Archive | Summer Harvest 2013

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Food Swaps: Kitchen-to-Kitchen Community Building

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Photos by Julianne Puckett

In an effort to be not only food consumers but also producers, more and more people nationwide are embracing backyard homesteading. However, one of the unexpected consequences of turning a lawn into a garden, keeping chickens or putting up preserves can be overabundance: Hobby farmers often find themselves with more food than they can or care to consume.

Rather than anonymously leaving piles of zucchini on someone’s porch or overwhelming co-workers with yet another jar of pickles, many have turned to food swaps, local gatherings where they can trade their homegrown, homemade or foraged food with their neighbors. Hailed as one of the hottest food trends of 2011, food swapping continues to grow in popularity across the country. The Food Swap Network (FoodSwapNetwork.com), an online clearinghouse of food swapping resources, lists active swap groups in 37 states, from Hawaii to Maine, as well as many more throughout Canada and Europe.

Although trendy, food swapping is not new. No doubt many an early Vermonter agreed to swap services for food in lieu of currency or shared excess harvest with a neighbor. But modern-day food swapping was born not of necessity but rather the desire to create a community of those who love all things handcrafted and yearn for a more personal connection to their food.

Thus, you don’t have to grow or raise your own food to swap. Swapping has become wildly popular with those who engage in what author Emily Matchar calls “the new domesticity—the fascination with reviving ‘lost’ domestic arts like canning, bread-baking, knitting and chicken- raising.” Established swap groups such as Brooklyn’s BK Swappers and upstate New York’s From Scratch Club are setting a high standard. Their typical monthly swaps include a diverse array of homemade artisanal foods: infused vinegars, cheese, baked goods, beer, savory jams and during the growing season, armfuls of fresh heirloom vegetables, fruits and herbs. The trend has expanded to incorporate other handmade items as well, such as soap, lotions and lip balm.

Given the widespread popularity of food swaps, it is surprising that here in Vermont, where we brag about our number-one position on the national locavore index and advocate staunchly for the farmto- table movement, there is little organized swapping.

It certainly surprised Sara Whitehair of Waterbury who, after attending one of the From Scratch Club’s swaps, decided to form her own regional food-swapping group, the Vermont Food Swap. “I couldn’t believe Vermont wasn’t all over swapping. It seems like such a ‘Vermonty’ thing to do,” said Whitehair. “I thought, ‘I need to make this happen.’”

Using tips from the Food Swap Network and the From Scratch Club, Whitehair organized the first event for the new Vermont swap group last October. While the turnout was small, she was undaunted. “It was actually great that our group was small the first time. We all got each other’s items simply because there were so few of us.” She also noted that for people unfamiliar with swapping, a small group or a single theme can make swapping seem less intimidating. For example, she recently helped the Mad River Localvores group organize a soup-only exchange to introduce their members to the concept of swapping.

As word of the high quality of the foods and the fun atmosphere of these swaps spread via the group’s Facebook page, interest and participation in subsequent swaps has increased. At the Vermont Food Swap’s April event, held on a Sunday afternoon in the basement of a Waterbury church, the group of swappers had grown to include home cooks, food professionals, gardeners, swap-curious first-timers and even one young chicken-raiser.

The wares at the April swap were as varied as the ages and backgrounds of the participants: There were not only the expected preserved foods, such as jam and honey, but also fresh items (eggs, Jerusalem artichokes) and prepared foods (tamale pie, bread, soup). The assortment was rounded out by some more unusual offerings as well: locally grown hops, organic soap and citrus-maple cocktail sour mix. The swap began with a “sampling hour,” in which swappers moved from table to table to taste the products, meet fellow participants and sign swap cards indicating their desire to trade. After sampling, the official swap period began. Personality styles were clearly evident: Some preferred to stand by their display and wait to be approached with a trade while others immediately sought out the offerer of their firstchoice item. Before long, the swapping was complete, new friendships had been established and everyone left with a box full of interesting food.

“Swaps are a fun way to get ideas and inspiration,” Whitehair observed. “It’s all about meeting new people and learning about new foods. Food really brings people together.”

And it is that togetherness, that sense of building a food-based community, that keeps swappers coming back for more. In the case of the Waterbury group, the swap is now a monthly event, to which Whitehair hopes to continue to attract more swappers.

“Make what you can, come and meet new people and bring home some really good food. Once you go to a swap, you’ll be hooked,” she added enthusiastically.

Food swapping is the local-first movement at its most fundamental: Participants of any skill level or means come together as a community to forge a personal relationship with both local food and the people who make it. And what could be more “Vermonty” than that?

To take part in the Waterbury-area swaps or to start a swap in your region, visit FoodSwapNetwork.com or VTFoodSwap.com.

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TIPS FOR ATTENDING A FOOD SWAP

Following these helpful tips will make your swap experience more fun and rewarding:

  • You get what you give: The more items you bring to swap, the more you’ll take home.
  • Exchanges are one-for-one, so be sure your items are sized accordingly: a loaf of bread, a pint of jam, a quart of soup, a dozen eggs.
  • Don’t forget the presentation: Just as in a retail store, attractive packaging and marketing help you “sell” your wares. Swaps offer the added opportunity to get creative with your packaging, labeling and tablescapes.
  • Provide detailed ingredient lists: Other swappers may be unable to eat certain ingredients or be observing a special diet.
  • Offer samples: Everyone wants to know what they’re getting, so tasting is important. Don’t forget to bring sampling tools (chips, crackers, forks, toothpicks, etc.).
  • Be swap-curious: If you’re feeling intimidated, try first attending a swap only as an observer.
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LAST BITE: WHAT’S YOUR ‘LOCAL’? BIG PICTURE FARM

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“For the farmer, food is necessarily the product of labor,” writes Jim Corbett in his book Goatwalking. “For the herder, food is a gift, eternally regenerating itself.”

As dairy farmers, we know that these statements aren’t mutually exclusive. The labor is real—we must milk our goats twice a day, take down and put up new pastures, trim hooves, mow fields, muck shit, schlep water, CLEAN everything … ad infinitum.

But the labor is rewarding because the goats match our labor with their own—by supplying us with creamy, earthysweet, delicious whole milk each and every day.

And these aren’t just any goats. These are individual, uniquely expressive, deeply emotive, often ridiculous, beautiful, loving creatures-in-this-world! There’s overly protective Cicada, head-butting our neighbor’s dog.

Or retired Gertrude, who fiends for a head scratch. Eva, the tree climber. Carmine, the conversationalist. Junebug, the diva. Root Beer, the hand-biter. Orion, the wizened queen. Twig, the mischief. Manhattan, the tree-toppler.

Take, for instance, Fern, who won’t cross a stream no matter what—even when it’s a slow trickle and several sturdy stepping-stones path the way to the other side. Not Fern. She’ll remain on the near bank picking at limb ends, lonesoming the occasional howl at the rest of the herd now off in the distance.

For us, what makes food “local” is when the context surrounding its production is inseparable from the product itself. Each caramel that we produce comes from a place, a specific place, and is made from the milk of a specific animal, eating specific flowers and leaves and plants at a specific time of year. And what’s exciting for us as farmers and food producers is taking a proactive stance on SHARING this context with our customers.

A requisite for “local” food should be that it arrives on our plate accompanied by an intimate knowledge of its production.

Even “organic”— which was once associated with local, small-farm production—increasingly has lost appeal because of the ease with which large companies can achieve “organic” status and lean on it in lieu of providing real, intimate knowledge to a customer.

We need only look at the current GMO labeling debate. At the heart of it is the simple desire for transparency. Knowing what’s in the food and where it comes from is integral to our emotionalnutritional analysis. Sourcing that “living” knowledge might be hard work, but the need to do so is becoming more and more pressing, for that knowledge deepens our experience of taste—renders it an eternally regenerating gift.

At Big Picture Farm, we want you to know that Fern’s milk went into the caramel you’re now placing in your mouth, so that—in addition to the foreground taste, that creamy and lingering southern Vermont tang—you’re granted access to the background taste: her breakfast of striped maple, the season’s first wild baby strawberries and justblossoming vetch. That uncrossable stream.

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—Lucas Farrell & Louisa Conrad
Big Picture Farm, Townshend VT
BigPictureFarm.com

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Taste of Summer: It’s Creeme Season!

Vermont Specialty Is a Sweet Spot
on the Ice Cream Spectrum

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Photos by Kristy Dooley

When the mercury begins to rise, usually above the 50° F. mark, Vermonters begin to flock outside, soaking in the warm sunshine after a long winter. At the first signs of warmer weather, you can see signs of summer everywhere: Bikes come out, the scenery is greener and your local creemee stand opens up.

For many Vermonters, the first taste of ice cream— whether it is from Ben & Jerry’s Free Cone Day or the local snack bar—is the symbolic first taste of summer. As a state that is known for its amazing dairy products it is no surprise that Vermont has some of the best selections of ice cream around. Whether you prefer a cup, a cone or a full-on sundae, there is something for everyone.

Being what may be considered an ice cream “specialist,” I spend a lot of time with ice cream—making it, tasting it, talking about it, thinking about it and traveling for it. While some people may argue that “ice cream is just ice cream,” to me it is much more complex. Ice cream is the perfect mix of science and taste. It is not just a culinary wonder but a great exhibit of scientific principles.

In technical terms, all ice cream is a solution made up of four phases: water, air, fat and an aqueous solution that contains the remaining sugars and solids from milk, sweeteners and flavorings. It is the interaction among these four phases that make up the different types of ice cream we all enjoy. By tweaking the fat content, sugar content, overrun (or air) content and the method of freezing you can create a myriad of different frozen treats, from creemees to sorbet and gelato to sherbet and everything in between.

Native Vermonters live for their creemees and visitors to Vermont are always curious as to what makes a creemee different than soft serve or any other ice cream they can find. At the heart of the matter, creemees are technically quite similar to soft serve but some creemee mixes may have a higher butterfat content than run-ofthe- mill soft serve you might find at national ice cream or frozen yogurt chains. However, creemees often have lower butterfat content, with about 6%, than premium packaged ice cream, with 10% to 14%.

The novel texture of creemees comes from the facts that the ice cream is served at a warmer temperature than packaged ice cream and often contains more air, giving it a light and creamy feel.

Creemees are ubiquitous around Vermont in the summer, often found in vanilla, chocolate or twist, but a true perennial favorite of many Vermonters is the maple creemee. The best maple creemees are made with real Vermont maple syrup added right to the mix before freezing. Some of the best maple creemees in Central Vermont can be found at the Vermont Maple Outlet on Route 15 in Cambridge, Morse Farm in Montpelier and Dakin Farms in Burlington and Ferrisburgh and the Creemee Stand in Wilmington.

If you prefer classic ice cream or a well-crafted sundae you might seek out traditional hard ice cream. Premium or super premium ice creams that you find at local scoop shops or in the freezer aisle of your grocery store begin with a similar process to that of soft serve but rather than being consumed right from the ice cream machine it is packed into tubs and sent through a deep-freeze process where it hardens. The hardening process solidifies and stabilizes the ice cream so the ice cream maintains its quality from the freezer to your dish.

The most renowned Vermont ice cream is, of course, Ben & Jerry’s, known for its fully loaded pints, but there are several smaller ice cream companies around Vermont that are turning out great ice cream, made with local ingredients. The oldest ice cream maker in the state, Wilcox Dairy located in Manchester, has been churning out ice cream with Vermont dairy since 1928.

Island Ice Cream based out of the Champlain Islands makes high-quality ice cream with local ingredients. You can find Wilcox Dairy’s and Island’s ice creams in your local grocery stores as well as many restaurants served side by side with many great desserts. Stowe Ice Cream also has delicious ice cream and ice cream sandwiches made in Stowe. Their ice cream can be found at I. C. Scoops in Stowe Village and in several restaurants in the Waterbury-Stowe area. For a complete cow-to-cone experience, where dairy from the family farm is churned into simple flavors such as chocolate and vanilla, give Kingdom Creamery in East Hardwick a try.

While the science of ice cream is expansive and complex, it can be incredibly easy to create your favorite treats on your own at home. With a small-batch ice cream maker, the flavor possibilities are endless. Top-quality Vermont dairy combined with the fresh fruits of summer or local honey makes perfect summer desserts.

RECIPE

Simple Philly-Style Vanilla Ice Cream

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Crop Circuit: Network Links Area Farmers to a World of Workers

Photo by Carole Topalian

cropCircuitNetworkThough Vermont’s farming season is frustratingly brief, the amount of work that’s needed to harvest a successful crop is just as substantial as it is in warmer climates. For many local organic farmers and gardeners, regardless of the number of acres they’re tilling, it’s nice to have a few extra pairs of hands to help out.

Many of them, as members of Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, USA, have come to rely on guests—strangers, really—for assistance with the sowing, weeding, watering and reaping.

WWOOF-USA serves as an intermediary between farmers and those visitors, known as “WWOOFers,” almost as an online matching service would. Both farmers and WWOOFers complete online profiles; the latter then choose locations where they’d consider doing part-time unpaid farm work. In exchange, they receive room and board, as well as firsthand experience in sustainable agriculture and the opportunity to visit new places.

“WWOOFing is a great way to travel and learn so many new things without having to spend much money,” says Julia Rodricks. In May 2012, Rodricks and two college friends spent three weeks at Applepath Farm in Charlotte. Rodricks’ brother had WWOOFed elsewhere earlier and reported such a positive experience that when Rodricks and her friends were looking for a communal adventure after their freshman year, Rodricks immediately suggested WWOOFing.

They considered locations in Maine and Vermont, but after exchanging emails with Applepath’s owners decided that was the place. During their time in Charlotte, they worked on preparing the land for the summer ahead, clearing invasive buckthorn and honeysuckle, tilling the soil, and planting seeds.

“With WWOOFing, you have to go with the flow, because you’re there to work,” says Rodricks, of Baltimore. “You can’t just look at it as a vacation—you have to be ready for whatever they throw at you. You have to be open to new things and new experiences, whether it’s trying new food or doing work that may be a little outside your comfort zone.” At the same time, their hosts—owners Georgina Achilles and Benjamin Pualwan (known by all as Gia and Scout)—encouraged the women to explore the area, as they do with all their guests, whom they frequently invite to join them at concerts and social events.

“They wanted us to get the most out of our Vermont experience,” says Rodricks.

Applepath is not a commercial farm and hasn’t even been a yearround, full-time endeavor—Achilles and Pualwan hold down jobs as a mental health counselor and a government management analyst, respectively— though a farm stand or a presence at a local farmers market may be happening within the next five years. They’ve recently installed a vineyard, where they’re growing cold-hardy Marquette grapes; they also put in new asparagus, strawberry and garlic patches, which means there is now more work than the two have time for.

They’re grateful for all assistance, and offer their WWOOFers a daily menu of tasks from which to choose. They ask for 30 hours of work a week, with the hours divided up among the days in whatever way works best for the WWOOFers. Achilles and Pualwan make it clear that they don’t want even 31 hours, though there’s no official timekeeping.

“We want them to enjoy the rest of their time,” says Achilles, listing some of the excursions on which they’ve sent or taken WWOOFers, including trips to Burlington and Montpelier. “We want them to have their other experiences too—it’s all about balance.”

In exchange, Achilles and Pualwan offer breakfast and lunch provisions (“If they want Raisin Bran, we’ll get them Raisin Bran!” says Pual-wan) and share “big, grand dinners” made with local meats and— when it’s available—their own produce. WWOOFers may bring their own tents or sleep in those provided, what Pualwan calls “cushy tents with futons.” They’re also invited in the Achilles/Pualwan house for evening meals, and can take shelter there anytime the weather’s really threatening. There’s even a geodesic dome steambath and an outdoor shower that’s angled away from the road for privacy but affords an up-close view of Mount Philo.

Those extras won’t be found at the 53 other host sites around Vermont, but there’s still plenty that’s unique to each of those locales.

Geographically, they range from the 826-acre Clyde River farm in Island Pond, where WWOOFers can tend vegetables, cultivate Christmas trees and hay, lead canoe trips and undertake woodworking projects; to Hermit Thrush Homestead in Halifax, near Brattleboro, where visitors might construct hoop houses and animal shelters or collect and boil maple sap.

At other locations, WWOOFers help raise bees and perennial flowers, contribute to the delivery of CSA (community-supported agriculture) shares—even explore the interaction between art and agriculture, as at the Dancing Root Permaculture Project in Middlesex.

Hermit Thrush is one of several sites that offer year-round WWOOFing opportunities; others allow children and/or pets, but ask to be notified first.

The program is described as an educational and cultural exchange, and beyond the directive that hosts not offer stipends or other financial compensation to WWOOFers, what it looks like is largely left up to the individual host farms, and may even vary according to who’s there at any given time. The length of visitor stay also varies according to location.

Kiss the Cow Farm, a grass-based dairy in South Royalton, asks that in the interest of efficiency WWOOFers plan to be on site for at least four weeks, and preferably all summer and fall. On the flip side, 10-acre Applepath’s guests are generally in residence for about two weeks, which gives the WWOOFers time to get comfortable with the property, owners and expectations without things growing stale.

The organization that oversees it all, WWOOF-USA, is a nonprofit whose primary role is the maintenance of an online directory of hosts and WWOOFers. It’s an affiliate of a UK-based program founded in 1971 that was originally known as Weekend Workers on Organic Farms. That effort, started by a London secretary, allowed city dwellers who did not have the means or opportunity to do so to spend weekends in the country while supporting and learning about the basics of the organic food movement.

Today there are “WWOOF nations” on every continent except Antarctica, in more than 50 countries worldwide, ranging from Macedonia to Costa Rica, Bangladesh to Cameroon, Ireland to Canada; the U.S. branch was founded in 2001.

All are part of the newly formed Federation of WWOOF Organisations (FOWO), whose current chair is Sarah Potenza, executive director and co-founder of WWOOF-USA.

Potenza helped found WWOOF-USA after spending a few postgraduate months WWOOFing in New Zealand. At that time there were a handful of participating farms in the United States, but they were operating as so-called independents, without the benefits of the umbrella organization. Several of Potenza’s college friends were WWOOFing at the same time in Canada and Australia, and when they returned to the United States, all agreed there was surely enough potential interest among U.S. farmers, gardeners and homesteaders to support a program.

“We thought that WWOOF could do such amazing things for people who want to learn about organic farming and sustainable agriculture,” Potenza said, “and there are so many incredible opportunities in the United States that we wanted to help provide … Read More

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Growing the Goods: Community- Supported Agriculture Evolves in Vermont

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Photos by Brent Harrewyn

Farmers have always been innovative. It should probably be a required skill set, especially for young farmers who have yet to discover the fickleness of Mother Nature or just how deep they’ll have to dig into their own physical reserves and determination to farm. Innovation on a farm is a daily necessity. Today Vermont farmers have to stretch their innovation muscles well beyond finding a quick “fix” for a broken tractor into new ways to connect local food with their community. That’s because the term community-supported agriculture— better known as CSA—is morphing. From the traditional model of on-the-farm food pickups to online distribution sites that source local food from multiple farms, community members have more choices than ever to buy local.

One might call Full Moon Farm owners Dave Zuckerman and Rachel Nevitt traditionalists with a twist. They serve a 200- to 250-person CSA membership each year, growing over 200,000 pounds of food at their 151-acre farm in Hinesburg. Both Zuckerman and Nevitt have farming in their blood and have a long list of farming experience.

Zuckerman, who splits his time between farming and politics in the Vermont Legislature, knew he wanted to create something unique when he began his farm in 1998 in Burlington’s Intervale Center. Today members of Full Moon Farm’s CSA don’t get a basket of pre-picked food each week; instead they shop for their local, organic produce at a “pop-up style” farmers market.

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“Ours is sort of a hybrid model,” said Zuckerman. “We bring certified organic, locally produced food to a convenient location for people living and working in Burlington, and we offer them choice.” It’s a full-day process to create this type of shopping experience for their CSA members, which is why Zuckerman and Nevitt only offer two shop sites weekly. “We also have a lot of our members come to the farm to pick up their shares and it’s the same format. They have input on how many carrots or kale they want each week.”

Finding ways to offer more local food choices to consumers is the reason that Suzy Hodgson created an online solution for Charlotte. “I was really surprised at the number of people around me that would drive to Costco on the weekends to buy food,” said Hodgson. “We have farms growing vegetables and fruit, dairy products and raising livestock for meat, and people would choose a supermarket instead of a farm. I wanted to do something about that.”

Hodgson and her business partners, Mike Walker and Joe Messingschlager, launched YourFarmStand.com in 2010 to provide an online market of local food products grown and raised by independent farmers and producers. Their model requires a community coordinator at the helm of each online market—they now have nearly 20 markets—in order to secure a stable pickup location, work with local farmers and recruit community support to spend their food dollars here. People who shop the online market aren’t required to have a minimum order or even to buy each week.

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“The flexibility that we provide in creating access to local food, we feel is another layer that we want to bring to the marketplace,” said Hodgson. “We are not a CSA. We are different. But both our model and the traditional CSA are rooted in creating a community that supports local agriculture.”

According to Full Moon Farm owners Nevitt and Zuckerman, when people are deciding to commit to local food they want to know the farmer and talk to him or her about the food and the growing process; to build a relationship. Transparency back to the source of local food can also happen online, says YourFarmStand.com’s Hodgson. “All people have to do is click on the farmer’s profile and send them an email. We think that all of us need more ways to connect to farms but our philosophy is to make the connections easier for people.”

Offering convenience is another battle cry for local food aggregators, as the marketplace for consumers’ local food dollars gets more competitive. With over 100 CSAs in Vermont, some farms and organizations have decided to team up to create more offerings, less risk for consumers and a convenient delivery to members’ places of business. That’s what the Intervale Food Hub has been doing for the past five years.

“We chose to develop a workplace delivery model to create a new market for farmers,” said Food Hub Manager Sona Desai. “We felt that this model was an open market and one that would be difficult for a single farmer to serve.”

Desai says that the Intervale Food Hub is more like a local grocery cooperative than a traditional CSA. “We are multi-farm, we eliminate member risk, we provide convenient delivery, we offer payment options, we encourage online shopping and we provide a wide diversity of products.”

Another student of the CSA model is FarmersToYou.com, an online market created by Greg Georgakalis in 2009. But instead of creating a community around local food in Vermont, they work to make the connections for farmers and consumers in and around Boston. “If sustainable agriculture, small-scale, high-quality craft farming is going to thrive we need a new model to connect the farmers to families,” said Georgakalis. The FarmersToYou.com team delivers fresh Vermont produce, meats, dairy and baked goods to Boston-area families at 11 pickup sites mostly located at schools, community centers, churches or businesses.

“We are dealing with farmers in Vermont who are looking for more markets in which to sell,” Georgakalis said. “They need more to be fully sustainable. The producers are extremely enthusiastic and want us to continue to develop the market in Boston.”

This online food market requires families to make a minimum financial commitment of $40 each week. Georgakalis says that this type of farmer-to-consumer partnership needs to have a commitment from both parties in order for it to be successful. “I am a farmer and have consulted with farmers,” Georgakalis said. “The CSA farms were struggling because it’s a very difficult business model. You have to grow an enormous variety of food and there are different types of logistics, including customer service, picking and packing. It’s a different skill set that many farmers don’t have. “

Full Moon Farm’s Zuckerman doesn’t see the business model as flawed. In fact, he says that CSAs were originally started to help farming become more viable. “Customers would receive the freshest food and stay connected to the farmer and the land. They would see the farm every week, experience the ups and downs of the reality of farm life.”

Today, the term CSA is used more loosely to describe many ways that farmers get fresh, local food directly to consumers. While this might make sustaining purely traditional CSAs more challenging, it forces farmers to start stretching those ever-important innovation muscles. Even Full Moon Farm has expanded on the classic CSA model.

“We’ve started a summer camp for kids on the farm, we are exploring on-farm dinners and have even started a Facebook page,” Zuckerman said. While the CSA landscape continues to diversify and evolve, the need for innovation endures.

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Homestead 802: From Cow to Consumer

Branding Boyden Beef

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Photos by Carol Sullivan

The term branding has its origins in the cattle industry. Farmers would brand their livestock with a red-hot iron in order to keep track of them when fencing was not practical. The mark on its rump would settle any dispute over provenance should the cattle roam too far or suspiciously end up in someone’s feedlot several towns away.

The definition of branding evolved with modern business to differentiate one company’s chocolate bar or computer from another and, hopefully, to associate a particular brand with quality.

It has taken a while but branding, in this modern sense, has returned to the beef industry. One farmer in particular has been putting his name on his product, building a brand of beef in hopes it will be synonymous with quality and excellent flavor. It is a mark of his success that if you are a carnivore living in Vermont, you have likely heard of Boyden Beef.

Mark Boyden has been raising and selling his beef to high-end restaurants and stores since 2000. You can find his flavorful burgers and succulent steaks listed by name at such restaurants as Mary’s at Baldwin Creek in Bristol, the Kitchen Table Bistro in Richmond, Perfect Wife in Manchester, 51 Main in Middlebury, Blue Stone in Waterbury and Kismet Café in Montpelier, among others. All cuts of beef can also be found in the meat sections of City Market, Sweet Clover and many other gourmet groceries.

Mark went into the beef industry realizing that establishing a brand name was crucial to his business plan, especially since he had every intention of distinguishing his beef as high quality. Though brand recognition is an important part of most other businesses, it is new territory for direct sales of meat—somewhat ironic considering the origins of the term.

Boyden was born, raised and educated in Vermont. He lives with his wife, Lauri, and their three daughters on a farm in Cambridge that has been in his family since 1914. Mark’s grandfather bought the original 180 acres to run a dairy operation. Mark’s father, Fred Boyden, expanded over the years, buying neighboring property, and the farm now consists of 500 acres of cropland with an additional 200 acres rented.

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The Boydens represent the modern-day Vermont farm that has diversified to stay afloat. Mark’s brother, David, and his wife, Linda, started one of the first wineries in the state and make highly regarded wines with local grapes and other fruit. Mark and his wife restored the old dairy barn and improved the grounds to serve as a site for weddings and receptions.

Make no mistake, though: The farm is not a staged scenario for agritourism. Over 200 beef cows are on the farm at any given time and the fields are full of the crops to sustain them.

From the start, Mark knew he wanted to be a farmer but had always pictured himself a dairyman like his father and grandfather. After graduating high school, he enrolled in the University of Vermont as an agriculture major but admits his first few years he was as interested in the nightlife of Burlington as in his classes. As UVM began requiring more challenging courses from him, he decided to design his own major and called it “From Cow to Consumer.” Though he didn’t realize it at the time, his self-directed research would serve him well later in life.

In 1988, with degree in hand, he went back to the farm to run the family dairy but it was clear the milk business was in trouble. Dairy prices were falling and costs of production were swallowing profits. Boyden hired consultants to put some numbers to fixing a decrepit barn and the milk production that would be required to pay for it. They concluded that the barn needed an upgrade that would cost $1 million, which would require a minimum of 500 cows producing milk to generate enough income and even then it was going to be tough to break even.

The locavore movement was just taking off and Mark was aware there was a growing demand for locally raised meat. He decided to sell their dairy cows and started raising beef cows.

An intuitive businessman, Mark realized other farmers were also switching to beef and in order for him to stand out, Boyden Beef had to represent top quality and it had to be listed by name. He started by selling at high-end groceries such as Healthy Living and made it clear that it would be mutually beneficial for the stores to prominently display the Boyden name on the package. Demand for local meat was (and still is) high and consumers were looking for a name they knew was local.

He also did direct marketing to chefs. Rather than cold call, he packed the meat in coolers, cranked up the air conditioning in his jeep and toured around to restaurants in Stowe and Burlington so chefs could sample his steaks and ground meat in person.

The effort paid off and Boyden Beef is now listed by name on some of the best menus in the state. Restaurants represent about 60% of his sales with the rest sold wholesale to high-end supermarkets.

As he has been feeling his way through the marketing aspect, so too has he learned some lessons about managing cattle. Mark buys Hereford and Angus calves at roughly 900 pounds from all over the state and finishes them on his land until they are about 1200 pounds. At first, he tried 100% grass-fed beef because so much had been written about the health benefits that consumers were starting to ask for it. Many of those consumers, however, had only read about it and not yet tasted it. It is true that grass-fed is higher in omega-3s and is a leaner, beefier beef but truthfully, it can also have a texture that is chewier than the American consumer is accustomed to. In addition, restaurants didn’t generally want extra-lean beef but asked for nicely marbled steaks.

After a year of exclusively grass-feeding and the resulting feedback, Mark returned corn to their diet mixed in with his own hay. They also get a bit of sea salt for minerals and molasses to coax them into eating the hay down to the last bit of straw. The corn is non-GMO corn specially grown for him by Boucher Family Farm, and the field crops and hay he grows are all certified organic. The beef, however, is not certified because given that the calves are not born on the farm, the paper trail to certify every animal is too daunting.

Though Boyden Beef already has a reputation for high quality, Mark has plans to improve on his process through a new breeding program that would render the highly nutritious, lean meat that consumers have been asking for that would also be fork tender the way they really prefer. His plan involves the participation of many other farmers in the region and he envisions a collaborative that would result in a region-wide reputation for excellent meat. He has not put his plan into action yet and is not ready to share the details but someday … Read More

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VERMONT ARTISAN: Mt. Mansfield Creamery

Artisan Care Aged Cheese: A Cheese for All Seasons

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Photos by Justin Molson

Stan Biasini is a man of many talents: floor-covering specialist, farmer, trained chef, snowboard instructor and cheesemaker. Stan’s cheesemaking journey began during a time when he was unemployed and had taken over the task of making school lunches for his children.

Each morning while his wife, Debora, was in the barn caring for the cows, Stan carefully packaged the cheese he had made the night before for his children’s lunches. “You might say that my children started me on the road to cheesemaking,” Stan says.

In April 2009 Stan took a two-day cheesemaking course offered by Vermont artisan cheesemaker Peter Dixon. Peter has traveled the world making cheese and setting up creameries. The two men quickly became friends.

“Peter has the cheesemaking knowledge that I wish I could have,” Stan says. “I think the world of this man. He is my mentor and still assists me when I have a cheese question.”

Debora grew up in Morrisville, Vermont. She is in charge of the farm’s small herd of registered Holstein and Brown Swiss cows. Each day Debora milks approximately 30 cows and ships the milk to the St. Albans Cooperative. She has received awards for the high quality of milk that her cows produce.

In the summer Debora uses rotational grazing practices for her animals, and during the long, cold winter months she feeds them grain and hay. The original Mt. Mansfield Creamery opened in Stowe in 1888, in a building that was owned by Debora’s family.

The new Mt. Mansfield Creamery was born in 2009. The cheesemaking facility is located in Morrisville, in the old United Farmers Creamery building. The hardworking couple have renovated the structure and built a cheese cave in its basement. On cheesemaking days the milk is transported across the four miles that separate the farm from the creamery and only a small portion of the milk is used for cheese.

Mt. Mansfield Creamery produces a number of raw milk cheeses, using recipes with European origins. The cheeses are aged in the cave for a minimum of 60 days.

The creamery makes small batches of cheese eight to 12 times per month and increases production according to demand. A new Romano- style cheese called Sunrise became available on May 1. Its rind is rubbed with a mix of cocoa and olive oil. This cheese is made with a combination of recipes from cheesemakers Peter Dixon and Margaret Morris, and is aged in the cheese cave for eight months. Sunrise is great for grating in salads and pasta dishes and is primarily available during summer.

Inspiration and Chin Clip cheeses are named after slopes on Mt. Mansfield and Halfpipe after the snowboard ramps. Many of the creamery’s cheeses can be found at local markets and organic food stores in Vermont. An agreement has been reached with several distributors, which allows the cheeses to be sold in different areas of New York and Boston as well.

Cheesemaking classes are offered on weekends. These are hands-on classes in a real working creamery and cheese cave. Entry level and advanced classes are available. Stan doesn’t want his creamery to get so big that he loses his local artisan flare, and wants to create recipes that he enjoys eating. The proud cheesemaker says he will make cheese for as long as Debora keeps making good milk with her cows. Let’s hope that is for a very long time!

RECIPE

Turnip Greens and Red Leaf Lettuce with
Roasted Onions, Toasted Corn Kernels and Basil Vinaigrette

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MT. MANSFIELD CHEESES

  • Inspiration cheese is a Corsican basket tomme that won second place in the Farmstead nonpasteurized cow’s milk category at the 2011 American Cheese Society conference. The rind is washed many times with beer from Rock Art Brewery to give it a nutty, earthy flavor. It is a favorite cheese of beer lovers.
  • Forerunner cheese is a Danish-recipe, raw-milk Havarti. The cave-aged rind is kept thin, which allows for the fullbodied flavor to shine through. It is delicious on burgers or for fondue.
  • Chin Clip is a raw-milk recipe from the mountains in the Austrian Alps and has a smooth and buttery flavor. The rinds of Chin Clip are washed with wine pressings from Boyden Winery.
  • Gondolier is an herbed Havarti made with garlic, onion, parsley, celery and chives.
  • Hayride is similar to the Chin Clip but has been aged for six months. It is higher in moisture content and goes well with a favorite white wine. Hayride won a silver medal at the 2010 Eastern States Cheese Competition.
  • Chapel Lane is a pasteurized-milk, Camembert-style soft cheese with a flavor of rosemary and lavender herbs.
  • Halfpipe is a French Alpine raw-milk cheese that is aged for five to six months. It has a hint of salt at the finish and pairs well with Champagne.
  • Tres Amigos gets a spicy flavor from sundried tomatoes, garlic and onion. This cheese is only available during summer.
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SECOND WIND: The Renewal of Windfall Orchard

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Photos by Linda Belt-Burnier

Hidden in plain sight on busy Route 30, four miles south of Middlebury, lies a small gem of an apple orchard, Windfall Orchard. At the town speed limit of 50 miles per hour through this stretch of Cornwall, population 1,000-plus, it’s easy to breeze right by and miss this Vermont treasure.

But every Sunday in October, wooden crates filled with apples labeled with yesteryear names like Ida Red, Crispin and Spitzenburg, prop open the doors of a small, weathered barn that serves as this orchard’s command central—store, cider-making center and fruit storage facility all under one roof. More than 80 varieties of apples as well as numerous types of pears, plums and apricots, many of them heirloom varieties, hang from trees on the slope that recedes from the barn and stretches out to an expanse of well-tended orchard, invisible from the road.

Here, green- and gold-leaved fruit trees meet the Cornwall Swamp grasslands; the view then extends out to the distant relief of the Green Mountain range. It’s a breathtaking scene— one that the property’s current owners, Brad Koehler and Amy Trubek, have worked hard to revive and maintain over the past decade.

Back in 2002, Koehler and Trubek, both former instructors at the New England Culinary Institute, were looking for a home closer to their new jobs—he as a food services manager at Middlebury College and she as an adjunct professor of food studies at the University of Vermont. Given their interest in and knowledge of food, Koehler says, “We were thinking of a small-scale agricultural-based property.” When they looked at the Windfall Orchard property, which includes a family home in addition to three acres of orchard, he said that the realtor downplayed the orchard part of the deal.

“The orchard was pretty overgrown, not much had been done to it, but it seemed to make sense though I wasn’t sure where we’d go with it.” He adds that “It was as accidental as anything that it ended up being apples.”

Koehler says that he and Trubek knew “something had gone on back there, and it was more than a couple random McIntosh.” But it was only after they bought the property and moved in that they learned the full scope of their backyard orchard. In two cardboard boxes left in the house they uncovered an archival treasure trove of growing manuals, slides of the many apple varieties, and old orchard maps (the original Windfall Orchard combined two separate orchards). The property’s previous owner, the late Dr. Ted Collier, local physician, was also a passionate orchardist who, over decades of work, had built up the orchard to nearly 200 trees by the time of his death in 1998.

Koehler and Trubek never met the doctor. But armed with the notes and maps they were able to begin piecing together the orchard’s story through Collier’s diary, which detailed the painstaking process of planting, grafting and budding the numerous trees that comprise the orchard. Although Koehler studied horticulture before he switched to cooking, he says he never studied anything specific about apples and so had a steep learning curve in getting started with the orchard. Koehler gives a lot of credit to Arthur Blaise, Collier’s righthand adviser and friend, for helping him get the orchard going again after seven years of lying untended.

“When Art would come over, we mostly talked,” Koehler says. “Talked about different apple varieties. We talked about growing techniques in general ways and talked about disease management—particularly apple scab. Early on he showed me some pruning techniques I was unaware of and towards the end of his life [Blaise passed away in 2011] he spent time with me teaching me grafting techniques.”

Next came more cleanup and pruning and learning how to manage his crop. Apples, Koehler discovered, are extremely difficult to grow 100% organically. So in an effort to grow his apples in an environmentally responsible manner, he uses a system called integrated pest management, which relies on computer and weather data to determine the best times to treat the apples, with a minimum of spraying (he does not use any organophosphates).

In the past two years, Koehler says he has resumed the grafting work Blaise and Collier started at Windfall Orchard many years ago. “This year we are set to graft at least 10 new varieties into the orchard,” he says. Most of these new varieties will be apples suitable for the hard cider they produce.

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A stroll with Koehler through the orchard on a clear late-October day is a lesson in variety. The branches of a small, crooked tree standing a bit apart from its more robust neighbors hold deep-dark, almost black, apples.

“That’s an Arkansas Black,” notes Koehler. He points out one of the largest trees, and the oldest at nearly 100 years, a Rhode Island Greening. Its enormous green apples are, according to Koehler, excellent for baking. We walk by another tree loaded with rust-colored fruit. The Golden Russet—also named for its color. Because these apples don’t ripen until late in the season, Koehler says that they are just now ready for picking. With permission, I pull one off the tree and take a bite. Its somewhat thick parchment skin yields to a crisp tingling sensation of serious sweetness with just the balance of acidity— think SweeTarts (the candy) that are actually good for you.

Other trees we walk by display more apples with fanciful names: Winter Banana, Red Ida. The Fameuse or Snow apple is a mediumsized red-streaked apple with pure white flesh that was originally brought to Vermont by French-Canadians. The trees with earlier season apples, like Cortlands and Yellow Transparents, have already been picked clean. The late-season apples, like the Arkansas Black, Keepsake and Crispin, are good apples for winter storage according to Koehler. For baking, he suggests Northern Spy and, of course, the Rhode Island Greening. When asked if he has a favorite eating apple, Koehler hesitates.

“That’s a hard one. It depends on the season. But Macoun is definitely one of my favorites.”

Mixed in with some of the apple trees are other fruit trees: Seckel and Comice pear, Asian and European plum, and apricot. Bountiful, well-ordered vegetable gardens frame the far side of the family’s house. Koehler acknowledges that their location near Lake Champlain plays a part in their ability to grow such a variety of fruit and vegetables. “Our first and last frost dates are a lot different than other parts of the state,” he says. “So that really gives us a proper growing season for nearly all of the apple varieties—even the late season varieties like Granny Smith or Arkansas Black—as well as it being temperate enough to successfully grow the plums, pears, apricots.”

Since leaving his job at Middlebury College more than two years ago, Koehler tends the orchard full-time during the season. He also manages trees on a neighboring property and may take on more.

“We may continue to grow by reaching agreements with other landowners who have abandoned-type orchards.” He’s added about 20 new trees in the past years, although some of these replaced older trees that had died. Koehler says that they’ve lost some of the … Read More

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What’s In Season? RAFFL: Rutland Area Farm & Food Link

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This time of poignant transition, when the days grow shorter and cooler, rewards those who source their produce with care. Vermont farmers offer their greatest selection and nature presents a pleasant set of contradictions as the growing season wanes. Though they will last the winter, thickskinned, hardy commodities like squash and apples are at their peak. Ephemeral delicacies like berries and tomatoes are quickly devoured as their day in the sun ends.

The Locally Grown Guide, published by the Rutland Area Farm & Food Link (RAFFL), has connected farmers to consumers for eight years. Listing markets, farms, retail, restaurants and more, it is an indispensable tool for navigating a region flush with diversity. RAFFL was created in response to a public desire to improve the availability and sustainability of local food in Rutland County. To benefit farmers, the organization hosts skill-building workshops and provides land-leasing support. By educating consumers about food systems and facilitating community-supported agriculture (CSA) harvest subscription programs, RAFFL works with both sides of the supply and demand equation.

“Agriculture symbolizes Vermont values like independence, ingenuity and resiliency,” says Elizabeth Theriault of RAFFL. “We strive to provide a voice for an industry that can remain hidden and we try to highlight the source of pride that is community-supported agriculture.”

Several RAFFL programs kindle the culinary spirit in the community by promoting what is in season, delicious and nutritious. Everyday Chef provides recipes, fact sheets and technical information that empower home cooks to utilize the bounty of late summer and fall. Farm tours are a fun way to celebrate local foods and get a glimpse behind the scenes at a working farm.

To discover more opportunities to savor the fruits (and vegetables) of the late summer harvest visit RutlandFarmAndFood.org.

RECIPE

Stuffed Acorn Squash

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Edible Education: Growing and Learning by Hand

Green Mountain Farm-to-School brings
garden education to local classrooms

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Photo by Sarah Baughman

Christopher Coderre knows exactly what he likes about working in his elementary school’s garden.

“Getting my hands dirty!” says the fourth grade Troy School student. As he lists some of the foods he enjoys growing—carrots, lettuce, cucumbers—Coderre describes a process that for many children in the Northeast Kingdom has become commonplace thanks to an organization called Green Mountain Farm-to-School (GMFTS) and its Farm-to-School program.

“We planted the garden,” Coderre explains. “We weeded it and picked the food. Then we washed it and weighed it and took it to the kitchen.”

Coderre’s direct involvement in growing, harvesting and eating his own food represents GMFTS’ commitment to connecting students at 28 schools in northern Vermont with their food sources.

“Kids are real catalysts for change,” says Katherine Sims, GMFTS founder and executive director. “We’ll do things for our own children that we wouldn’t do for ourselves.”

Sims hopes that giving students knowledge about how to raise their own healthy food can also empower communities in this remote area, which serves the state’s highest percentages of free and reducedprice lunches. “We want the local food movement to be accessible for everyone,” says Sims.

GETTING TO KNOW GOOD FOOD

Kale and parsnip chips. Spinach salad with maple vinaigrette. Apple cranberry crisp. If kids haven’t tried foods like this before, regular “taste tests” fueled by what’s ripe in the garden and prepared by students, with help from GMFTS staff members, motivate most to at least take a bite.

“They’re much more willing to try new foods,” says Kim Hastings, principal at Orleans Elementary School. “We’ll hear kids say, ‘You have to try that, my class made it.’ Any way you can get them connected to that food is key.”

With the Farm-to-School program, connections to food begin with the most basic ingredients: a seed and dirt. GMFTS provides much of the labor involved in preparing garden plots and funding to set up grow-light stations, then involves students from all grade levels in planting and harvesting different crops. Cafeteria menus remain flexible as fresh produce rolls in.

“It’s been really wonderful, building that culture of kids trying new foods,” says Sims. “Our educators walk into school and they’re treated like rock stars. Kids ask, ‘What are we tasting today?’” Not all of the taste-test recipes meet approval, but GMFTS staff just encourage students to try something new.

“Our goal is to get over 50% giving [recipes] a thumbs up,” say GMFTS Farm-to-School Coordinators Anya Gedrath-Smith and Maia Bernstein. “If they have a hand in making it, they’re a lot more willing to try it. They have a predisposition—they really want to like it.”

According to Troy School Food Service Coordinator Mary- Lou Bonneau, who works to preserve excess garden produce to use throughout the school year, younger children are most willing taste test participants. Rosie Pallotta, food service coordinator at Orleans Elementary School, agrees.

“Kids who have grown up with the garden program from kindergarten are more likely to try new foods,” she says. Pallotta finds students now requesting foods they’d shied away from before.

“A lot of the kids wouldn’t take squash at first,” she says. “But now a lot more will. And I’m surprised how many kids ask for broccoli!” Kids aren’t the only ones whose tastes change as a result of the garden. Hastings recalls a parent commending, with some surprise, the school garden’s Harvest Dinner cuisine. “I didn’t think I’d like all that healthy food,” the parent admitted. “But it’s really delicious!”

LEARNING TO GROW GOOD FOODS

The Farm-to-School program might end on plates, but it begins on the ground, with hands-on gardening instruction facilitated at all grade levels by GMFTS staff. Students play a key role in planning the garden, collaborating to produce one design.

“Every year it’s like a blank slate,” says Sims, describing studentdesigned sunflower mazes, themed pizza gardens and meaningful discussions about how climate determines planting. “[The kids] make gardens fun and exciting,” she says. “It’s empowering kids to feel like they can impact their environment.”

“It’s definitely raised awareness,” says Hastings. “They think about the ecosystem more. It’s been fascinating to the kids to watch the food grow and then eat it.”

For students who lack home gardens, GMFTS provides a vital environment for practical learning about food production. Yet Sims also notes that a wealth of farming knowledge in the Northeast Kingdom helps the program succeed.

“We have a culture of agriculture, of supporting each other and sharing what we know,” she says. “You go into a lot of basements and see canned tomatoes. This is how we’ve always done things.”

Community members seeking to help their local school gardens can volunteer to weed and water the garden over the summer, or “grow a row” of vegetables to donate to the cafeterias.

BRINGING GARDENS INTO CLASSROOMS

Learning grows beyond the garden. With in-class workshops and after- school programs, GMFTS makes gardening a year-round academic pursuit. Workshops focusing on everything from Colonial cooking to worm science help students apply knowledge gained in the garden to their classrooms, and vice versa.

“It’s awesome to see a workshop we do as a jumping-off point for a teacher,” says Bernstein.

GMFTS also facilitates extensions of the garden program. At the Troy School, a recently built clay oven and plans for a new greenhouse promise year-round experiential learning. “That will be a huge part of our science curriculum,” says Principal Chris Young. “There are a lot of kids that need that hands-on, inquiry-based instruction.”

Special Education teacher Bob Grenon looks forward to using the greenhouse and oven as cornerstones of his teaching. “I want to take the curriculum out of a book and put it into [students’] hands,” he says.

At the Coventry Village School’s recent planting day, students put their hands to work, transplanting vegetables and poking seeds into soft ground. GMFTS staff guided each class in a planting project and by the end of the day, when students gathered under hot sun for a dedication ceremony, their garden had taken shape. Gedrath-Smith asked each grade level to share their wishes for the garden.

“We hope the plants grow big, and we hope we grow big from eating the vegetables,” said the kindergarteners. “We hope everyone treats the garden respectfully,” second graders added.

Gedrath-Smith took the small pieces of paper each wish was written on, dug a hole in the middle of the sunflower circle, and placed the papers inside.

“We hope these wishes grow along with the garden,” she said, sprinkling dirt over the hole. “[GMFTS] has made this possible for schools,” said Carinthia Grayson, a science teacher at Coventry who runs a grow lab for seed-starting in her classroom and assists a colleague who manages a composting program. “They provide the energy, expertise and labor. Realistically, without GMFTS, we’d have no garden.”

Yet ultimately, notes Sims, GMFTS wants to enable schools to continue their garden work independently. “We’d like not to be needed,” says Sims. “We’d like it to be embedded in the school culture. It takes time and practice to make that shift. There’s just more and more that can happen.”

GreenMountainFarmtoSchool.org

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