• 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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Last Morsel—Turnip on Top

Gilfeather Turnip
Gilfeather Turnip Contest

Written By

Caroline Abels

Written on

May 26 , 2016

Just when you think politics has reached its lowest point of decomposition, a vegetable comes along to reaffirm your faith in responsive government.

Over the past two years, nearly a dozen students from Wardsboro Elementary School made trips to Montpelier to lobby representatives at the Statehouse. Their goal was to make the Gilfeather turnip—their “hometown, homegrown, humble turnip”—the state vegetable of Vermont, and to get a civics lesson in the process.

Without too much effort, and presumably without having to wear high heels or spend money on fancy steak dinners, the students successfully persuaded House and Senate leaders this past April to declare Vermont’s first state vegetable—an heirloom vegetable that originated in Wardsboro, a town in southeast Vermont.

John Gilfeather was a farmer in Wardsboro in the early 1900s when he reportedly developed a sweet, mild-tasting, and very large turnip from promising seed. To keep others from growing out the seed, he allegedly cut off the tops and bottoms of his turnips before selling them in Brattleboro and Northampton.

But eventually, the seeds got around, and by the early 1980s the Gilfeather had become so beloved that Dummerston residents Mary Lou and Bill Schmidt trademarked the name—not to keep people from growing the seeds (you can easily obtain them from Fedco Seed Company) but to prevent large companies from gaining control of the product.

Although there’s a debate over whether the Gilfeather is actually a turnip or a rutabaga (some say a sweet German rutabaga could be in its parentage), “turnip” is the word used at the annual Gilfeather Turnip Festival, which takes place in Wardsboro in late October and raises money for the Friends of the Wardsboro Library.

And now that it’s an official state vegetable, the turnip joins an elite group of other state vegetables, such as the New Mexico chile and the North Carolina sweet potato.

Given that John Gilfeather was briefly a state legislator in 1908 and (like the Wardsboro elementary students) must have come up to Montpelier a number of times himself, he would probably be tickled to know that his turnip provided lighthearted laughter for legislators as they debated the turnip bill in late April, toward the end of yet another brutal legislative session.

The bill didn’t quite sail through, though. Standing firm to his moral principles—and his preferred tastes—Sen. Kevin Mullin of Rutland was a “no”vote. “I can’t vote for a vegetable I can’t even eat,” he told WCAX.

Still, in a moment of candor, one of the Wardsboro 6th graders, Jesse Dykes, said lobbying to make the turnip the state vegetable “was nothing, really…. As soon as someone said there was a Gilfeather turnip cookbook, one of the Senators was sold!”

If only the U.S. Congress could be so easily swayed.

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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