• Editor's Note Spring 2014

    Editor's Note Spring 2014

    Every now and then, I wonder what life would be like without any small farms. If Vermont’s diversified farmers were to pack up and sell out. If there were no longer a neighborhood farmers’ market to wander through on a Saturday morning. If those of us who regularly buy local food had to go back to fondling Chilean apples and freakishly large carrots at the grocery store.

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  • Set the Table with Dandelion Greens

    Set the Table with Dandelion Greens

    I’ve spent years walking past any dandelion greens I see for sale, on the grounds that I will not pay for something that’s growing everywhere I look all spring and summer. Granted, I never stop to pick those free dandelion leaves, so inevitably, a vegetable that I won’t buy because it’s too common ends up not being at all common on my plate. It’s the Dandelion Paradox. This past winter, I wanted to unravel it.

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  • Think Globally, Dine Locally

    Think Globally, Dine Locally

    Last year I was excited when the Burlington-based weekly Seven Days published an insert featuring restaurants participating in Vermont Restaurant Week. I couldn’t wait to sample dishes from some of the highly touted localvore eateries I’d read about since moving to Vermont three years earlier.
    When I opened up the insert, however, the number of advertisements featuring photos of hamburgers and fries surprised me.

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  • Fired Up on Local

    Fired Up on Local

    Given that chile peppers—the main ingredient in hot sauce—are relatively easy to grow in Vermont, it’s possible to make hot sauce a highly localvore product. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Ben Maniscalco, who launched Benito’s Hot Sauce in 2009, goes out of his way to source ingredients from local farms.

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  • Flourishing in the Fields

    Flourishing in the Fields

    Tucked into a scenic hillside just off of Route 5 in Westminster is Kurn Hattin Homes for Children. Founded 120 years ago, Kurn Hattin is a charitable year-round home for boys and girls from around the Northeast whose families—for whatever reason—are unable to care for them.

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  • Horticultural Therapy

    Horticultural Therapy

    The day is warm and clear. I am in my work uniform, which consists of shorts and a tank top; this is all I can stand to put on, for the heat of early summer is strong upon us. My supervisor, an elderly woman who needs the assistance of a walker to get around, is wearing a light sweater and long pants. “Aren’t you cold?” she asks suspiciously, as she watches me turn the soil in a bed designated for the season’s heirloom tomatoes.

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  • Fields, with Geese

    Fields, with Geese

    In an email sent just before our first date, in February of 2013, Wesley Bascom posed a multiple-choice question. “Are you interested in serving goose...?” he asked. The choices he provided for my response were: a) “Totally down to pluck!” b) “Maybe. I will take a gander at it.” c) “Foie gras? More like foie naw.”

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  • From Nano to Micro

    From Nano to Micro

    The day I went out to visit Bret Hamilton’s new microbrewery, Stone Corral, on idyllic Taft Road in Huntington, the 32-degree weather felt downright balmy. It was early January, and we’d just had one of the coldest snaps I’d ever felt in Vermont—wind chills down in the 30-below range.

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  • The Thorny Issue of Farmer Pay

    The Thorny Issue of Farmer Pay

    At a wedding last summer, I sat next to a neighbor who buys her Thanksgiving turkey from our farm. She described her daily drive-by dose of the farm, and her ritual of slowing down to see where the goats, pigs, and poultry had been moved. She said, “I’ve gotten to the point I think I should pay a toll to pass your place!” I joked, “In order for us to survive it might come to that!”  The conversation awkwardly fell off. But it has preoccupied me since.

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  • Farmers' Kitchen—Planet Pollinators

    Farmers' Kitchen—Planet Pollinators

    As I look out my window in early January at my beehives, I’m in awe of how bees do what they do. The temperature is well below zero, the wind is blowing, and snow is falling. Yet if I bundle up to brave the elements, go outside, and put my ear against the side of one of the hives, I can hear the low rumble of my bees.

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  • Good Food, Good Health

    Good Food, Good Health

    I’m a farmer, and my favorite place in Vermont is a farm—one that has a surprise at its core. The surprise isn’t the lovely old farmhouse on the property or the 11 acres of organically farmed vegetables, but the fact that the farm and its bounty are part and parcel of my doctor’s office: Sojourns Community Health Clinic in Westminster.

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Farmers' Kitchen—Planet Pollinators

Photo of Dan and Marda’s daughter, Abby, courtesy of brookfield bees
Dan and Marda’s daughter, Abby

Written on

February 21 , 2014

As I look out my window in early January at my beehives, I’m in awe of how bees do what they do. The temperature is well below zero, the wind is blowing, and snow is falling. Yet if I bundle up to brave the elements, go outside, and put my ear against the side of one of the hives, I can hear the low rumble of my bees.
They survive Vermont’s brutal winter by clustering into a ball with the queen in the middle. As the temperature drops, the ball gets tighter. Bees on the outside eat a dollop of stored honey and slowly migrate to the inside, where they detach their wings from their wing muscles, exercise those muscles, and in the process, generate enough heat to keep the center, where the queen is, a toasty 70 degrees.
Honeybees are incredible creatures. They are the most efficient pollinators on the planet and help us produce a lot of the food we eat, including fruits, berries, melons, vegetables, nuts, coffee, and chocolate. They pollinate the clover and alfalfa on which our dairy cows graze. And, of course, they produce real honey. If there were no honeybees, our diets would be pretty bland.
Unfortunately, bee populations throughout the United States are declining. Loss of habitat, widespread pesticide use, diseases, and mites are all taking a toll. When I started beekeeping, yearly losses were pretty manageable. Now they average roughly 33% every year. My wife, Marda Donner, and I make up losses by buying new bees or splitting the colonies that survived the winter. Sometimes we catch bees that have swarmed—in other words, have split off from their original hive.
We have somewhere between 15 and 25 hives spread out on 7 farms in Brookfield and Randolph Center, including our own. Usually, we can count on 600 to 700 pounds of honey from our bees over the course of a summer. However, the weather can play havoc with that number, and 2013 was particularly difficult for us. The wet May and June meant that the bees stayed holed up in their hives. Pollen and nectar sources were routinely washed off flowers by the rain, and the overcrowded hives had a tendency to swarm. As a result, in 2013 we harvested only a bit more than 100 pounds of honey. Although it was a low honey production year, the bees did a fantastic job on the apples, and we made more than 200 gallons of cider in October.
Looking outside today it is hard to imagine that within 90 days the bees will start venturing out to find sources of pollen and nectar. Maples provide one of the earliest sources of food and allow colonies to build up populations for the big feast—dandelion. After that, there is the apple bloom, clover, squash, and other fruits and vegetables, followed by goldenrod and asters in the fall. Then once again, the bees cluster up, and the cycle starts over.

Dan Childs and Marda Donner own and operate their farm, Brookfield Bees, on Kibbee Road in Brookfield. In addition to honey, they produce soap, candles, apple cider, boiled cider, and maple syrup, all for sale at their farm or the Floating Bridge farmers’ market in Brookfield.

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Home Stories Issues 2014 Spring 2014 | Issue 28 Farmers' Kitchen—Planet Pollinators