Have you ever wondered what the large "marshmallow" bales stacked in farmyards are, or the large piles of tires stacked in farm fields?
As our forests and fields become blanketed in snow, grazing becomes difficult, but the local livestock population still requires vast amounts of forage in order to get through the long winter and keep making milk and meat for us.
Most Vermonters know something about dry hay and the process of making it, but northeastern Vermont’s humid climate and small fields can make drying hay, especially the high-quality hay milking dairy cows require, difficult. Since at least the 1940s, Vermont farmers have experimented with various methods of preserving forages–overwhelmingly hay crops and corn–through ensiling or silage-making. Sometimes referred to as “pickling,” this involves storing the cut plant only partially dried in an environment that limits oxygen.
Read more about the why and how of ensiled feed on our website as part of an educational series by CAE Farm Business Planner, Silene DeCiucies, to help the everyday Vermonter understand the ins and outs of farming in our brave little state.
Construction is still going strong at the Hardwick Yellow Barn project. The exterior of the historic Yellow Barn building has been reinforced and work has started on the interior. The new building adjacent to the Yellow Barn, where CAE’s facility will be, is also taking shape. The foundation has been poured and the steel trusses and framing have been delivered for ongoing construction over the winter. Small farms and rural communities need infrastructure that is adaptable, reduces our carbon impact, and helps maintain our working landscapes. This exciting project will meet the changing needs of our state to build resilience and food security into our future.
In an average week, CAE's Farm Connex delivery service works around the clock to get food from Vermont farms out into stores across the state. Earlier this month though, Farm Connex took a road trip and delivered over 2,600 pounds of local Vermont food to Washington DC for the Taste of Vermont! The food represented 20 different farms and food producers from across the state, many who work with CAE and Farm Connex throughout the year.
The Center for an Agricultural Economy’s dedicated farm and food delivery service, Farm Connex, was invited to participate in the 16th annual Taste of Vermont event, in the nation’s capital, on November 9, 2023. Previously established at the suggestion of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), this year’s event was held by the Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility (VBSR), with special guest and host, Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
Welcome to the Red, White and Stars Cafe at Wolcott Elementary School, where Head Chef David Jourdan prepares breakfast and lunch for nearly 100 students five days per week. Affectionately named Chef Dave’s Cafe by students, this kitchen sources local food, including Just Cut vegetables, on a regular basis. Funds from the Henry P. Kendall Foundation grant helped purchase a tilt skillet, which was identified by Wolcott Elementary as a specific need for this busy kitchen. A tilt skillet is functionally versatile; the large, deep braising pan tilts forward to easily transfer food off of its surface.
The Center for an Agricultural Economy was awarded $125,000 from the Henry P. Kendall Foundation as a 2022 New England Food Vision Prize recipient to expand local produce served in Northeast Kingdom institutions. This funding has allowed Just Cut to increase production to five days per week, increasing capacity for its current scale.
As you travel the local roads in early summer, you are seeing farmers of all kinds scurrying to make the most of the longest days of Vermont's short growing season. Produce growers are seeing lush crops of lettuce, green tomatoes are getting larger, and garlic scapes are showing up at coops and farmers markets around the state. But your dairy farmer neighbors have been busy since late May with the first and most important harvest of the year: first cut hay. Hay-type forages are northern Vermont’s most important crop, both economically and in terms of their footprint on the landscape. With its cool summers and abundant precipitation, Hardwick and the surrounding area are marginal for raising most annual field crops typically fed to dairy cattle, but ideally suited to growing cool-season grasses and legumes.
A hopeful response to the devastation felt by so many across Vermont this past week has been the outpouring of support. From farmers who didn’t experience loss, to those who did, to individuals across the state, and family and supporters across the country, there has been so much compassion and funds flowing into the Center for an Agricultural Economy and to the Vermont Farm Fund. Those who can have also stepped up to muck out basements, clean up fields, and share meals and resources. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
This week has absolutely rocked Vermont from top to bottom. In Hardwick and across the state we are dealing with washed out roads, flooded buildings, and devastated fields. Today we’ve watched the waters recede enough in most places to start on the next phase of cleanup and restoration, but more rain and unknowns are in the forecast.
t’s 4 p.m. on a Friday at the Farm Connex warehouse in Hardwick, Vermont. Zach Hoppe, one of the drivers of their fleet of five vehicles, is returning from a day on the road delivering glass bottles of milk, cream, fresh produce, artisan cheese, craft soda, and other Vermont-made products to stores and restaurants.
The Center for an Agricultural Economy is home to a variety of programming including its farm-to-institution social enterprise, Just Cut. Just Cut was originally established in 2013 as a farm-to-school program serving in a middle person role to get more locally grown produce into area K-12 schools. The enterprise has since expanded, and in recent years have been serving the hospitals and college/universities of the region.
But what is Just Cut? Just Cut is a food processing program that takes locally grown produce, minimally processes it, and then packages it into a ready-to-use item for sale to area institutions. Fresh or frozen, diced or shredded, Just Cut is able to make local produce into something that institutions can use and purchase in quantity, a commonly cited barrier that prevents institutions from buying locally grown produce in the first place. In serving in this middle person role, Just Cut is also opening markets for the hardworking farmers who grow this food.
Adriana Munch, the mastermind behind Green Mountain Peanut Butter is the definition of a driven, independent woman. Wanting to improve her English proficiency, she packed up her bags and left sunny Costa Rica to arrive in snowy Vermont in the winter of 2013. Splitting time between the sun and snow for the next 3 years, she fell in love with Vermont (especially its winters) and became a permanent resident in 2016.
The Northeast Kingdom possesses an abundance of agricultural history, pride, knowledge and skill that can still be found on our local farms today. One person who has been deeply involved in promoting and celebrating this culture is the Center for an Agricultural Economy’s (CAE) Community Programs Manager, Bethany M. Dunbar.
This summer our Just Cut production team got out of the kitchen and onto the fields to see how the vegetables they slice, dice, and package are grown, and how they get onto plates around Vermont and New Hampshire. Just Cut Program Manager, Lotty, and Production Manager, Fawn, coordinated visits to Honey Field Farm and Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. The team got a first hand look at the reach Just Cut Products have, and how they positively impact the farms who grow for the program and the institutions who use those vegetables. Come along with us for a tour of the Upper Valley, a region of Vermont and New Hampshire along the Connecticut River, as we introduce Honey Field Farm and Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, through the lens of Just Cut. Produce. Prepared.
It’s common that businesses and farms will work with a few different parts of CAE, but rare that a single family has two separate agricultural businesses that both utilize CAE’s resources to help them grow and expand. Holly Simpson & Angus Baldwin are that rarity...
Our farm business planner, Silene DeCiucies, recently completed a dairy cost of production study with 7 dairy clients. With funding through the NE-SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) program, the study focused on conventional dairy farms milking fewer than 100 cows who primarily grow hay as their main feed source, utilize pasture, and feed purchased grain. These farms are most vulnerable to changes in the industry and a large portion of the dairy farms in our service area. Silene worked with each farm to collect past financial and farm data to determine the costs to each farm to produce 100 lbs of milk or a “hundred-weight” (cwt). Compiled data was then brought back to each farm so that they could compare themselves to the group (participating farms were anonymous to one another) and identify things they were excelling at, and/or areas where they could improve.
On a steep slope on the edge of Mt. Cabot in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, there sits a maple operation with a long history and a new legacy, Mount Cabot Maple. Founded in 2005, Mount Cabot Maple produces a limited amount of single sourced organic syrup each year from trees that have been supplying sap since the 1800’s. Fast forward to 2020, when Morgan Hill, who grew up on the land, had the privilege and opportunity to purchase the business from its founder. With Sophie Earll, her partner in all things, Morgan and Sophie now own and operate Mount Cabot Maple together. As their new label proudly states, the business is “Women Run. Queer Crafted. Family Owned.” Only 30 years old and in a predominantly male industry, the two are figuring out how to navigate the trade, create the business they want, and forge ahead together.
Day to day, our program staff is out in the world doing the work - delivering food, chopping vegetables, working with farmers on efficiencies, helping food start-ups scale up, taking students to meet a cow for the first time - all while collecting stories of those experiences. Meaningful and inspirational, these stories describe not only the work that CAE does, but the importance of that work. The challenge is then how to best share those stories with the community.
In April of 2021, Vermont Everyone Eats celebrated one million meals served. Just nine months later, in January of 2022 that number climbed to two million meals served since 2020. The mission of Everyone Eats is to bring the community (eaters, farmers, and restaurants) together to address food needs, and support each other through the pandemic. CAE is pleased to continue to partner with that program, and has served 50,000 of those meals through the Hardwick Area Community Meal project, the CAE hub which supports weekly meals in Albany, Craftsbury, Hardwick and surrounding towns. Below are some stories about the impact the program has on people in our community.
After participating in the USDA Farmers to Families Food box programs in 2020, our CAE team asked "how can we localize this effort? Can we use our existing relationships and infrastructure to involve local small-scale farmers and our local pantries to meet the needs of our communities?"
One of our goals early in the pandemic was to adapt the Hardwick Community Supper, previously a weekly in-person dinner at the Hardwick United Church, to a safe curbside model. We recruited restaurants to prepare meals for $10 each, and volunteers to help manage reservations. In the second half of the year this grew into the statewide Vermont Everyone Eats program, with 14 community hubs organizing meal sites across Vermont.
Renee and Chet Baker bought their Hillside Homestead dairy farm in Albany on December 4, 2019. It was a dream come true for the couple who had each grown up with agriculture and had operated rented farms for the past five years. They have 55 milkers and are working on plans for a farm stand to sell theirs and some neighbors’ products. The Route 14 location makes it ideal not only for the farm stand, but to be sure their milk will always be easily accessible for pick up by their cooperative.
CAE works with key partners in every area of our work. For our food access and place-based programs, this means working closely with a number of partners to connect local and regional resources. Over the years, our work with the Orleans Southwest Supervisory Union (OSSU) has evolved from direct farm to school support into a deep partnership working for the long-term transformation of our rural education system.
These are the questions members of Northeast Kingdom Organizing (NEKO) answer every day through their vision, commitment, and hard work. Through NEKO, the CAE joins organizations across the region to improve the quality of life for the people and places of the Northeast Kingdom. By sharing our stories and building relationships across perceived differences, NEKO marshals the resources for collective action to meet local challenges. In November, representatives of all 10 of NEKO's member groups convened in Orleans and voted unanimously to approve three campaigns.
Occasionally, CAE will work with a client in one capacity, and realize there are many other ways that they can plug into the resources and opportunities available. Andy Shelter, of Shetler Family Farm, is one of those clients who we are fortunate to work with in many ways.
Nicolas and Oliver like to ride their bikes on the pump track at Atkins Field because they can make new friends that way. New friends are one of the best reasons to spend time at Atkins Field where our community gardeners, farmers market vendors, students, volunteers, and everyone else can gather to use the trails and learn about the history of the Woodbury Granite Company. Our goal is that Atkins will be a launching pad to trails including the Granite Junction History Trail on the property itself; the Hardwick Trails; and in the future to the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail.
In 2016 and 2017, the Town of Hardwick partnered with CAE and Northeastern Vermont Development Association (NVDA) to work jointly on an assesment of infrastructure needs for business growth in Hardwick. This feasibility study includes:
-economic cluster analysis
-in-depth interviews and competitive industry research
Download the study to learn more about the next phase of business development for Hardwick.
The minimal processing program at the Vermont Food Venture Center (VFVC) was launched to better support local farmers. Staff at the Center for an Agricultural Economy (CAE) realized farmers weren’t taking advantage of the shared kitchens to carry out value-added processing themselves. At the same time, staff knew that the facility could be used to address one of the factors preventing greater use of local food in area institutions: namely that many had neither adequate storage space nor sufficient staff time to work with local produce in its whole, raw form.
The Farm to Institution program developed from there!
“The Food Venture Center has played a vital role in the growth of our business. To have a state of the art commercial facility accessible to us with a staff that is always there to help has been a game changer."
Butterfly Bakery of Vermont is a small bakery and food processor started making maple sweetened baked goods in 2003. In 2011, owner Claire Fitts Georges started talking with farmers and tried making a few hot sauces using excess hot peppers from local farmers. The hot sauces kept selling out, and production has increased year over year.
Julie Nichols is a community gardener. But more than that, she’s a community builder. Whether it’s pitching in to help with teaching how to start seeds, working with school children to build a greenhouse, or cooking at a potluck, Julie is one of those special people who gives of her time and energy.