• Publishers' Note Winter 2014

    Publishers' Note Winter 2014

    Coming in from a cold, bleak winter day into the warmth and bustle of a winter farmers’ market brings a certain elation and reminds us of the spirit of community and the life force still in all things at this darkest time of year. 

    Continue Reading

  • Set the Table with Quince

    Set the Table with Quince

    The first time I met a quince, I was immediately smitten. There were plenty of beautiful apples around, but that box of quince enticed me with its sweet, exotic aroma. Could I possibly describe the complex fragrance? Why hadn’t I seen or tasted one before?

    Continue Reading

  • Peak Phosphorous: Crisis in the Making or Radical Opportunity?

    Peak Phosphorous: Crisis in the Making or Radical Opportunity?

    For many years environmental activists have used the term “peak oil” to refer to the coming crisis in availability of fossil fuels, and as part of a rhetorical strategy to hasten our shift toward a post-oil economy. Recently, some activists and scientists have begun to talk about another “peak” crisis: that of phosphorous.

    Continue Reading

  • How to Link to Land

    How to Link to Land

    “The key was that we didn’t know what we didn’t know.”

    In describing their farm journey, Jaska Bradeen, 29, and Katie Sullivan, 30, of Sheep and Pickle Farm in Brookfield, return again and again to this problem, one that they and many other beginning farmers like them have faced when first looking for land.

    Continue Reading

  • “It tastes like…”

    “It tastes like…”

    A food’s flavor can be hard to describe. We have a whole vocabulary for talking about how food is produced with terms like organic, heirloom, grass fed, pasture raised, line caught, cage free, community supported, miles traveled. 

    Continue Reading

  • Winter Bounty

    Winter Bounty

    It is almost winter in Vermont. The familiar crunch accompanies the early riser’s first steps onto the frosted tips of grass. Where the garden once teemed with large leaves of Swiss chard and the sweetest of cherry tomatoes, there remain only a few flattened beet leaves and carrot tops left behind from the fall harvest.

    Continue Reading

  • Know Your Local-i-tea

    Know Your Local-i-tea

    What’s the secret to staying warm and healthy although a long, cold Vermont winter? Many gardeners and herbalists would agree that teas made from our wild and garden herbs are the soothing secret to health and happiness, especially in winter.

    Continue Reading

  • Delivering the Goods in Windham County

    Delivering the Goods in Windham County

    Back in 2008, teacher Hans Estrin’s ecology students at The Putney School heard that rallying cry and launched a well-intentioned project: Take the surplus from the 3-acre garden at the private and progressive Putney School and donate it for lunches at the public Putney Central Elementary School, just down the hill. “It was a great idea!” says Hans. 

    Continue Reading

  • Farmers' Kitchen—Vermont Vinegar

    Farmers' Kitchen—Vermont Vinegar

    Shelburne Orchards is located along the shores of Lake Champlain. The orchard has been in Nick Cowles’s family since the 1950s and he took it over in the 1970s.

    Continue Reading

  • Last Morsel—From Farm to Spa

    Last Morsel—From Farm to Spa

    As Cynthea Wight Hausman was growing up—first on a commune in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and later on her family’s New Hampshire homestead—fresh and organic foods were plentiful. In her teens, Cynthea made her own remedies and lotions from herbs and flowers gathered from the woods and gardens surrounding her home.

    Continue Reading

Winter Bounty

Vermont growers use innovative structures and methods to feed us during the coldest months.

High tunnels at Screamin' Ridge Farm
High tunnels at Screamin' Ridge photo by Lori Martin

Written By

Brooke Werley

Written on

November 26 , 2013

It is almost winter in Vermont. The familiar crunch accompanies the early riser’s first steps onto the frosted tips of grass. Where the garden once teemed with large leaves of Swiss chard and the sweetest of cherry tomatoes, there remain only a few flattened beet leaves and carrot tops left behind from the fall harvest.

Still, all over the state, winter farmers’ markets are preparing to offer an abundance of Vermont-grown products. How do our farmers keep the locally grown markets going all winter? They’re using innovation to stretch Vermont’s short natural growing season to meet the demand for local produce year-round.

“A lot of growers are pushing the envelope,” says Joe Buley of Screamin’ Ridge Farm, a 3-acre farm on the outskirts of Montpelier. “We’re cutting greens 12 months a year here.”

On his farm, Joe plants spinach in three 30 x 96-foot-high tunnels that rely entirely on sunlight. The tunnels look a lot like traditional “greenhouses” but don’t use expensive wood or propane heat, making the growing of greens year-round more economical. The structures have the traditional steel frame and greenhouse plastic, but are oriented east to west to optimize winter growth. That means the end walls, where the doors are, are on the east and west sides, and the vegetable beds inside are parallel with the long, domed surface of clear plastic.

“It’s the exact opposite of traditional tunnels,” explains Joe, who says that most high tunnels are oriented north to south to allow Vermont farmers to grow more high-value summer crops like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. “I sacrifice a little of the summer growth and grow cultivars that do well in the cold instead of forcing something to grow.”

Growing greens through the winter lets members of Joe’s CSA enjoy fresh greens when there is no green to be found outside their windows. His winter CSA is uniquely structured, providing members with produce from the farm, products from other local food producers (such as cheese and baked goods), and foods prepared by Joe, who is also a trained chef.

Inside each of the high tunnels—also called passive solar greenhouses—are five four-foot raised beds. In addition to the protection from the exterior plastic, the beds are protected with row cover fabric. They will each yield 50 to 60 pounds of spinach per cutting, according to Joe. The number of cuttings varies per season.

At Screamin’ Ridge, all of the seed propagation is done in the “seedling shack” between March and May 1, using propane heat. The farm also uses the structure as a wash station to achieve more economic benefit. “I got tired of running around in the basement,” jokes Joe, who says that he used to start seed trays in the house, sometimes using energy-consuming grow lights.


A little farther north, at Tamarack Hollow Farm in Burlington, farmer Amanda Andrews talks about the benefits of using lumber from the farm to fuel two small heated greenhouses through the winter. The two greenhouses are not much bigger than a backyard tool shed, so they can be kept warm using less heat.

Amanda runs the 88-acre farm with her husband, Mike Betit. The couple is able to use wood from their parcel to heat the greenhouses through January and February to grow high-value shoot and sprout crops. “It probably takes two to three cords of wood for those two months,” Amanda says, “but there’s no outside cost. It’s just our labor.” The trees also are cleared to reclaim the fertile soil, where they now plant spring, summer, and fall vegetable crops. The greenhouses are also used for seeding trays of crops destined for the field.

In addition to the heated greenhouses, Amanda and Mike use two season-extension structures. They erected a 12 x 96 caterpillar low tunnel this spring, both for summer crops and over-wintered greens. A low tunnel is shorter than typical hoophouse structures like the ones at Joe Buley’s, but is made of the same steel tubing and plastic and is large enough for an average person to stand up in. “We’ve tried to use PVC,” Amanda says of the heavy-duty plastic piping sometimes used for low tunnels. “It always collapsed. It couldn’t stand up to the snow load.”

The farm also has a 30 x 96-foot north-to-south high tunnel. The tunnel was financed by a federal grant from the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), which runs a high-tunnel initiative to support winter growers. Tamarack Hollow’s tunnel allows them to get a jump on spring greens. “We plant in September and see a lot of growth by December,” says Amanda. “They’ll start regrowth in February and are ready for harvest earlier than anything we have out in the fields.”

This year the Tamarack tunnels are planted with kale, chard, collard greens, and lettuce. Amanda looks forward to experimenting with smaller low tunnels in the future. “The low tunnels are more portable,” she says. “You can cover established crops and extend the growing season using a layer of row cover and an additional layer of plastic.” The current fields leased by the farm are mostly located in the Winooksi River flood plain, so the farmers have been unable to use the portable structures efficiently due to spring flooding. All of the current structures are on the few acres located on higher ground. Amanda and Mike are currently searching for farmland and look forward to growing vegetables away from the unpredictable flood plain.


Down in the Mad River Valley, Aaron Locker is harvesting the benefits of four unheated high tunnels, with a twist. “Our structures are somewhat unique in that they are built on angle iron skids which enable us to move them on and off already-growing crops,” Aaron says. He is the farmer at the 7-acre Kingsbury Market Garden in Warren. He goes on to explain that the mobility of the structures allows the farm to grow lower-value spring crops that would not be financially justifiable if the high tunnels were permanent because they would not be ready to harvest before it was time to plant the higher-value summer crops.

“With our system, the tunnels are simply moved off of the spring crop and onto the summer crop. In the fall, this allows us to start growing our early winter crops in the open air and to use the structures to protect against the first few frosts. Then, they’re moved over the winter crops before the temperatures get cold enough to damage them.”

Aaron is also innovative with his crop choice. This spring, he planted three houses in carrots and one in potatoes. The idea was to avoid the rush to have the first spring greens at market and instead have early carrots, extra sweet from their exposure to the cold.

In the fall, it’s also marketing that sets Kingsbury Market Garden apart. The houses are host to an eclectic mix of winter greens, but Aaron doesn’t try to push production too far into the winter. “Instead, I focus on selling larger volume for less money and sell out fast. This is the opposite of what most folks seem to be trying to do and provides me with a nice niche in the wholesale market for such a small operation.”


To achieve all of this winter bounty, Vermont farmers learn from each other through many avenues, including the Vermont Vegetable and Berry Grower Listserv, an e-mail list for farmers. There are also conferences and workshops, like those put on by the Vermont chapter of the Northeast Organic Farmers Association (NOFA-VT) and the New England Vegetable and Berry Growers Association (NEV & BGA). Screamin’ Ridge farmer Joe Buley will be talking this December at the New England Vegetable and Fruit Conference in Manchester, NH. The subject? Winter production.

While some folks prefer not to eat summer-type vegetables in the middle of winter, the demand for them is strong, and farmers throughout Vermont are employing many different methods to supply us with locally grown produce year-round. It’s safe to say they’ve got us covered.


About the Author

Brooke Werley

Brooke Werley

Brooke Werley has been farming in New England for the past six years, first in Massachusetts and then here in Vermont. She is part of the Agrarian Trust initiative to help find land-access solutions for next-generation farmers. Her blog is thisgrowingup.wordpress.com.

Leave a comment

You are commenting as guest. Optional login below.

What we do

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.


Sign up for quarterly notifications and issue highlights.
Please wait