• Tapping for Taste

    Tapping for Taste

    There are people in Vermont who prefer fake maple syrup—not just people who are looking for something cheaper but who actually prefer the stuff made of corn syrup. There are other people in Vermont who don’t talk to those fake syrup types. And there are Vermonters who stand by Grade B for all occasions and others who keep a little Fancy on hand.

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  • Last Morsel—Roots on the Rails

    Last Morsel—Roots on the Rails

    On summer evenings in the garden in Weathersfield, I know it’s nearly time to call it a day when the train whistle blows; over the river, Amtrak’s Vermonter is about to cross the highway in Cornish. As I stand up, knees cracking from too-long bending over the rows of carrots that want thinning, I think about the train on its trek north to St. Albans, and how tomorrow it will head south to Washington, DC. Back and forth, more than 600 miles, each day, every day.

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  • The First Localvores

    The First Localvores

    I have always been fascinated by wild foods. When I was a kid growing up in Indiana we had a copy of Euell Gibbons’ book Stalking the Wild Asparagus, and I remember how exciting it was to read about eating cattails, making acorn flour, and brewing sassafras tea. As I recall, the cattail stalks tasted a bit like mild turnips, the acorn flour was tannic and needed a lot of processing before being edible, and the tea tasted like something just this side of root beer. Little did I know as a kid that wild edibles such as cattails and acorns were just a couple of the foods historically gathered and consumed by the first people to inhabit the state I would one day call home.

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  • Taking it Slow in Italy

    Taking it Slow in Italy

    Getting together, the listening to and exchanging of ideas— that is the miracle of Terra Madre.”

    With this, Slow Food International founder Carlo Petrini welcomed us to the 2010 Terra Madre conference and set the tone for our four days in Turin, Italy. He addressed an audience of 5,000 representatives from 161 countries—small-scale farmers, producers, educators, and observers—who had traveled to Italy to meet with their peers and discuss global issues of food, culture, and justice. We came to take part in the conversation, too, along with two dozen other Vermonters. The experience renewed our appreciation for the value of gathering around a table to break bread and to exchange ideas.

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  • Cookbooks, Culture,  and Community

    Cookbooks, Culture, and Community

    The case for local nuts. No, I’m not talking about your odd mother-in-law, your bizarre ex-boyfriend, or that whacko who expresses herself, extensively, at town meeting. And I don’t mean aficionados or extremely enthusiastic people. I mean those portable nuggets of nutrition, held aloft by tree limbs. A nut, technically speaking, is a big seed enclosed by a hard shell. And even though you’re now fantasizing about almond and macadamia instead of weirdo and diehard, I’m here to tell you about what nuts we can grow in Vermont, and why.

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  • Post Oil Solutions at Five Years

    Post Oil Solutions at Five Years

    A strong regional food system—one in which the people of a region are participating in their own food production in both sustaining and sustainable ways—is community based. As much as this system grows food, it grows people, encouraging relationships of collaboration and mutual aid, respect and care. No longer at war with nature and each other, unburdened by that ancient power relationship of us over them, and having given up the self-destructive effort to control life, people actively work with life in a community-based food system. In this way, they practice “relational agriculture,” building the social fabric that leads to a truly sustainable food system for all.

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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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • How to Start a Community Garden

    How to Start a Community Garden

    Back in January, as my husband and I searched for a place to live in Middlebury, we had big plans to create a summer vegetable garden. But it quickly became clear that housing in town with gardening space wouldn’t be easy to find. Apartments that advertised a “big yard” always seemed to have a “scruffy lawn,” and few landlords reacted well to my desire to dig out a portion of that lawn to plant vegetables.

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  • Getting Everyone to the Table

    Getting Everyone to the Table

    Back in January, as my husband and I searched for a place to live in Middlebury, we had big plans to create a summer vegetable garden. But it quickly became clear that housing in town with gardening space wouldn’t be easy to find. Apartments that advertised a “big yard” always seemed to have a “scruffy lawn,” and few landlords reacted well to my desire to dig out a portion of that lawn to plant vegetables.

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Barnstorming

Incarcerated Vermonters help save treasured buildings

Amanda Griggs, bottom row second from left; upper left and bottom left Corrections Department administrators.

Written By

Sarah Alexander

Written on

December 08 , 2012

Barns, of course, are a staple in Vermont agriculture, providing a place to house livestock, store hay and grain, and keep farm vehicles and equipment. Unfortunately, though, their upkeep can be dauntingly expensive and time consuming, especially with cows to milk and food to produce.

Joe and Sylvia Maille of Shelburne have been farming for as long as they can remember. Joe’s parents purchased the dairy operation in 1919 and now Joe and his son Jim have further developed the original operation. The Maille family milks around 50 cows today and sells their milk to Dairy Farmers of America, a dairy marketing cooperative.

Until late October, one of the Maille’s barns was in rough shape. Built in 1939, its interior sills and exterior siding had become rotten, it needed jacking up, and the silo called for a complete restoration.

“Honestly, I thought this barn was going to be something we would never be able to completely restore,” Jim told me. “The price of milk just keeps dropping while the price of fuel and labor continues to go up. When I first got the phone call I thought—c’mon, nobody seriously offers to paint your barn for free.”

The phone call was from the Vermont Barn Painting Project, which provides farmers with free labor and maintenance. The project’s rehabilitation work focuses on deteriorating barns and is performed by inmates in Vermont correctional facilities. For the Mailles, the restoration was performed in October by a work crew of women from the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility.

When I asked about the progression of the project, Jim said, “They’re only on their second week here, but it looks great. They never stop.”

The pilot project is a partnership between the Vermont Agriculture Agency, the Vermont Corrections Department, the Preservation Trust of Vermont, the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation, the State of Vermont Chief Marketing Officer, and Vermont Works for Women. Allen Lumber, Sherwin-Williams and Pizzagalli Properties provide donations and necessary funds.

This cluster of state agencies, non-profits, and private businesses constitute a unique collaboration. It meets the Agency of Agriculture’s mission to directly enhance landscapes for the growth and viability of local agriculture. And through the support of Vermont Works for Women, it assists women seeking purpose and a sense of accomplishment. It allows inmates to work as a team in a beautiful outdoor setting, provides them with useful vocational skills, and prepares them to enter the work force after the completion of their sentence.

••••

Upon my arrival at Maille Farm, I met Rachel Jolly, the director of programs at Vermont Works for Women (VWW). Rachel spoke of the extensive history that VWW has in making huge strides among women and girls. “We’ve done numerous carpentry training programs with incarcerated women, but nothing to this caliber—nothing that has them this engaged.”

I had arrived at 11 am, 30 minutes before the crew took a lunch break. In that half hour, I observed six women—all non-violent offenders—smoothly applying new coats of paint on the milk parlor door and removing siding from the top of the barn with the help of a gigantic boom, all while talking, smiling, and laughing.

Amanda Griggs was there, too. An organic farmer, potter, woodworker, and yoga teacher by trade and passion, Amanda was hired by VWW as the onsite safety and carpentry instructor for the Maille Farm project. “I love this role,” she told me. “It’s an opportunity and, of course, a challenge, but so rewarding. I get to see women do things they never thought they’d do.”

Amanda begins each morning with a basic carpentry lesson and leads the women in a short yoga class. Then they write down goals for the day, making sure to cross off each task as they finish.

“My favorite part is seeing how truly unselfish these women are,” said Amanda. “At the beginning of this project, I had the women write down their goals, and each and every person wrote servicing farmers, supporting agriculture, and helping others. They are truly happy to have an outlet for giving back to the community.”

To my surprise, many of the women, who chose to remain nameless for this article, were more than willing to talk to me—excited, even, at the thought of a new face and fresh perspective.

Asked about what it was like working on the project, one of the women commented, “Your days go by faster, you leave tired, and you get to be outside. It’s also great to be able to help someone, especially a farmer, and in this current, weakened economy.”

Some women spoke of the joy of using a skill saw or a hammer, others of how they overcame their fear of heights by going up in the boom lift.
The women on the crew were all from a housing unit of non-violent offenders at the correctional facility called the Delta Unit. They were interviewed and chosen to join the crew based on their hopes and vision for the project as well as their experience.

As for the Maille’s Shelburne barn, it was not the first to be restored through this project. Earlier this summer, the Gingue Farm in Waterford received a facelift thanks to an all-male work crew from the Northeast Regional Correctional Facility in St. Johnsbury. And almost three years ago, the Molly Brook Farm of Danville was restored.

The farms that participate in the program are chosen for their geographic location. They must be close to the correctional facility where the workers would come from, but also near a highly traveled area, so that visitors and Vermonters alike can relish in a beautiful, restored agricultural landscape.

••••

As a writer, I usually leave an interview with quotes and scenes swimming through my head. I wonder how I can capture a certain idea, what will my catchy headline be—the list goes on.

But on this particular drive home, it was only the sound of laughter that echoed in my head. It was then that I began to realize just how much I have in common with these women from the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility. Their mid-work smiles and laughter sent me back to the summers I spent on farms—the working landscapes where I have felt the most in my element, the best, most true, version of myself.

Working on these farms provided me relief from the fast-paced college lifestyle I was so desperate to get away from. I imagine a similar relief was felt by the women at Maille Farm—serving their time in the open air, rather than behind bars. Whether it’s a freshly painted barn door or a bountiful harvest of beaming orange carrots, that incredible feeling of pride and accomplishment is the same.

About the Author

Sarah Alexander

Sarah Alexander

Sarah Alexander lives in Burlington and is majoring in environmental studies at UVM. Her future plans include living on a few acres and merging her passions for writing and agriculture. For now, she daydreams of raising pigs and driving her Volkswagon bus across the country.

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