• 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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A Farmhouse Feeds Its Neighbors

Food Works’ Two Rivers Center Opens a New Root Cellar and Builds from There

Two Rivers Building

Written By

Elizabeth Ferry

Written on

March 01 , 2010

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.

But their deep commitment to the issue compelled them to create a nonprofit organization that to this day is devoted to teaching gardening, food preparation, and nutrition to children in public schools.

“Historically, Vermont has long met its food needs and we can do so again,” Kiefer says. “We want to move beyond food shelving and hunger relief. We work to strengthen local food systems and empower children and others to grow, prepare, eat, and preserve their own foods—because we all have a need for that connection.”

As founders and mangers of a nonprofit, Kiefer and Kemple are multi-taskers who exercise, daily, a variety of skills as educators, fundraisers, philosophers, and visionaries. And recently, they’ve added another role: “farmstead revivifiers.”

In 2001, Food Works purchased an historic farmhouse and acreage on the edge of Montpelier. The goal was to create a food and agriculture center that would strengthen central Vermont’s local food system. “The geography and the history of this place is special. This is sacred earth,” Kiefer says. “We feel that this is meant to be a gathering place, a commons, as we learn to feed ourselves in changing times.”

Ownership of the new property, known as the Two Rivers Center, has put Food Works on the cusp of a new phase. The staff are developing new programs and partnerships within the community as they breathe new life into the Two Rivers building and the land.

“It had felt awkward to us to preach about growing your own food from a third-floor office,” Kemple says. “Expanding to become the Food Works at the Two Rivers Center allows us to be on the land and walk our talk.”

A Confluence

The Two Rivers Center is located at the confluence of Stevens Brook and the Winooski River. A confluence—a place where two or more rivers join and flow together—creates a synergy in the natural world and is a rich place for plant and animal life. But humans are drawn to these natural junctions, too. River bottom land provides rich agricultural soils for farmers, and communities dependent on river transport have often been built at confluences.

And so it is fitting that the confluence at the Two Rivers Center has been significant in Vermont’s history. It was owned and farmed by a settler named Jacob Davis, who traveled up from Connecticut and established the first permanent homestead in what is now known as Montpelier. (An interesting aside: Davis donated his original land holding for the site of the Vermont State House.) In Davis’s time, all food was local food, and the task of feeding himself motivated him to establish his farmstead where Stevens Brook joins the Winooski River. That location, and the original 1836 farmhouse, is the Two Rivers Center today.

There have been many changes in the intervening 175 years. The farm’s original land base of 200 acres has been reduced to fewer than 20, and it is easy to miss sight of the farmhouse amid the traffic and business signs. The new rotary at the junction of Routes 2 and 302 is the common point of reference for the Center’s location, not the rivers.

And yet, “ideal” is the word Kemple uses to describe the property. “It is an island in the middle of a lot of change,” he explains enthusiastically. He connects the site to the mission of the Center saying, “Our surroundings are emblematic of what it means to live on the land in an age of development and industrialization.”

After Food Works bought the property from the Margaret and Sam Hoare family in 2001, four acres were recultivated, sprouting crops such as salad greens, potatoes, and garlic. Three greenhouses were built, making it possible to harvest fresh produce in the “shoulder” seasons of late spring and early fall. And in the summer months, the land became the site of day camps for children in the Center’s Gardens for Learning.

Each summer, campers engage in the age-old pleasure of being outside with friends, mentors, and the natural world. They tend and harvest seasonal vegetables and culinary and medicinal herbs, and prepare meals with food they’ve grown in the gardens. Not only is this skill-building, it is fear-dispelling: for many of these children, summertime means an unwelcome rise in their food insecurity as the assurance of a daily meal through their school lunch program ends with the academic year.

“We’re very serious about this as a way to reduce hunger,” Kiefer says. “It’s empowering.“

A Solid Foundation

Progress is taking place not just on the land but at the farm­house, too. Initial work has been done to reverse the damage caused by vandals when the house was unoccupied. Interior walls have been stripped of crumbling plaster, setting the stage for future renovations.

But the most recent—and most dramatic—transformation to date is the creation of a below-ground community root cellar and space for a first-floor community kitchen. The first step was to suspend the farmhouse ell on overhead supports. Will Eberle, a central Vermont carpenter and timber framer, then worked on the project with a crew of young people who were on an alternate path through high school. They built a firm foundation from cinderblocks and capped it with a solid hardwood floor of local lumber. 
Then the recession hit, funds ran out, and the project was put on hold. But it got a lucky break when Brian Van Hoy moved to central Vermont. Van Hoy is a certified “green” builder who, in the fall of 2009, was healing a broken leg. During his recovery, he donated his expertise to the root cellar project. Young people installed insulation, ventilation ducts, and climate control mechanisms under his supervision.

To the casual eye, the root cellar may seem to be just a hole in the ground, or the foundation of a weathered building. But when it opened in November 2009, it became a new link in the local food system. Now Food Works is able to operate its Farm to Table program—through which farm-grown produce is sold at wholesale prices to central Vermont institutions—in winter as well as summer.

On a recent winter day, Food Works’ Farm to Table Coordinator Sara Lisniansky, assisted by Leah Erlbaum, were busy filling bulk orders for 25 customers. The vegetables had been grown on 11 central Vermont farms and stored in the root cellar. The variety was astounding: potatoes, garlic, winter squash, parsnips, celeriac, beets, cabbage, and more. Banish the thought that local food is only available in the growing season!

The buyers of these products were diverse, too. Eaters of all ages and varying economic backgrounds later enjoyed this fresh produce in schools, hospitals, senior centers, the cafeteria at the National Life building, and at Goddard College, among other locations.

“The farmers love it,” says Kiefer. “They can grow food for people who might otherwise not be able to afford it.”

A Time for Partnerships

“We’re at a critical juncture,” Kemple reflects as he describes the next phase of progress on the house. “We are actively looking for community partners to join with us.”

Food Works is collaborating with members of the community on the planning of a teaching/processing kitchen and food business incubator on the first floor. They also envision building a Quebec-style bread oven and creating a living history museum, library, local foods eatery, and general store.

Kiefer is filled with enthusiasm as he talks about the future. “We want people to say, ‘Wow!’ Here’s what a food-based economy looks like. See all it can do!”

Photo courtesy of Food Works

About the Author

Elizabeth Ferry

Elizabeth Ferry

Elizabeth Ferry is a writer and photographer in South Royalton who values local and sustainable agriculture. Her photographs and articles can be viewed on her website. The Food Works root cellar is named in honor of her parents, Ronald and the late Sylvia Ferry, for their support of the organization over many years.

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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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Home Stories Issues 2010 Spring 2010 | Issue 12 A Farmhouse Feeds Its Neighbors