• 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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Restoring Vermont’s Heritage

of Wheat and Seed-Saving

Cyrus Pringle
Cyrus Pringle

Written By

Eli Rogosa

Written on

March 01 , 2010

“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.”

This insightful statement could have been written in the shadow of today’s rampant consumerism, climate change, and depletive agriculture. However, it was penned back in 1868 by Cyrus Guernsey Pringle (1838–1911), a visionary Vermont plant explorer who not only bred wheat, grapes, potatoes, and oats well adapted to Vermont, but combed Vermont’s hills, and many lands beyond, to assemble one of the largest botanical collections of his time.  Cyrus Pringle’s legacy is being re-discovered today as more Vermonters are seeking to restore traditions of seed-saving and to create artisan breads made from local heritage wheats.

As a seed-saver and plant breeder, I was thrilled to discover Cyrus Pringle five years ago. In the University of Vermont herbarium that bears his name, I read his eloquent instructions on how to cross tiny flowers of wheat, his descriptions of the traits of grape plants and the habits of potato flowers, and his commentary on state-of-the-art breeding methods for crossing plants with good traits to create robust gene pools for local adaptation. Pringle amassed a vast collection of botanical samples from throughout the U.S. and Mexico, and exchanged seeds with scores of Europeans. The Pringle Herbarium today houses over 20,000 samples of his great collection, and more are stored in the Smithsonian and Harvard University, which funded him in the 1800s.

What are the grain varieties that Pringle developed? Following are the three wheat and one oat variety I’m aware of:

Defiance is a cross of White Hamburg from England and Golden Drop from Germany, made by Pringle in 1871. This club wheat was popular on the Pacific slope in the late 1800s.

Champlain, a delicious, early maturing hard red spring, is a cross of Golden Drop and Black Sea, a now-extinct, hardy, and deep-rooted wheat from the Transcaucasia region.

Surprise is a cross of Big Club and Michigan Club wheat. Lower in protein than soft white wheats, club wheats make premier cake and pastry four. The roundish club kernels have a golden hue and soft texture.

Pringle’s Progress is an oat well-adapted to Vermont climate and soils.

Fortunately, these Vermont-bred varieties are not lost to us today. When I learned of them, I searched for them through the United States Department of Agriculture gene bank. Eureka! Off they were mailed, entrusted to the good hands of Heather Darby, agronomic specialist at UVM Extension, to farmer Jack Lazor in Westfield, to educator Gregg Stevens, farm manager at Merck Forest & Farmland Center in Rupert, and to Sylvia Davatz, seed-saver extraordinaire in Hartland.  They are currently being trialed by these growers and community members throughout the state.

In 1863, Pringle’s botanical work was interrupted by the Civil War. With an abiding belief in nonviolence, Pringle, a Quaker, was imprisoned by the U.S. military that year for refusing to bear arms. He kept a journal during his imprisonment: 

“In the early morning damp and cool we marched down off the heights of Brattleboro to take the train for this place. Once in the car the dashing young cavalry officer, who had us in charge, gave notice he had placed men through the cars, with loaded revolvers with orders to shoot any person attempting to escape, or jump from the window, and that any one would be shot if he even put his head out of the window” (28th, 8th month, 1863).

“How beautiful seems the world on this glorious morning here by the seaside! Eastward and toward the sun, fair green isles with outlines of pure beauty are scattered over the blue bay. Though fair be the earth, it has become tainted by him who was meant to be its crowning glory. Behind me on this island are crowded vile and wicked men, the murmur of whose ribaldry riseth like the smoke and fumes of a lower world’ “(6th, 9th month, 1863).

President Lincoln later pardoned Pringle. After recovering from his ordeal, he returned to breeding plants on his farm in Charlotte and to his extensive collecting.

The Northeast Organic Wheat Project, funded by the USDA’s Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NESARE) grant program, is conducting wheat trials in Maine, Massachusetts, New York, and Vermont. We have found that heritage wheat yields higher in organic systems than the best-yielding modern wheat currently grown in Vermont, AC Maxine. We welcome farmers and gardeners to contact us for samples of these rare heritage wheats to multiply and select on your own land. 

What other Vermont heritage wheats do we know about? Pringle’s are not the only ones. The 1885 diary of Arthur Judd, a farmer from South Stafford, describes his fields of “Hungarian wheat,” a beloved landrace wheat known as “Bankuti” in Hungary and as “Hungarian wheat” in Russia. We received samples of this seed from the Hungarian Cereal Genebank and have planted it in our winter wheat trials for the past two years. We are pleased to report that Hungarian yielded among the highest in our Vermont trials last year, with robust stalks and sturdy stands of fat, golden seed. It is beloved in Hungary for high baking quality.

Pringle also described a delicious, high-yielding soft wheat hybrid of two Canadian heritage varieties, “Bearded Fife” x “Early Arcadian,” that was entered in the USDA gene bank in 1898 by G.A. Read from Charlotte. The exemplary winter wheat hybrid described in Pringle’s papers, sent to him by Charles Arnold of Paris, Ontario, may be this very one, since there is no mention of Read’s breeding work in Pringle’s papers. (Anyone with information please step forth!) This exemplary soft Vermont winter wheat yielded among the best in our trials during the past two years.  

“The peck of seed received from Mr. Arnold was sown the middle of September last on good wheat soil, which has been prepared in the usual way. The plants showed great vigor during the Fall, and passed the severe winter without loss or injury. At harvest which occurred very early, the stand was very thick and beautiful. Though the seed was sown thinly and the crop is not yet threshed so I cannot report the yield. But it is estimated to be a superior one. The kernels are plump, thick and white. I esteem this variety highly from one season’s trial of it, and anticipate the highest food to the country from Mr. Arnold’s untiring labors in cross-breeding wheat.”

Although the “Snowflake potato” bred by Pringle is lost, other seeds of his are safely sleeping in cold storage, awaiting the hands of more Vermonters who can bring them alive. How can we get this precious seed to more farmers and gardeners ? It is our hope that Vermonters themselves, especially school garden programs, will help restore these rare Vermont heritage seeds.

Let us celebrate Cyrus Pringle’s legacy of Quaker war resistance and his brilliant work on plant breeding—state-of-the-art to this day—by bringing back our community traditions of seed-saving.

Photo courtesy of the Pringle Herbarium, Plant Biology Department, UVM

New Seed Catalogue Offers Locally Grown Varieties

Vermont gardeners face particular challenges—a short growing season and increasingly wet summers are just two examples. But a gardener’s chances for success are greatly increased if they plant varieties that have been grown out right here in Vermont for several years, a process that allows the seed to adapt to Vermont’s unique conditions. Locally grown seed allows gardeners to preserve varieties that might otherwise disappear from commercial sources, as well as varieties that have personal, cultural, or historic meaning. This seed also tends to have more vigor and a better germination rate than seed grown in distant places. And it produces vegetables that are more resistant to disease and store well in root cellars, helping us extend the growing season.

With these benefits in mind, Hartland seed saver Sylvia Davatz recently started a small seed company aimed at offering a selection of local vegetable seeds to gardeners. The Solstice Seed Catalogue, now in its second year, includes roughly 80 open-pollinated varieties of everything from amaranth to watermelon. Originally collected from both near and distant sources, all have been grown and trialed in Hartland. Each variety is grown organically and evaluated according to several criteria, and the seed is stored under ideal conditions. Seed packets are sized for the home gardener.

To obtain a .pdf of the 2010 catalogue, e-mail Sylvia atThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

About the Author

Eli Rogosa

Eli Rogosa

Eli Rogosa, founder of the Heritage Wheat Conservancy, is the coordinator of the Northeast Organic Wheat project, meant to trial, breed, and restore heritage wheats and to foster community seed systems. E-mail Eli for Pringle seeds and to share ideas on how to celebrate Cyrus Pringle’s legacy in Vermont at growseed@yahoo.com. Her youth seed-saving curriculum is posted at www.growseed.org/seedstewards.html.

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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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