• Updated Website Address: LocalBanquet.org
  • Looking Back on a Decade of Maple Innovation
  • Listening to Farmers’ Voices in the Ecosystem Services Discussion
  • Updated Website Address: LocalBanquet.org

    We've changed our website. Please update your bookmarks to LocalBanquet.org LocalBanquet.org is where you will now find the latest Local Banquet stories, a new Story of the Day update feature, features from the archives, and information on how to contribute to Local Banquet if you're interested in writing about Vermont agriculture. 

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  • Looking Back on a Decade of Maple Innovation

    Back in 2007, Local Baquet ran an article by Bonnie Hudspeth on maple innovation and production in Vermont. Since then, maple production in Vermont has tripled to 1.8 million gallons a year and innovation seems to have entered a new golden (or perhaps amber) age. We did a quick maple innovation news round up for 2018 / 2019 to help everyone keep up with the some of the trends. 

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  • Listening to Farmers’ Voices in the Ecosystem Services Discussion

    In 2015, the USDA funded a project for UVM researchers to engage in discussions with Vermont farmers about the idea of being paid for ecosystem services. Ecosystem services are things farmers do that improve the environment for everyone, a common example is grass-based farms capturing carbon in the soil as a way to combat climate change. Some services happen naturally through sustainable farming, others take more of an incentive to implement, and either way some policy makers believe that farmers shoudl be compensated for their contribution. 

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Fired Up on Local

Ben Maniscalco
Ben Maniscalco

Written By

Caroline Abels

Written on

February 21 , 2014

Local hot sauces are popping up around Vermont faster than it takes a 300,000 Scoville-unit pepper to sear your tongue. (Those are the units by which the heat of spicy food is measured.)
We’re seeing hot sauces in restaurants, such as The Mad Taco in Montpelier, where a blackboard enlightens (and warns) you about the latest homemade concoctions. And we’re seeing them at farmers’ markets, such as the Capital City Farmers’ Market, where you can pay in advance for a “hot sauce CSA” run by Claire Fitts Georges of Butterfly Bakery of Vermont and pick up a new flavor of hot sauce at every market.
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.
His hot sauces that include habanero, jalapeño, fatali, rocotillo, Chinese paper lantern and chipotle peppers incorporate 50 to 75 percent local organic ingredients (lime, ginger, and mangoes being hard to find around here), while his certified organic chipotle-infused and habanero-infused maple syrups are 100 percent local (made with organic maple syrup from the Davis family in Underhill). All his hot sauces make use of local peppers, except for his seasonal Carolina Reaper sauce, as the Carolina Reaper has a 150-day growing season. He also runs into shortages when attempting to locally source the infamous Indian bhut jolokia “ghost pepper,” another longer season variety.
For local peppers, Ben turns to a handful of Vermont organic farms, including Deep Meadow Farm in Ascutney (200 lbs. of jalapeños a year) and Foote Brook Farm in Johnson (200 lbs. of habaneros a year). He obtains cayenne peppers from Maple Wind Farm in Huntington, Chinese paper lantern chiles from Littlewood Farm in Plainfield, and rocotillo and fatali peppers from Half Pint Farm in Burlington. His dedication to buying local currently makes Ben the largest value-added purchaser of Vermont-grown chile peppers.
Some of his sauces are quite novel, reflecting the creativity of many small-scale hot sauce bottlers in Vermont. He incorporates butternut squash and onions from Rockville Market Farm in Starksboro, Honest to Goodness apple cider vinegar from South Washington, pure maple sugar from Palmer Lane Maple in Jeffersonville, and organic cilantro from Cate Farm in Plainfield. He says the fact that the sauce is made with fresh vegetables and local (often organic) ingredients sets him apart in the marketplace.
“If you walk into a co-op and you look at most hot sauce on the shelf, the ingredients are not locally sourced ,” he says. “And they use ambiguous terms like xanthan gum, sodium benzoate, or pepper mash. I need to offer the highest level of quality and transparency, otherwise I could not be the face of this product.” He adds with a laugh, “Maybe it’s a Sicilian guilt thing.”
Ben lives in Montpelier but “sauces” out of a tiny commercial kitchen in Winooski. You can find Benito’s year-round at the Burlington farmers’ market and other select events throughout the state. In 2013, Ben handcrafted more than 20,000 bottles of hot sauce, and the Benito’s brand is found in more than 100 stores in Vermont and 40 stores in 12 other states and Canada. Safe to say, he’s on fire.

About the Author

Caroline Abels

Caroline Abels

Caroline Abels is the editor of Local Banquet and the founder-editor of Humaneitarian.org, a website that inspires people to buy and eat humanely raised meat.

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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 ties into larger questions of sustainability and the future of our food supply.