• Editor’s Note Winter 2008

    Editor’s Note Winter 2008

    Although this magazine is young, we who put it together each season are beginning to notice a thread running through it: that of the old. In many of the stories that have appeared in our first three issues, there are references to our Vermont farmer ancestors and to the various agricultural pursuits and culinary experiments they engaged in. To be honest, this wasn’t planned.

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  • Biodynamics and Me

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    I have never thought of myself as a “spiritual” person. Although I have much admiration for the values and ethical traditions associated with the secular Judaism I was raised in, I have tended to eschew the organized aspect of religion. My secular upbringing did not prevent me, however, from noticing that the world around me was spectacularly complex and beautiful. The littlest things (a spider’s web!) inspired my utmost appreciation and respect. Later, I channeled this appreciation in the direction of science, trying to understand life processes through the study of biology and botany, microbiology and biochemistry.

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  • Is Local Food a Frugal Choice?

    Is Local Food a Frugal Choice?

    If you’re reading this magazine, you’ve probably seen one of those lists that explain all the great reasons to buy local food. I’ve seen them so many times I can recite the reasons by heart: local food tastes better, it keeps family farmers in business, it’s better for the environment. But here’s an item I’ve never seen on one of those lists: local food costs less. That’s because many people—myself included—assume that buying local food means spending more money per item. We believe there must be a higher cost to something that represents an investment in our health, the environment and the local economy.

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  • A Community Buys a Farm

    A Community Buys a Farm

    Robin McDermott is gazing towards the Mad River across a field dusted with early November snow. The frozen grass crunches beneath our feet as we walk past an old milking barn, standing huge and empty now for 40 years. Several acres of good agricultural soil, once carefully maintained, now lie fallow. “We need more farmers here,” McDermott says simply. As a founding member of the Mad River Localvores, she should know.

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  • Pete's Good Eaters

    Pete's Good Eaters

    In the garage-sized farm stand where summer customers palmed pudgy tomatoes and grabbed up bunches of basil, the red manure spreader was parked for the winter. It was mid-November, and the plumes of celosias and sprawling nasturtiums that had been growing on the farm stand’s eye-catching “living roof” were a black, tangled thatch. But despite these concessions to the season at Peter Johnson’s farm in Craftsbury Village, there was lettuce growing in the greenhouse, workers making sauerkraut in the barn, and purple sacks on a cart, waiting to be picked up by local CSA members on their commute home.

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  • Beyond Maple Syrup

    Beyond Maple Syrup

    On Sunday mornings during my childhood in Burlington, my father would make heaping stacks of pancakes on the wood stove. My sister and I eagerly awaited the moment when we would pour dark amber maple syrup on our plates to make our doughy boats float in a pool of sweetness. As a child, I took for granted that maple syrup, that quintessential Vermont ingredient, was an important part of the culture in my state. But today, a shift in ecological conditions thought to be triggered by global warming is pressuring ecosystems to move northward. If the southerly range of sugar maples migrates northward into Canada, a vital part of Vermont’s culture and economy will relocate with these valuable trees.

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  • Three Square—Winter 2008

    Three Square—Winter 2008

    Growing up in Vermont, I ate chokecherries, dandelions, venison, and tempura day lilies. When I returned recently, to live here full-time, I began to notice how often the conversation in Vermont turns to food. What’s for dinner? For the next few issues of Local Banquet, I’ll visit a variety of people at home, peer into their iceboxes, and find out what they’re eating and why. And because these can often be personal subjects, I’ve omitted last names.

    Mike likes to eat everything. “Meats, potatoes, vegetables. I like all vegetables. Me, I’m not a fussy eater.”

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  • Good Bye Rubarb Pie

    Good Bye Rubarb Pie

    Before I moved here, I always thought of Vermont as Holstein cows dotting a green rolling hillside, dairy barn in the middle ground. Say the word “Vermont” and I could smell maple syrup. Before I ever set foot in the Green Mountains, I associated them with food. Good food. And now, as I prepare to leave Vermont, my home for the past three and a half years, it is food I will miss.

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  • The Underground Garden

    The Underground Garden

    My good friend Robert King, who lives on Putney Mountain, built a root cellar in the 1970s on the hillside just south of his home. Easy access came from the gravel road, where he could drive his truck right up to the root cellar. The site was protected from the north wind and snow drifts. The door opened to the east, not the south where it would have received too much sun. Robert used the Scott Nearing simple stone construction method. First, pour concrete footings and then, using movable wooden frames, fill them with cement and rocks and let them dry. Then move the frames above the first-poured section and start again. It’s simple and practical.

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  • RAFFL, Loca, and Raw Milk Legislation

    RAFFL, Loca, and Raw Milk Legislation

    Raw milk cheeses aren’t the only “live” foods getting attention in Vermont these days. In January, Rural Vermont, a non-profit working for economic justice for Vermont farmers, plans to introduce legislation in the Statehouse that would enable farmers to sell more than 24 quarts of raw milk a day.

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  • Survival of the Rawest

    Survival of the Rawest

    Sometimes the food world offers bona fide drama made for “reality” TV. Survival of the Rawest is the working title for my imagined submission to the networks. This virtual “hit-show” is actually in production right now on small farms in the Northeast. And the subject is the clash of live foods with dead ones.

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  • Farmers' Kitchen—Better Be Beets

    Farmers' Kitchen—Better Be Beets

    Beets are one of the mightiest of all vegetables. Steamed, roasted, pickled, or raw, beets add color, flavor, and nutrition to any meal.

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Pete's Good Eaters

The Story of a Visionary Year-Round CSA

Pete Johnson

Written By

Julia Shipley

Written on

December 01 , 2007

In the garage-sized farm stand where summer customers palmed pudgy tomatoes and grabbed up bunches of basil, the red manure spreader was parked for the winter. It was mid-November, and the plumes of celosias and sprawling nasturtiums that had been growing on the farm stand’s eye-catching “living roof” were a black, tangled thatch. But despite these concessions to the season at Peter Johnson’s farm in Craftsbury Village, there was lettuce growing in the greenhouse, workers making sauerkraut in the barn, and purple sacks on a cart, waiting to be picked up by local CSA members on their commute home. 

In June of 2006, Pete–who owns and operates Pete's Greens, a wholesale and retail farm specializing in mixed salad greens–launched Good Eats: A Four Season CSA. It quite possibly is Vermont’s only year-round certified organic CSA that concentrates on vegetables rather than meat. Whereas many CSAs provide their members with fresh produce only during the growing season, Pete offers produce year-round, largely because of his extensive root crops, storage facility, and half-acre heated greenhouse. Members can sign up for shares at three different times during the course of the year and commit to four months at a time. The initial membership of 65 in 2006 has since expanded to 170 members who pick up their shares at various drop-off sites in northern Vermont, including Burlington, South Burlington, Richmond, Montpelier, Morrisville, and Craftsbury. This winter, members could opt to purchase either a "Root Share," consisting of a bi-monthly delivery of root crops, or the more diverse "Vegetable/Localvore Share."

I interviewed Pete in the kitchen of his apartment two days before Thanksgiving. I perched on the edge of the counter while Pete ricocheted from sink to fridge to stove assembling a casserole to take to neighbors who just had a baby. Pete, 35, has a compelling demeanor and possesses some of the physical characteristics of a disheveled farmer: his round face has weather-burnished cheeks, his short blond hair is tousled, and his broad shoulders and lean physique are clad in grubby clothing. As he quartered potatoes and peeled parsnips, he spoke about his astonishment at the vitality of the Localvore movement and his interest in helping satisfy the demand for locally grown food.

I began by asking Pete, who sells produce to restaurants, co-ops, and food stores from Burlington to Boston, as well as at farmers’ markets and at his farm stand, about his experience of selling through a CSA. His immediate response:  “I love it. We're gonna do more and more. For a farm like ours, it's one of the easiest ways to sell food. I've sold it every other way and I still do, and almost all of them seem like they have more drawbacks than the CSA.  The advantages of a CSA mean less guess-work, because what's picked is what's sold.” In other words, Pete knows that each broccoli he harvests is destined for a dinner plate, whereas the harvests for the farmers’ markets and farm stand are more speculative. And instead of "chasing money," the thrice-yearly infusions of share payments have helped stabilize his cash flow. Furthermore, Pete can use his weekly newsletter, e-mailed to all the CSA members, to seduce his eaters into appreciating certain foods they might not otherwise buy.

“This time last year we were sort of wandering our fields making bouquets of all the different greens we could scrounge, and they were these gorgeous things,” he recalled. “We tried to wholesale them to a few of our store customers but the produce managers didn't know what to do with them. And then we realized we could just sell them to our CSA people and they loved it! But they loved it partially because we wrote about it in the newsletter and told them how cool it was.”

Pete's potatoes were boiling away, and he asked me if I knew how to make muffins without a recipe. Instead, I offered my observation that consumers are now realizing that food begins with a farmer and a piece of soil. I've been wondering, though: are farmers having revelations about where consumers come from? I put the question to Pete.

“I think one thing I’ve learned is that there’s a pretty good group in this state of pretty sophisticated eaters who are eager for anything different you can produce,” he said. What this means is that a Good Eater in northern Vermont, who until recently had never heard of a ‘salad turnip,’ is standing in the kitchen beside the purple sack of this week’s farm-grown booty, pinching the salad turnip by the leaf fringe and finishing the crisp, white flesh in three brisk bites. “Something we hear CSA members say is, ‘Um, I joined your CSA and it was a little bit uncomfortable to get this different stuff every week, a lot of which I was unfamiliar with and which I would never buy. And I’m now rejoining because you give me the stuff every week that I would never buy. It forces me to explore and to eat a diverse diet, and as long as you give me recipes, I can do it.’”

Pete broke off the conversation to skip down a flight of stairs. He returned moments later with his hands clamped around a snowball of flour. “Do you think this is two cups?” Yes.  But what’s a Vegetable/Localvore share? The bulk of Pete’s CSA members purchase the $45 per week share, which contains a sampling of all the vegetables Pete can produce in his half-acre greenhouse and extensive field rows, plus a selection of locally produced foods. Those foods run the gamut from tofu, miso, and apple cider vinegar to bread, apple pies, cheeses, and yogurt. So Pete, in addition to “farmer,” can hang “middleman” on his hat rack. But is brokering Vermont food as satisfying as growing it?

He loves it, he says. He’s formed a number of relationships with many other local producers (for things like cranberries and goat cheese), as well as with producers across the border (for Canadian oats and sunflower oil). For him, the mounting enthusiasm for eating locally nourishes fun and creative collaborations. “For instance, Champlain Orchards has been selling us apples and cider but I knew they made pies, so I said, ’Bill can you make us a Localvore pie?’ He said, ‘Sure.’” Which means that when folks picked up their purple sacks one Wednesday after work, they found a local-flour-and-Cabot-butter-crusted, maple sweetened apple pie. If the CSA keeps growing as expected, Pete’s Good Eats will be able to help new producers get a leg up by guaranteeing a market for a specific amount of their product. ”Maybe we’ll be able to even loan money to people at some point,” he said. “I’d like to be a catalyst for more production and more businesses.”

Another way that Pete is planning to satisfy demand for local food is by creating a new, 850–sq. ft. commercial kitchen on the first floor of the farmhouse. This will enable him and his crew of five year-round staff to preserve and process vegetables that come directly from the farm and sell them to CSA members. He plans to make fermented foods such as kim chee and beet kvass, produce a soup base made from vegetable seconds simmered in new steam kettles, process surplus tomatoes and basil into salsa and pesto to freeze in the 8’ x 40’ walk-in freezer, and even tackle specialty sausages. Other products he’d like to make include pie crusts and pizza dough featuring local flours. “I think it’s important to make this [Localvore movement] accessible to people who feel like they don’t have a lot of time to spend cooking. There’s another crowd out there that’s captivated by these ideas but would appreciate more things that are ready to go.” Already Pete’s been getting inquiries from people interested in renting the kitchen.  “So there might be some cool potentials there for someone who wants to do a Localvore product for us and it’s something they can do in our kitchen and store in our freezer.”

On our way down two flights of stairs, through the commercial kitchen construction zone and out into the cold night, Pete talked about a new group of greenhouses he’s building. The sky was huge over the farm, like a prairie vast with potential. With these new greenhouses, Pete said he will be able to offer fresh greens almost all year, which he sees as a key factor in signing up more Good Eaters. “There’s a need that we’re in a position to help fill, and that’s what really motivates me,” he said. “There are just more people to feed like this and that’s just fun and exciting. I think this time next year it’s going to be kind of ‘sky’s the limit.’”

Photo of Pete by Ethan H. Darling

About the Author

Julia Shipley

Julia Shipley

Julia Shipley wrote this article on a desk she stuck in her cow barn. With a grant from the Vermont Arts Council, she’s completing a book of braided essays titled, Hewn: Dispatches from Broken Ground. Since July she has been a writer in residence at the Helen Day Art Center’s Habitat for Artists in Stowe, both drawing and writing about farm tools. Readers who know of farmer-writers she may have overlooked, or who simply wish to chime in with thoughts on the literature of agriculture.

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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.


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