• Publishers' Note Spring 2010

    Publishers' Note Spring 2010

    In May 2009, the Vermont Legislature took a bold step toward strengthening sustainable agriculture in the state. Our lawmakers passed a bill called The Farm to Plate Investment Program, which seeks to increase economic development in Vermont’s food and farm sector by creating food- and farm-related jobs, improving access to healthy local foods for Vermonters, and expanding local and regional markets for Vermont products. Since the bill’s passage, the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund has taken the lead in working with a variety of ag-related groups to develop the 10-year strategic plan mandated by the bill.

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  • Gardening Like the Forest

    Gardening Like the Forest

    Modern gardeners have grown accustomed to segregating different types of plants into different places—herbs in one bed, veggies in another, perennials and flowers somewhere else, while the orchard stands alone. But this isn’t the way things work in a forest. Nature functions in wholes, enabling cooperation between species to generate robust, resilient systems that optimize the use of available sun, water, nutrients, and space.

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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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  • The World in a Glass of Milk

    The World in a Glass of Milk

    My first memory of drinking milk was walking through the lunch line in my grade-school cafeteria, picking up a red-and-white half pint carton of low-fat milk from an ice-filled service container, and placing it on my plastic tray. After sitting down at a table, everyone would pick up their wet carton and shake it vigorously to blend the frozen crystals with the unfrozen milk. It tasted cold and refreshing, like an unsweetened ice milk slushy, and was a perfect match for a sticky-sweet peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a bag of salty chips.

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  • Pie Local

    Pie Local

    Any critics of the local food movement—anyone who has ever insinuated that it’s elitist or indulgent—should know that at The Pizza Stone in Chester, a pie starts at $8.99. That’s for a large—eight slices—with extra local goodness baked right in: Vermont cheese, meats, veggies, and flour. What allows this new and popular eatery to keep its pies so locally sourced and reasonably priced?

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  • Mycelium Launching

    Mycelium Launching

    Terra Fructi. It sounds like perfect Latin. But Emily Bragonier and Liz Richards will be the first to acknowledge that they took linguistic liberties in creating a name for their new mushroom farm in Westmoreland, New Hampshire. “It’s actually grammatically incorrect,” Liz admits. “My mother, who is a Latin teacher, told us that terra fructi literally means ‘the earth fertile,’ which doesn’t necessarily say ‘mushrooms.’ But we hoped people would hear it and think of the fruits of the earth.”

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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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  • Red Hen’s All-Vermont “Cyrus Pringle”

    Red Hen’s All-Vermont “Cyrus Pringle”

    Those who have been following the various “Localvore Challenges” happening around the state will know that bread made from local flour has always been one of the biggest “challenges” for localvores. In 2006 and 2007, Randy George, owner of Red Hen Baking Company in Middlesex, produced special “Localvore Loaves” using whole wheat from Vermont, but each loaf came with a full-page disclaimer about why the bread didn’t meet normal Red Hen standards. In the disclaimer, Randy explained that he hoped someday he would be able to make an all-local wheat flour bread that he would be proud to sell alongside his other loaves. Most localvores thought the bread was pretty good, but Randy didn’t feel right putting the Red Hen name on it without his caution and explanation.

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  • King Arthur Flour’s  100% Vermont Bread

    King Arthur Flour’s 100% Vermont Bread

    Wheat breeding for the past century has focused almost exclusively on high-yielding varieties suited to the climates of the Midwest and West, not to New England. Due to our thin and rocky soils, hilly lands, and increasingly wet summers, Vermont wheats don’t have the easy virtues of wheats grown in the Midwest; one might kindly describe them as developmentally challenged. For a long time, this served as an impediment to bakers, and breads were rarely baked exclusively from Vermont grains.

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  • Celebrate with “Vermatzah”

    Celebrate with “Vermatzah”

    Matzah has been used for centuries to celebrate Passover and the start of spring. Now it can be used to celebrate local wheat and heritage grains, too.

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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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  • A Nose to Tail Heart to Heart

    A Nose to Tail Heart to Heart

    If I seem a little distracted, it’s most likely because I have to finish an order of cow’s tongue, warm up a duck’s heart, or explain the difference between fat-back and bacon to a curious but suspicious patron. It’s not that I don’t want to sit and talk—I’d love to have a beer with you, talk about where our ingredients come from, let you know that the rabbits really do like to be fed carrots, note the difference between Muscovy and Peking duck. It’s just that right now, there’s a couple in front of the Belgian taps who are waiting on their cheese plate. Be right back…

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  • Farmers' Kitchen—Seeing Purple

    Farmers' Kitchen—Seeing Purple

    Many people mark the arrival of spring with the sighting of the first robin. On our farm, the true harbinger of spring is the sight and taste of the first asparagus that noses its way out of the ground. Growing outdoors is a challenge for all farmers in the Northeast Kingdom—where, as the saying goes, one is never sure if a July frost indicates the last frost of spring or the first frost of fall. Asparagus means that spring not only has arrived but is here to stay, a cause for celebration.

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  • Last Morsel—A Perfect Day

    Last Morsel—A Perfect Day

    Each year, Monkton Central School in the Champlain Valley holds its annual Farming in Monkton Writing Contest. Students in grades 3 to 6 are invited to write a sketch about farming, and entries are evaluated by a local judge. Following is the 2009 winning entry, written by 11-year-old Ashley Turner. It’s a fictional account, based on her real-life experiences on various Monkton farms.

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  • Editor's Note Summer 2010

    Editor's Note Summer 2010

    There’s so much about modern American culture that our farmer ancestors could never have imagined. The popular Facebook game FarmVille comes to mind. That’s where you sit at your computer “harvesting” corn and squash from your virtual farm while studying spreadsheets to make sure your farm is profitable. Yes… your farm… your computer farm.

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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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  • Set the Table with Tortillas

    Set the Table with Tortillas

    I have to admit, having lived in California for more than 20 years, I have a soft spot for Mexican food. Actually, that’s putting it mildly; I could eat it every day. So when we relocated to Vermont to start this latest adventure in our lives, I figured I’d be saying adiós to some beloved friends. No more fresh tortillas steaming hot in a basket to accompany those creamy refried beans.

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  • Buried Treasure

    Buried Treasure

    A buried kimchi pot looks like a small bump in the ground.

    The buried kimchi pot at Laughing Lotus Farm looks like a small bump in the ground in someone’s dooryard, which a visitor could walk past without a second glance.

    “But imagine a field of buried kimchi pots!” Dave Brodrick enthused minutes after I arrived at Laughing Lotus Farm and walked past the bump in the dooryard. I imagined a field of the same small bumps.

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  • Mami and Papi

    Mami and Papi

    My partner, Meg, and I made our first journey to Mexico in the two weeks before Christmas 2009. We enjoyed some beach time on the Pacific, caught a couple of monster fish, and rode a few waves. We were joined there by our friends Isaac and Melissa, Craftsbury residents who are in the Peace Corps in Panama. After a week on the beach we rode the bus inland to Ixtapa. This is four hours southwest of Mexico City, in the state of Guerrero, and is home base for the Reyes Vargas clan. The Reyes Vargas have nine children, and we have gotten to know seven of them over the past four years.

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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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  • Human Manure

    Human Manure

    In gardening, we cannot escape cycles—not that we’d want to, since they’re what keeps the whole party going. There are the obvious cycles, like the eternal cycle of seasons, and the accompanying growth cycle from seed to seedling, to plant, flower, or fruit, and back to seed again. But there’s another cycle taking place in every garden and on every farm that is the most fundamental of all, but nearly invisible.

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  • Farmer's Kitchen—Strawberry Fields

    Farmer's Kitchen—Strawberry Fields

    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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  • Last Morsel—Three Weeks in June

    Last Morsel—Three Weeks in June

    We arrived at the campground in Watsonville, California, long after dark. Stepping out of the van, I paused, tilting my ear toward the distant sound of crashing waves. Overhead, the moon gleamed, half full beneath a thin layer of clouds. I turned toward the west—at least where I thought west was—and gazed at the ocean. It was glinting, shiny, and mysteriously still. I gazed at it for a long time, absorbing the distant calm of the water. Waves, I thought to myself, must not look the same from a nighttime distance, in hazy moonlight.

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Pie Local

Sign at the Pizza Stone Restaurant

Written By

Sarah Pinneo

Written on

March 01 , 2010

Any critics of the local food movement—anyone who has ever insinuated that it’s elitist or indulgent—should know that at The Pizza Stone in Chester, a pie starts at $8.99. That’s for a large—eight slices—with extra local goodness baked right in: Vermont cheese, meats, veggies, and flour. What allows this new and popular eatery to keep its pies so locally sourced and reasonably priced?

For starters, The Pizza Stone is independent, unlike more than half of American pizza sellers. The typical 21st century way to enter the pizza business is to buy into a franchise. In exchange for cash payments, franchisees receive national advertising, management training, and a recognizable brand name, such as Pizza Hut or Little Caesars. But new franchisees also sign away their purchasing flexibility. Stacy Mitchell, author of The Big Box Swindle and senior researcher at The New Rules Project, has studied the problem. “Since they’re required to use distributors approved by corporate headquarters, even a franchisee who wished to include local ingredients would be restricted from doing so.” Because of this corporate stranglehold on purchasing decisions, the percentage of local ingredients baked into a chain-store pizza is tiny. “Zero is probably a safe assumption,” says Mitchell.

Indeed, Yum Brands—the owners of Pizza Hut and KFC—warns potential franchisees on its website: “A list of approved suppliers will be provided to you and you are required to purchase your supplies from those companies.” ?The public relations department at Pizza Hut says that “in many areas, the mandatory list of suppliers includes local options,” but they decline to give even a single example, citing “competitive reasons.”

Yet in 2008, when more than 750 franchised pizza restaurants opened in this country, The Pizza Stone opened its doors with a menu that reads like a Who’s Who of nearby farmers and producers. Co-owners Darlene Doane and Stephen Hart use five different Vermont cheeses, dough made from King Arthur flour, and toppings hailing from growers and producers all over Windsor County. Even the beer and spring water in the cooler is local.

But just because Doane and Hart prefer local ingredients doesn’t mean they aren’t choosy. Doane sampled a dozen cheeses before hitting on the proper melting consistency. “It took some time to find just the right Vermont mozzarella,” she says. “When we opened we were using a non-local product. But now I’ll never switch from Via Cheese in Swanton. I’m very picky about my cheese.” Recently the Burlington distributor that delivers the cheese to her sent a non-local product to make up for a glitch. “I sent it back.”

Doane came to pizza entrepreneurship in 2008 after her employment in real estate suffered from the economy’s ill effects. “Everyone eats pizza,” she rationalized. She and Hart wrote a business plan, but it took a few months to acquire the necessary space and equipment. “We thought, if we do this, we’re going to do it right, which meant spending the money on a really good oven.” From the beginning, the goal of their business plan was simply to make outstanding pizza. But the same economic downturn that brought Doane to pizza also raised her awareness about the economic fragility of her community. She made sure that for every bill paid at The Pizza Stone’s cash register, nearly all of the proceeds would circulate back into the community.

While a franchise pie may contain zero percent local ingredients, Doane and Hart’s local “pie chart” is spectacular by comparison. In the summertime, when Vermont produce is in season, the local ingredient ratio on a large pie with fresh toppings can hit 90 percent (The only basic ingredient not sourced from Vermont is their tomato sauce.) Many Vermont restaurants feature local ingredients, but rarely does an establishment reach such a high percentage. There are only a few things on their long menu that can never come from Vermont: “Olives, pineapple, and artichoke hearts,” rattles off Doane. And during the winter, the local ratio drops as bell peppers and spinach have to be sourced from warmer climates.

By contrast, a chain-restaurant owner gets very cheap prices for ingredients, because the powerful corporate franchise negotiates on the owner’s behalf. Traditional economic math would celebrate those savings as “efficiency.” But Doane has discovered that efficiency doesn’t always fill the cash register. For one thing, a local producer is often more willing to tailor products and deliveries to meet her specific needs. And then there are her expansion plans. She’s considering doubling the size of the restaurant and adding menu items, and because her business model touches so many of her neighbors, dozens have offered to volunteer their time, services, and even capital. “I’m offering a decent return,” Doane explains, “with dividends paid either in cash, or in pizza,” making The Pizza Stone yet another community-supported restaurant (CSR) in Vermont.

Considering the assistance she’s been offered from every corner of Windsor County, suddenly The Pizza Stone’s pricier local ingredients don’t look so expensive. “I’ve asked people in our community, ‘What can you do? What is your specialty?’” The response has been dramatic. “Our electrician is donating a speaker system for our new location.” She’s also been offered carpentry assistance for the new interior. She is hoping to move this spring. “I have 15 ladies ready to demolish the new place as soon as we can get in there.”

Ingredients aren’t the only things on which a business spends its dollars. While Doane has demonstrated her willingness to purchase locally, for the meantime pizza boxes, paper plates, and napkins come from out of state. Despite her goals, Doane has to be careful not to price herself out of the market. But the paper goods are still on her mind. “All our printing is done locally. We get our T-shirts from one Vermont company, and I’ve finally found another to print our nutritional labels.” Eventually she wants to ask one of those printers to fabricate the boxes she needs. But that will have to happen after the business is more firmly established.

For now, her list of local ingredients gets longer every month. The sausage is handmade around the corner at Lisai’s, and the salad dressing comes from Drew’s, just down the street. The pesto hails from Vermont Fresh in Cavendish. “Sure, I could get cheaper pesto,” Doane explains. “I could get cheaper everything. But that’s the bar we’ve set for ourselves. Stephen and I are sticklers.”

Occasionally, ingredient price fluctuations are a worry. “When our flour went up to $28 a bag, I was really freaking out.” But she never considered switching to a cheaper dough. “That’s not what I’m after.” Flour has since stabilized at the $18 to $21 range. Conversely, falling prices aren’t always a boon. “When the price of milk dipped, and cheese got very cheap all of a sudden, I got nervous. I thought, ‘if these farms can’t make it, if they shut down, then where am I going to get my cheese?’”

Costs are never far from any business owner’s mind, but Doane is proud of the value she offers her community. “A family of four can come in and have dinner for 25 dollars.” And it’s really good pizza. The crust is thin and crackly, and the toppings are diverse and exotic, especially on the specialty pies. The Maui-Wowie has barbecued pulled pork from Curtis’ All American BBQ in Putney. Gouda Morning features Taylor Farm caraway cumin gouda. Open for a year and a half, The Pizza Stone is starting to build its reputation among the tourists as well as the locals. “We get calls from people who found the menu in their rented condo,” Doane reports.

Locals, of course, are the most important constituency. “People will support a business, maybe pay a little bit more if they know it supports the whole community.” Hanging above the counter, where customers lean in to inhale the scent of their baking pizzas, is a piece of slate broken to perfectly represent a map of Vermont. Pizza Stone is spelled out on the slate in bright letters, with a single star to mark Chester’s location. That one image says it all.

Photo by Sarah Pinneo

About the Author

Sarah Pinneo

Sarah Pinneo

Sarah Pinneo is an Upper Valley cook and food writer. She is the author of The Ski House Cookbook (Clarkson Potter, 2007).

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