three or five trays, at a cost of about $3 a package—or sometimes a dollar store will have them. (There are lots of other options for trays, like wood or ceramic, so once you nail down the basic techniques you can shop around for trays.)

The soil I use is a standard germination mix available at every garden shop in bags or bales. Germination mix consists of peat moss, vermiculite, and perlite, and is completely dry. I buy the germination mix in the 3.8 cubic-foot bale for $20 to $30 and use it for housetplants, my garden sets, and indoor gardening in the winter. Do not buy mixes that have chemical fertilizers or anything meant to hold water (sometimes called a Hydro-Gel.) Lambert and Pro-Mix are a couple of brand names to look for that are just plain germination mix. You may also want to pick up some compost and dry or liquid sea kelp to ensure vigorous growth.

Seeds are available at most co-ops and from seed catalogs, online stores, and my website, www.thedailygardener.com. What I look for in seeds is that they are untreated, non-GMO, and organically grown, with a high germination rate—at least 90 percent. Having seeds that are untreated is the most important thing because you don’t want them treated with fungicides. If the seeds have a glow-in-the-dark color, they are treated—don’t use them.

To grow pea shoots, you will need to find a few tablespoons of pea seeds (the dry ones, not the fresh). I prefer snow pea seeds but virtually any variety that you have will work. If you have a packet or bag of seeds left over from this year’s garden, they will work fine. Pea shoots can be used both in a fresh salad or cooked in a stir-fry dish. They are very productive and their sweet flavor makes them fun to nibble right from the tray. I recommend them as the best seed to start with.

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growing sprouts

1. To start, place a tablespoon of dry pea seeds in a cup and cover with plenty of water. Soak the seeds from a minimum of 6 hours up to a maximum of 24 hours. The soaked seeds will almost double in size and you will see the outline of a root start to form on the pea in that short time. While the seeds are soaking, measure into a sealable plastic bag a gallon of the dry soil (the germination mix) and add 3 1/2 cups of water, then seal and set the bag aside. In the bottom of the foil tray place a tablespoon of compost and a half-teaspoon of dry or liquid sea kelp to fertilize the fast growing shoots. Fill the tray with 1 1/4 cup of the moistened germination mix from the bag and level it off, but don’t pack the soil down—it should be about 1/2" from the top of the tray. Now the tray is ready to plant.

2. Fold a single sheet of newspaper so it is slightly larger than the tray; it will end up as about eight layers of paper. Soak the folded newspaper in water for a few minutes just before you are going to plant so it has time to get really wet and soggy. Strain the water off the seeds and dump them out on top of the soil in the tray that you just prepared. Spread the seeds around so the seeds touch but do not overlap each other. The seeds do not get buried like in the garden but remain on the surface of the soil. Cover the seeds with the soggy newspaper and tuck the paper in around the edges of the tray.

3. Place the tray in a dark, warm spot, like inside a cupboard over the refrigerator, and keep it there for the next four days. The seeds germinate rapidly in the warmth, and the darkness forces the stems to shoot up in search of light. During this incubation period there is nothing to do, just watch and wait. Plant another tray each day and add it to the cupboard—this way you will have a tray ready for harvest every day.

4. After four days the paper cover will be pushed up and sitting on top of the yellow shoots that are about an inch tall and ready to put on a windowsill. Water the tray and put it in any window around your house; it does not need to be a bright sunlit window. Continue to water the tray with one to two tablespoons of water every day. I know it doesn’t sound like much water but we just want to keep the soil moist and avoid getting it soggy. After another three to five days the tray will be ready to harvest. The pea shoots should be 8 to 10 inches long, tender and sweet. You can let them grow a little taller, to about 14 inches high.

5. To harvest, cut the stems about a quarter of an inch above the soil line with a pair of scissors. Rinse them with fresh water and chop into 1/2" lengths to add to your salads or cooked dishes. If you are not going to use the greens right away, leave them whole and bag them in plastic. They will store in the refrigerator for about a week. Do not reuse the soil—place it, along with the roots, in your compost bin.

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Use the same directions and proportions for sunflower, radish, and buckwheat seeds. With broccoli and other plants that have very small seeds, you only need one teaspoon of seeds to plant the half-loaf bread pan. They also require a few more days on the windowsill to make a full “head” of greens.

If you have questions, you can look over the additional pictures and instructions on my website, www.thedailygardener.com. If you would like me to present a workshop for your organization, contact me atThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. If you are interested in my book on indoor gardening, due out next summer, sign up for the newsletters online or send me a message in the contact form on the website.

About the Author

Peter Burke

Peter Burke

Peter Burke has lived in Calais since 1977 and works in Barre as a granite salesman at Cochran’s, Inc. His hobby is gardening and he has been teaching classes about indoor gardening and square-foot gardening since 2006.

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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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