• Publishers' Note Spring 2009

    Publishers' Note Spring 2009

    Let’s look at what we Vermonters might eat on a typical day in, say, March. Hot steaming oatmeal with dried apples and maple syrup starts the day. For lunch, we make a soup with root vegetables and barley—and of course we’ll add a slice of multigrain bread. Finally, dinner consists of baked beans, sausage, and sauerkraut. And during the cooking process for all these meals, we would inevitably use salt and oil.

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  • Bartered, Smuggled, and Bought

    Bartered, Smuggled, and Bought

    When the Upper Valley Localvores took their first 100–mile diet challenge in August 2005, we came upon a serious stumbling block. No local salt! Tomatoes and corn–on–the–cob were abundant, but oh, we needed salt. Fortunately, one of our members had vacationed in Maine and brought back a precious supply of sea salt. It made us wonder what our Upper Valley ancestors had done for salt.

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  • The 9' x 12' Vegetable Garden

    The 9' x 12' Vegetable Garden

    If you’re able to devote 15 minutes a day to gardening and are willing to give up a piece of your lawn roughly the size of the parking space for your car, you can grow a significant amount of good food—food that is organic, food that is tasty, food that is healthy. During World War II, Americans started “victory gardens,” growing up to 40 percent of their fresh produce. In these tough economic times, it again makes sense for us to grow some of our own food.

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  • Vermont’s Newest Grain?

    Vermont’s Newest Grain?

    People are often surprised to hear that rice can be grown in Vermont. After all, this grass is known as a tropical plant. But cultivated rice, first domesticated 6,000 years ago, is divided into two subspecies: O. sativa ‘indica,’ which is the long–grain type (such as jasmine or basmati) grown in tropical southern regions, and O. sativa ‘japonica,’ which is a shorter, rounder grain that is more cold tolerant. Japonica rice has been grown in Japan, of course, but also in more surprising temperate climates, such as the Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Romania.

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  • Set the Table with Peasant Food

    Set the Table with Peasant Food

    Many people say they don’t buy into the localvore movement because local food is “elitist.” ?Yet some of the world’s great cuisines—Chinese, Italian, country French, Indian—have their roots among people who had the least to work with: peasants. What can we learn from peasant cultures that can help us eat both economically and locally at the same time?

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  • Who Will This Feed?

    Who Will This Feed?

    Imagine yourself in the future—say the spring of 2016. Farmers and growers in Vermont are planting numerous varieties of grains, as well as oilseed crops. What are they growing? And when it’s time for harvest, who—or what—will these crops feed?

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  • Farming & Feasting with the Robinsons: Spring

    Farming & Feasting with the Robinsons: Spring

    The 1860s were a tumultuous time for the Robinsons. Rachel Gilpin Robinson, wife of Rowland Thomas Robinson, passed away in 1862, shortly after dismissing longtime housekeeper Naomi Griswold from service. Because Rachel and Rowland’s daughter, Ann Robinson Minturn, was living far from her family in Waterloo, NY, Rachel’s death meant that a large home and farm were left in the hands of an aging father and his two bachelor sons, along with a new, unfamiliar housekeeper and a revolving cast of hired men who sometimes lived on the farm.

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  • Jack Lazor and the Graining of Vermont

    Jack Lazor and the Graining of Vermont

    Jack Lazor is the first to admit he’s got his fingers in a lot of pies. He says so with a chuckle, his gentle eyes sparkling like the bright mid–afternoon sun reflecting off newly fallen snow. Among his “pies” are grain–growing experiments to find varieties that thrive in Vermont, infrastructure development for the processing and storage of staple foods like beans and cooking oils, and a plethora of workshops in which he shares what he’s learned in his 30 years of farming.

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  • The Return of the Root Cellar

    The Return of the Root Cellar

    The globalized food chain that Americans have increasingly relied on for over 50 years has begun to show its weaknesses—and inevitable failure. There are many weak links in the chain, but the weakest are storage and distribution. These aspects of modern food production contribute significantly to energy consumption: fossil fuel is required to ship food from far away, to keep food fresh during long–distance transport, and to store food over a long period of time. How can we opt out of this destructive system?

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  • The Winooski Bean Thresher Co–op

    The Winooski Bean Thresher Co–op

    I moved to Vermont in 1989 with a desire to garden and build a self–sufficient life—values I inherited from my mother. As I began growing food for myself and friends, I naturally started out with the basics, also known as “the three sisters” native to the Americas: corn, beans, and squash. I grew winter squashes, Maine black turtle beans, and sweet corn—or at least tried to. The crows plucked up nearly every corn seed that sprouted from the earth, and the cucumber beetles attacked my squash plants.

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  • Farmers' Kitchen—Spilling the Beans

    Farmers' Kitchen—Spilling the Beans

    A rustic wooden bin filled with black beans sits on our table at the Middlebury Farmers’ Market. Some delighted customers march right up and serve themselves heaping bags full. Others slowly approach our stand to see what’s in the bin. These folks are either disappointed that we’re not selling what appeared to be roasted coffee beans or, more often, they just stand and contemplate the implications of a purchase. Cooking beans is a new and time–consuming activity for most. But people are often excited to learn that dry beans are being grown in Vermont, and many are surprised to know that it’s even possible in our climate.

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  • Last Morsel—Robert King

    Last Morsel—Robert King

    Robert King is renowned in southeast Vermont for his vast knowledge of gardening and the many workshops he leads to teach people how to grow their own food. His longtime friend Ron Krupp recently interviewed him about his life. This is a portion of that interview.

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The Winooski Bean Thresher Co–op

Bicycle powered bean thresher

Written By

Janice Walrafen

Written on

March 01 , 2009

I moved to Vermont in 1989 with a desire to garden and build a self–sufficient life—values I inherited from my mother. As I began growing food for myself and friends, I naturally started out with the basics, also known as “the three sisters” native to the Americas: corn, beans, and squash. I grew winter squashes, Maine black turtle beans, and sweet corn—or at least tried to. The crows plucked up nearly every corn seed that sprouted from the earth, and the cucumber beetles attacked my squash plants.

But the dry beans flourished. I pulled the mature plants from the ground and hung them to dry in a friend’s barn, where they remained for several years as I transitioned from one home to another. When I finally got to pulling them out of the barn, I invited a handful of friends to thresh them and take their share for the effort. Little did I know that 17 years later I would be helping to organize what may be Vermont’s first bean–threshing co–op.

Threshing is the term used to describe the process of removing beans or grains from their shells. It can be done by hand, one pod at a time (called shucking), but more often it is done by breaking open the pods mechanically with a threshing machine or by putting them into cloth sacks or on a tarp and pounding the pods. They split open easily when dry. The next step, winnowing, is the process of separating the chaff (pods, plant matter, dirt) from the beans. This is done manually by throwing or dropping the beans or grains in front of a fan or breeze that blows away the lighter chaff. Large–scale farmers use a tractor–driven combine that harvests, threshes, winnows, and bags.

Those first beans I grew became the seed stock for my bean plantings in years to come and the foundation of many of the most amazing bean dishes I’ve ever eaten. I was hooked. The taste and texture of homegrown beans was in such stark contrast to the beans I’d purchased at the local co–ops. They were creamy, never grainy, and soft, sweet, and full of flavor, never bitter. I also learned a lot from that first planting: bean seeds on their own can remain viable for years, even in freezing temperatures hanging in a dry barn; they are not prone to be devoured by vermin; and they require a bit of work to get them out of their pods and into the pot.

Since then, I have modified my dry bean growing practices. I allow the pods to dry on the plant and, when harvesting, pull the bean pods off the plants in the field and complete their drying on racks in the shed. I have been hand shucking them for more than 15 years in the deep winter, sitting by the fire or with friends. I have grown several varieties: black turtle, jacob’s cattle, coco black, marfax, true cranberry pole beans, and another whose name I do not have, given to me by a friend.

Recently, I decided that I wanted to grow more beans than I could easily hand-thresh with my busy lifestyle. I see how dependent our food system is on petrol–powered trucks to transport our food thousands of miles. If (or when) that system is disrupted, we will have a food shortage and hunger crisis in our communities, right quick. I do not have enough of a surplus to go very far when a time like that hits, so I want to be able to grow a surplus of an easy–to–grow and easy–to–store food crop. Dry beans!

Thus was born the Winooski Bean Thresher Co–op. It is designed to assist home gardeners and small–scale organic farmers in the central Vermont area in processing their dry beans efficiently. Membership in the co–op gives you access to the co–op’s equipment: a pedal–powered thresher and a hand–cranked winnower. You also have a means of networking with others who are interested in growing dry beans. Currently we have a $10/year (individual/family) and $25/year (farmer/grower) membership fee. This will be used to keep the equipment functioning and to keep the administration of the co–op in order. We received a start–up grant from the New England Grassroots Environment Fund, which helped us purchase and retrofit the equipment and get the organization up and running. We have put together by laws, membership applications, and an outreach letter. We are receiving memberships this first year from folks who already have beans to thresh and others who want to know more about how to get started growing dry beans.

As for the equipment, one of our members found instructions on the Internet on how to turn a small gas–powered chipper into a thresher. We don’t want this thresher to be dependent on petrol, so we are fine–tuning the retrofit to make it run on pedal power. Our first run showed us that we need to gradually feed the bean pods into the thresher, spinning the tines not too fast and not too slow. (We have not tried it with whole plants yet, but I’m thinking that the fibrous stems may get wound around the tines. We’ll see.) For winnowing, a local organic farmer–friend donated an old Vermont hill farm winnower to the co–op. It is hand–cranked, turning a wooden paddle fan. You drop the threshed beans into the winnower and it shakes, blows, and separates the beans onto various–size screens. We look forward to trying it out once we get all our beans threshed.

Photo courtesy of Janice Walrafen

About the Author

Janice Walrafen

Janice Walrafen

Janice Walrafen is an artist, educator, and community organizer living in Plainfield. For more than 20 years she has been organizing seasonal community celebrations, parades, and workshops honoring life’s interconnectedness. She teaches art to all ages and creates handmade tile, sculptures, and colorful street puppets. She is the co–founder of AllTogetherNow!, a community art center in East Montpelier.

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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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Home Stories Issues 2009 Spring 2009 | Issue 8 The Winooski Bean Thresher Co–op