By Robin McDermott, Localvore correspondent
Despite the devastating late blight disease that wiped out just about every tomato plant in The Valley this summer, Localvores should be feeling pleasantly satiated with the increasing availability of locally grown food that 2009 brought to the Mad River Valley. This year, the Mad River Valley Localvore Project released the first edition of their Foodshed Map featuring 25 agricultural enterprises ranging from cheese-making to vegetable farms to fledgling vineyards.
The Localvores plan to produce a new edition of the map for 2010 because several new operations have started up since the map was originally produced. The newcomers represent a group of relatively young aspiring farmers who have been sufficiently encouraged by the growing demand for local food to invest time and money in building businesses that will eventually enable them to make their living off the land. Some of the newcomers in 2009 include:
Daniel and Sebastian von Trapp, the 30-ish sons of Waitsfield dairy farmers Martin and Kelly von Trapp, pursued careers off the farm after graduating from college. About four years ago the two decided that life on the farm wasn't so bad after all and spent the ensuing years learning how to make cheese and building a cheese-making facility on the family farm. The year 2009 saw the first production of Von Trapp Farmstead Cheese, and by working through The Cellars at Jasper Hill in Greensboro, their cheese can now be found in cheese shops in New York and Boston as well as at local grocery stores here in The Valley and throughout Vermont.
Nick Laskovski didn't grow up in The Valley, but upon graduating from Cornell in 2008, the son of Washington County Sheriff's Deputy Peter Laskowski decided to settle down at his father's homestead in Waitsfield. By day Nick uses his environmental degree working for Alteris Renewables, but in his spare time Nick turned his college mycology hobby into a small business that he hopes will literally mushroom in the coming years.
With a small grant and assistance from the UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Laskovski harvested 500 three- to four-foot logs from the family property, Dana Forest Farm, and inoculated them with shitake mushroom spores. Each log should produce one to two pounds of naturally cultivated shitake mushrooms starting next summer. Laskovski plans to sell his crop to local restaurants, stores and possibly at the farmers' market.
Lisa and Scott Ransom could have spent a lot of time and energy fretting and complaining about their neighbor, the Moretown Landfill. Instead, they decided to start an agricultural enterprise on their small diversified family Dancing Wind Farm with a strategy, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em," and GROW Compost was born.
The couple invested over a year working through the permitting process and learning everything they could about composting including attending an intensive multi-week "composting college" in Maine. Composting operations are now underway where they are transforming Vermont leftovers into a high-grade nutrient-rich compost that will be available for sale starting this coming spring.
Waitsfield native Lila Bennett and David Robb, a Montpelier native, were longtime vegetarians until Lila started craving roast chicken during her first pregnancy. Dubious of poultry from the industrial food system, the only way she would be comfortable breaking her carnivorous fast was to raise her own birds. The result was more delicious than she even imagined and led the pair to experiment with growing other meat for home consumption including pork, beef, turkey, duck, pheasant and rabbit. This year Lila and David opened Tangletown Farm in Middlesex and expanded their diversified meat and vegetable farm and began selling at the Capitol City Farmers' Market and at a small outdoor stand in the front of Red Hen Baking Company on selected weekends throughout the summer. While both still work "off-farm," their hope is that some day one or both will be able to support their family by working full time on the farm.
SOUPS AND SAUCES
Jordan Michnick returned to her family's farm in Moretown after working and living abroad for a few years upon graduation from Colorado College. Eager to learn about vegetable farming she planted her first garden this summer and contemplated business models that would combine her love of cooking and her interest in making a living off the land. This fall she launched Saucy Vermont, a business that makes prepared soups and sauces that are sold in some Valley stores or through her Saucy CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) plan where "shareholders" receive a quart of soup made from local ingredients each week in return for an up-front payment that helped fund Mitchnick's start-up costs.
The Cordon Bleu-trained chef plans to enlarge her farming operation next summer so that she can expand her soup offerings that currently include winter warming selections such as Long Trail Potato and Cheddar Bisque, Corn, Arugula and Lobster, Slow Roasted Tomato and Garlic and Baked Sweet Onion and Garlic Potage.
Misse Doe relocated from southern Vermont to Roxbury in 2008 and immediately started growing garlic, tomatoes and herbs for her new line of rice and couscous mixes that are sold in Valley stores and at the Capitol City Farmers' Market.
With farming experience under her belt (including raising pigs and managing the Dorset Farmers' Market), Doe wanted to create a business that produced a shelf-stable product that is delicious, unique and features ingredients she could grow. The result, Flavors from the Field, enables her to maintain an "off-farm" job as the manager of Timber's Restaurant and still have time to work the land providing food that tastes great and contributes to the local food economy.
Kathy Boyden fell in love with Icelandic sheep for their small size, mild meat flavor and high quality wool and this year started promoting her Kind Horn Farm in South Duxbury that sells breeding stock, fiber and grass-fed lamb. Everything that comes from their eco-friendly farm is organically certified, which means that the lambs are raised without antibiotics or growth hormones and are free to roam on pastures that are free of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. The farm operates completely off the grid producing its own electricity using solar and hydro power.
The youngest in the list of newcomers is Dan O'Shaughnessy who started sugaring at the age of 9 and now, at the ripe age of 17, has his own sugarhouse behind the farm where his mom Deb White and Hadley Gaylord live. This past spring, Dan and Amos Gaylord fired up the new sugarhouse for the first time and produced over 100 gallons of maple syrup that he sells mostly by word of mouth to friends and family. Born and raised in Vermont, Dan has always wanted to be a farmer. A senior at Harwood, Dan just recently got word of early acceptance to Vermont Technical College and will enroll in their agricultural program next fall.
SQUARE FOOT GARDEN
Home gardening was alive and thriving this summer despite excessive rain and unseasonably cold temperatures throughout much of the summer. People who had never considered gardening attended Localvore socials and workshops and Square Foot Gardening became the talk of the town. With well over 2,500 egg-laying and meat-producing chicks sold by Kenyon's Variety Store this spring, 2009 was clearly The Year of the Chicken, at least in the Mad River Valley.
FARM TO PLATE
Statewide, the interest in locally grown and produced food continues to be cultivated as well. In 2009, the Vermont Legislature passed Act 54 which called for the creation of a Farm to Plate Investment Program. George Schenk of American Flatbread was a driving force behind this legislation that was initiated by Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility (Schenk serves on their board of directors) and Rural Vermont.
This past fall, the team tasked with creating the 10-year Farm-to-Plate strategic plan gathered data from every corner of the state in order to quantify the market potential of a local food system as well as to pinpoint critical bottlenecks that would prevent the system from growing to its full potential. The primary purpose of the plan is to set goals and strategies to strengthen Vermont's food and farm sector, thereby increasing access to healthy, affordable food for all Vermonters, supporting existing and new agricultural enterprises, and creating jobs.
The year 2010 promises further expansion of the local food system throughout the Vermont as well as here in The Valley. In this community alone, at least three new farms will begin production. After a year of preparing the land and creating a viable plan for the Kingsbury Farm, the Vermont Foodbank will start growing carrots, onions and winter squash for area food shelves.
Solterra Farm located at the recently conserved Bruce Farm in Moretown will begin selling vegetables, flowers, beef, pork, chicken, eggs and honey from the farm. And, Jillian Abraham, who worked at Gaylord Farm in 2007 and 2008 and then apprenticed at Wellspring Farm CSA in Marshfield this past summer, will be returning to The Valley to start her own vegetable farm in Waitsfield that will supply local restaurants with seasonal produce. In addition, Walt Krukowski, owner of Mountain Flower Farm, plans to expand his vegetable operations that he started this past summer.
FARMING IN SCHOOL
Recognizing the potential and growing interest in farming among young people, this year Harwood Union High School expanded its Agricultural Apprenticeship Program by hiring a full-time teacher, Kristen Getler, who has also done work with the elementary schools in The Valley as well as the Mad River Valley Localvore Project. The purpose of the program is to give students real world experience in the livelihood of farming. Some students visit farms on field trips while others get hands-on experience working on farms as a part of their academic program.