• Publishers' Note Summer 2014

    Publishers' Note Summer 2014

    We’re turning 7 this summer! It’s amazing to think that Local Banquet has had the privilege of chronicling the local and sustainable food movement here in the state as it has grown up. Of course we owe a tremendous amount to the folks who, in the 1970s, came to Vermont to start the work and give us a solid foundation: knowledge passed from one generation to the next.

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  • Set the Table with Seaberries

    Set the Table with Seaberries

    I’d never actually seen a sea buckthorn plant or eaten any of its berries until I moved to Vermont. Already familiar with sea buckthorn in my skincare products, I was inspired to learn more. And when I did: zing, zest, tang! I was struck by sea buckthorn berries’ complex, passionfruit, citrus-like flavor. It was like nothing I’ve tasted.

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  • Growing Unusual Veggies

    Growing Unusual Veggies

    Just because we live in northern New England doesn’t mean we have to subsist on carrots and potatoes. These familiar vegetables grow well for us despite our cool nights and relatively short summers. But so do tomatoes, a warm-climate vegetable, and other frost-sensitive vegetables like summer squashes, beans, and cukes. What we grow is largely what we know—and what our Grannies grew—but it doesn’t have to be this way.

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  • Honey Homeyness

    Honey Homeyness

    I suppose every beekeeper feels that the place where “their” bees forage is the capital of taste, for it’s true that honey can capture the charms of particular nectars in particular places all over the world.

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  • Getting One’s Goat

    Getting One’s Goat

    Although Vermont is known for its goat’s milk cheeses, it hasn’t always been an easy place to find local goat meat. To acquire a goat, Chuda Dhaurali used to trek to Boston or New Hampshire from his home in Burlington, spending money on gas and occasionally getting lost in the process. Sometimes “it would take the whole day,” he says.

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  • Mushroom Grower, Man of Peace

    Mushroom Grower, Man of Peace

    Sitting with Amir Hebib in his living room in Colchester, sipping herbal tea made from his own spearmint and lemon balm, you get a sense of peace, of refuge. But when you talk to Amir about his life, you discover that the road to this peaceful Vermont home has been a difficult, war-blasted one.

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  • Farm-ecology


    My husband, John, reminds me every so often that in a world of seven billion people it is a privilege to own land. This is a good thing to contemplate as I stack brush and run it through the wood chipper. After a long winter, I’m already feeling the ache in my back and shoulders from only a few hours of work.

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  • Cafeteria Cooking: A New Era in Vermont Schools

    Cafeteria Cooking: A New Era in Vermont Schools

    We all know that “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” Similarly, as any parent knows, you can put good, healthy food on kids’ lunch plates but that’s no guarantee they’ll actually eat it. But who can blame them? Consider what they’re used to.

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  • Why Mid-Scale Farming Is Important in Vermont

    Why Mid-Scale Farming Is Important in Vermont

    Vermont’s vibrant farm economy is made up of all sizes, scales, and types of farms—something that’s beneficial, because a high diversity of scale and business model is critical to improving the sustainability and resiliency of our food system. Yet within Vermont (and outside Vermont) there is a particular fondness for the smallest scale farms.

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  • Farmers' Kitchen—Sprouting Up

    Farmers' Kitchen—Sprouting Up

    When visitors come through the door of our grow room, they often inhale deeply and exclaim how nice it is to see and smell green growing things bursting from trays, especially in the heart of winter. At Peace of Earth Farm in Albany, we grow a variety of vegetables and fruits, but we also grow harder-to-find shoots and sprouts.

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  • A Vermont Pasture

    A Vermont Pasture

    You have to work your tillage land
    And mow and hoe and plow it,
    But as for pasture, all you do
    Is jest to sheep or cow it;
    And you can walk jest where you please,
    Instead of ‘round the edges,
    And Sunday you can go and set
    Upon the pasture ledges.

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Mushroom Grower, Man of Peace

Amir Hebib’s journey from war-torn Bosnia to the markets of Burlington

Amir Hebib
Amir Hebib

Written By

Andrew Simon

Written on

May 23 , 2014

Sitting with Amir Hebib in his living room in Colchester, sipping herbal tea made from his own spearmint and lemon balm, you get a sense of peace, of refuge. But when you talk to Amir about his life, you discover that the road to this peaceful Vermont home has been a difficult, war-blasted one. He has come full circle in his 53 years: from a peaceful farm childhood in southeast Bosnia, through years of conflict and a sojourn in a UN refugee camp in Croatia, to finally making his way to Vermont and back to his roots in agriculture.

Amir is a farmer and the owner of AH Mushrooms. He is a familiar figure to customers at the Burlington farmers’ market, selling his shiitake and oyster mushrooms and small pots of dazzlingly robust ornamentals and herbs. He also supplies mushrooms to City Market and Healthy Living in Burlington and, seasonally, to the Intervale Food Hub and Pete’s Greens.

When Amir came to the U.S. in 1996, he felt like he was coming “from a different planet.” His country, Bosnia and Herzegovina, had been torn apart by war since 1992. Arriving in Vermont with his wife and young son, Amir spoke no English and had no idea how to find his way into work in his chosen field, agriculture. “I was destroyed by war, in all means, physically, emotionally, financially,” he told me. With initial help from Vermont Refugee Resettlement, the family found housing and Amir found a job. First he worked in a Winooski soap factory and then at McKenzie Meats in Burlington, but he found that being inside a building all day didn’t suit him at all. “Every day I am more and more stupid,” he says of his early work in Vermont. “I don’t see sunlight.”

He had grown up on a farm in the southeast part of Bosnia, near the Adriatic Sea. They called it ”Little California” because of the mild Mediterranean climate. His father, Murat, who wanted to spare his son the rigors of farm life, told him, “Talk nice about agriculture, but go away from it.” Amir did not heed this advice. He studied agriculture for four years at the University of Sarajevo, in Bosnia’s capital, and upon graduation, he got a job with Agrokomerc, a huge Bosnian farming conglomerate that, at the time, had 14,000 employees. “We produced a million eggs a day,” Amir remembers, as well as turkeys, chickens, rabbits, honey, and every kind of vegetable and fruit, shipped regionally and internationally. Agrokomerc was also the largest mushroom producer in Europe, with 24 huge mushroom houses, which Amir eventually managed.

As an employee shareholder in Agrokomerc and the owner of 200 beehives at his home, Amir had a lot to lose by emigrating. However, the war either destroyed or disrupted everything in his homeland, including the farming sector of the Bosnian economy. “I didn’t leave my country,” Amir says. “I fled.”


Amir’s two mushroom houses in Colchester are much more modest than the ones he managed for Agrokomerc, but given that he built them with his own hands, they are still impressive, and his pride in them is evident when he shows me around. Normally he produces 120 to 150 pounds of shiitake and oyster mushrooms each week, but the production increases seasonally when the Intervale Food Hub and Pete’s Greens include his products in their CSA shares.

The shiitakes grow on inoculated blocks of wood, preferably oak. The medium for the oysters is a mix of organic materials that starts with a base of straw but, depending on availability and price, can include coffee grounds, ground peanuts, wheat bran, even cardboard. “People say organic food is expensive,” Amir tells me as we walk through the buildings he has created for mushroom growing, “but what’s more expensive than going to [the] doctor’s?”

He runs down a list of what he doesn’t like about conventional farming : “too much using chemicals; too many new varieties; too much hybridization, and adds, “I believe in the power of Mother Nature.” Although temperature and humidity must be closely controlled in mushroom growing, Amir doesn’t like using chemicals—even organic ones like neem oil—to control the shore flies and fungus gnats that are drawn to his growing media. Instead he uses yellow “sticky cards” that draw and capture the insects. In the summer, he resorts to electric zappers to keep down bug populations. “They don’t attack mushrooms” he says. “They attack [the] media and spread disease.”

We go into the small greenhouse and my nose is filled with the intoxicating smell of summer. Exotic succulents, abundant herb plants, and giant aloes fill the small space. “I enjoy growing plants,” Amir says simply.


After leaving McKenzie Meats, Amir worked for seven years as a grower at Claussen’s Greenhouse in Colchester. He had overcome PTSD (“war traumas” he calls it) and had started growing some mushrooms at home. He felt ready to launch his own business, but that’s when he fell gravely ill. “The doctor told me, ‘Amir, you can die anytime,’” but no one could diagnose the illness. He reduced his work at the greenhouse and slowly got better. “It was [a] very hard time,” Amir says now.
So he began to build and supply his mushroom houses. “Nobody helped me,” he says. “I didn’t have money to pay someone else.” With all the money he could earn and save, Amir started his farm. “I didn’t have intention to live growing mushrooms,” he told me, but it was something he knew how to do, something he could do as he recovered his health. “People think it’s big money overnight,” he says. “It’s not.” He didn’t have room to grow the more familiar button mushrooms, so he concentrated on higher value shiitakes and oysters. Now, eight years later, there is more demand for his products than he can supply. “Now I sell three to four times mushrooms more than when I started. More and more each year.”

As his farmers’ market customers know well, Amir Hebib regularly dispenses more than mushrooms and potted plants. He is a modest man, but he is also a storyteller. “In Bosnia,” he says, “farmers’ market is first place to go. Store is second.” As a child, he sold his family’s products direct to consumers. “Big markets,” he remembers, “with refrigerators and locked boxes”—unlike Vermont’s markets that tend to set up each week like a traveling circus. “You didn’t have to bring your own table.”

Amir’s experience, both as a lifelong farmer and as a survivor of ethnic strife, has left him with a faith in natural processes, a distrust of organized religion, and a philosophy of nonviolence that he enjoys sharing with his customers, many of whom have become friends. “Nobody knows how many people were killed [in Bosnia]. Real people. Humans.” Amir says that he is “100 percent nonviolent.” His philosophy, as he freely expresses it, is simple, but deeply rooted: “I believe God wants us to respect each other, to help each other, to be nice with each other, to be against bad things like war.” He knows from personal experience what can happen when people deviate from that path. “It’s easy to go to war,” he says.

Amir Hebib, mushroom grower and man of peace, is happy to be in Vermont. “People are [the] reason I’m here,” he concludes.

About the Author

Andrew Simon

Andrew Simon

Andrew Simon is a writer, teacher, tour manager, and climate justice activist. He lives in Burlington.

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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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