• 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

    Biodynamics and Me

    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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Three Square—Winter 2008

Place setting

Written By

Denny Partridge

Written on

December 01 , 2007

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.”

“Any favorites?” I ask. I’ve come into Mike and Sloan’s farmhouse in Glover through the barn, greeted by Lily the goat and two enthusiastic small dogs. The kitchen is full of good smells. We sit in chairs by the wood stove.

“I like apple strudel. I like sushi. And I had some tofu manicotti last week that was better than steak. I never thought that could happen.”

I ask Sloan what she likes. “For me, tofu was a number one food,” she tells me, “because of growing up in a commune. But I liked TV dinners for a while too.”

“My mother thought they were too expensive,” says Mike. “We never ate them but later I did a few times, while I was living on my own and learning to cook.”

Mike grew up in Hardwick, the youngest of five children. When he was in grade school, he’d look at the lunch list on Mondays, and if he didn’t like what the lunch ladies had planned, he’d ask his mother to pack his lunch on those days. “She was a little Swedish lady, a great cook. She could make saltines taste like the best piece of beef you ever had. Some nights we’d have American chop suey or a batch of liver, and every Saturday morning she’d bake donuts and brown bread and on Saturday night baked beans. Sometimes we’d go hunting for small game¾raccoons, rabbits, squirrels. My mother would skin a raccoon, put aside six ribs and the hind legs, soak it overnight, parboil it, stuff it, and bake it. The bones were flat. It was delicious.”

When he was 13, he moved away from his family to work on a nearby farm. He dreamed of being a dairy farmer. “There were two of us and we’d get up about 3:30 in the morning to milk 60 cows and feed 60 heifers. We had to catch the school bus at seven. The farmer’s wife would make us breakfast, two slices of home made bread, two eggs fried in mayonnaise, and a big bowl of oatmeal with cornflakes on top. We’d get back from school on the late bus and finish the chores by seven, in time for dinner.”

Mike, 56, and Sloan, 47, are full-time farriers, and their horse-shoeing business takes them to farms all over New England. Sometimes they eat lunch on the road, sandwiches or take-out, depending on the weather. Breakfast is toast and coffee. Mostly they don’t eat till they get home in the evening, and then it’s a big meal. They grow and raise almost all their own food.

Their garden has been a garden for a long time, they tell me. I look out the kitchen window to see the remains of this season’s harvest. A dozen Fjord horses graze in the meadow – retired from Mike and Sloan’s therapeutic riding program – and there’s a swimming pool that looks inviting even though it’s late November. Their farm is 30 acres, nearly all of it pasture land.

“We use our own pig manure, not horse,” says Mike. “Of course we raise our own pigs, and we’ve got 25 chickens in the freezer, and we trade horse-shoeing for half a whole grass-fed beef every year.”

He leans forward and speaks quietly. “There are these new FDA rules. If a calf has ever been grass-fed, well, they can mark it grass-fed when they sell it. Look at little Henry James out there in the pasture. He’s only four months old, he’s a big boy, he’s a beauty. He could go to the feed lot right now and when he’s two years old and gets slaughtered he could still be labeled grass-fed beef, even if he’s been eating recycled newspapers and concrete dust for most of his life.”

Mike sits back and sips a cup of tea, measuring his words. “People are buying this crap,” he says. “A guy we know, he told me they’re shredding plastic milk containers for cow feed¾it bulks the animals up, to get a premium price.” Mike shakes his head. We fall silent. We watch Henry James and his mother, Joyce, grazing, as we contemplate the future of the food chain.

“We put up 230 pounds of cucumbers this year,” Mike says. “That’s a lot of pickles. We have every kind you can think of.”

“Bread and butter,” says Sloan, “chips, whole dills, dill strips.”

Mike continues: “Sweet, gherkins, garlic, and these, look, they’re sort of smashed in, see? They’re made from cukes a lot of people would throw away.”

“Mike does most of the cooking,” says Sloan. She is sorting an enormous box of tomatoes; some are black and splitting, others are gnome-like. “We’re making salsa today, this is the end of the tomatoes.

They’re a little funky but they taste so good.”

And what’s for dinner tonight?

“We’re having sausage gravy,” says Sloan. “Our pigs. And squash, and some of these tomatoes made into sauce.”
“And pickles,” Mike adds, “probably at least two kinds.”

About the Author

Denny Partridge

Denny Partridge

Denny Partridge acts and directs with Mud Time Theater of Bellows Falls. She’s currently touring with THE NINE QUESTIONS, a new play about a rocky Vermont marriage in 1760.

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