An Interview with Bob Duggan

Bob Duggan first came to CAE to take a food safety class at the Vermont Food Venture Center in 2018, and he ended up working as a Just Cut production staff member for two years. As a side gig, he assisted Vermont Food Venture Center clients with their various food production projects, and learned more about the local food economy.

L: Bob Duggan pulling the last zuchinni harvests from Community Gardens | Lylee Rauch-Kacenski
R: Bob Duggan driving the FX truck to Washington, D.C. for Taste of Vermont | Corey Hennessey

Bob_in_the_Garden01_cropped.jpg

 

FX_Goes_to_Wash_DC_TasteofVT_10.jpg


By the start of 2020, CAE had acquired a key piece of local food transportation infrastructure, Farm Connex (FX). Originally started by Don Maynard in 2002, Farm Connex is a critical and reliable freight service for small farms and food producers, connecting our communities with local food. Bob started working as a delivery driver for Farm Connex when CAE took ownership. During 2020, Bob also started getting involved with Community Programs work at Atkins Field and Grow Your Own (GYO), a learning workshop program that aims to increase food independence, better health, and well-being through shared knowledge and experience. Grow Your Own is a partnership program between CAE and the Hardwick Area Food Pantry. Neighbors and community members share their knowledge and teach the workshops in a popular education style.

Bob thrives at learning and being a part of the many different elements of the local agricultural system so that operations can run smoothly. Below are excerpts from our conversation with Bob about his roles with CAE.

CAE: What is your role at Atkins Field? What types of tasks are you responsible for? 

Bob: Atkins Field Orchard Manager, officially. I’m responsible for landscape maintenance, building maintenance, construction maintenance, new garden beds, sheds, and vandalism remediation. I help with the community gardens; rebuilding the beds, moving compost, and giving advice to the gardeners. I help out with the farmers market - set-up and break down. Usually if somebody needs some kind of a tool during the Farmers Market, I'm the go-to guy; it’s always in my truck. I also take care of the bee hives. They were first set up by a beekeeper and former FX guy, Mike Heath. They are hibernating over winter. I insulate the hives and try to make sure they have enough food for the winter.

CAE: What makes Atkins Field such a special place? Why do people love it so much?

Bob: It’s an open space, it’s right in town, and it’s a trailhead for hiking and ATVs. The town was involved in deciding how the field should be developed. There’s a history of people going down there and using it for recreation before the land was purchased by CAE in 2008. With the addition of the community gardens, the orchard, the Farmers Market, the pavilion, and Springfest - it’s just a nice open gathering space. It’s also a historical place where there was a major industry, but now it’s a natural place. It’s continually growing: it’s shared by the town and the schools, and all kinds of different community events take place there.

CAE: What is it like working in two areas currently: Atkins Field Orchard Manager and Farm Connex Delivery Driver? Are there any similarities between the two? 

Bob: Everything is connected to local agriculture: at Farm Connex we are connecting with some of the same local farms that might be at the farmers market. They might be involved with GYO or the food pantry. FX might be moving products from a local farm to the Venture Center for the Food Pantry. I’d like to see more connections between those things. It’s all different aspects of local agriculture.

L: 3rd Graders from Hardwick Elementary on granite relic after planting 16 trees | Reeve Basom
R: Community gathered at Atkins Pavilion grand opening | CAE Staff

Tree%20Planting%20at%20Atkins%2012_cropped.jpg

 

MVIMG_20190928_161306_cropped.jpg


 

I have a very deep belief in the goodness and power of a local food economy. I’ve thought long and hard about it at times, and it seems to be the number one, most positive thing that we can do in this world, for so many different reasons: social, economic, environmental, sustainability. It builds so many connections between people, people and the land, people and nature. It builds community. What makes me stick with it is my philosophy about local food.

L: Bob Duggan teaching about the bee hives , Community Farm and Food Celebration | Kent Shaw
R: Bob Duggan teaching about the orchard | Elizabeth Rossano

2023%20Community%20Farm%20%26%20Food%2048.jpg

 

Orchard-11_cropped.jpg

 

CAE: What makes Atkins Field such a special place? Why do people love it so much?

Bob: It’s an open space, it’s right in town, and it’s a trailhead for hiking and ATVs. The town was involved in deciding how the field should be developed. There’s a history of people going down there and using it for recreation before the land was purchased by CAE in 2008. With the addition of the community gardens, the orchard, the Farmers Market, the pavilion, and Springfest - it’s just a nice open gathering space. It’s also a historical place where there was a major industry, but now it’s a natural place. It’s continually growing: it’s shared by the town and the schools, and all kinds of different community events take place there.

As a result of the July 2023 flooding that wiped out all of the community garden beds, the Atkins Field team has decided to rebuild the beds in a specific style known as hügelkultur, which is designed to work in tandem with the typography of Atkins and how the water flows.


CAE: What is it like working in two areas currently: Atkins Field Orchard Manager and Farm Connex Delivery Driver? Are there any similarities between the two? 

Bob: Everything is connected to local agriculture: at Farm Connex we are connecting with some of the same local farms that might be at the farmers market. They might be involved with GYO or the food pantry. FX might be moving products from a local farm to the Venture Center for the Food Pantry. I’d like to see more connections between those things. It’s all different aspects of local agriculture.
 

CAE: How do you think the new garden design will change the way we garden at Atkins Field? 

Bob: Although some people have pointed out that a true hügelkultur system requires digging in the ground first, the ground at Atkins Field is full of granite.

[At the turn of 20th Century, Woodbury Granite Company owned Atkins Field, and grew to employ nearly 1,400 people in our town. Bustling granite sheds, trains, and stonework manufacturing enabled the company to ship Vermont granite all across the United States. Courthouses, city halls and other foundational buildings from Chicago to Washington DC utilized this natural resource.]

This was one of the reasons for building the orchards on mounds. The other reason has to do with flooding. A lot of the older garden beds were destroyed in July. Newer ones washed away and we were able to retrieve and rebuild them. 

There are a couple of ideas with the new hügelkultur mounds:

Keep growing at a height higher than the flooding that happened. 
Hopefully the mounds won’t wash away [when there is another flood].
Because Atkins Field is a floodplain, part of its function in nature is to absorb water, like a sponge. Hopefully the mounds will increase the capacity to absorb water.

One of Bob’s skills at Atkins Field is engaging with the local kids who enjoy Atkins Field as their local hangout. Unfortunately, this sometimes means that Bob is repairing vandalism that happens in his absence. Bob is artful at steering the kids’ energy towards productive means, learning, and taking ownership of the community space.
 

CAE: How do you handle balancing tasks you wish to accomplish along with neighborhood kids always wanting your attention and something to do? 

Bob: I put the kids to work! They gotta get their willies out: Okay grab a rake, okay hop on the lawn tractor. I have a dump cart that I pull behind and we haul stuff around - weeds, water, trash for the Farmers Market. I try to put them to work because it makes you feel good when you’re doing something. Sometimes I have something destructive for them to do which they really love. If I ever catch kids busting stuff up, then I say, “okay, now we gotta fix it.” Unfortunately I don't catch them most of the time! I want them to have an appreciation for Atkins Field. If they fix something or work on something, maybe they will have a sense of ownership or belonging to the place.
 

CAE: How did you develop your talent with young people?

Bob: I ran a kitchen as part of a culinary program at a small alternative school with high school kids. The kids would help with everything. We did a lot of cooking; we’d volunteer at the food bank or go to a local farm and do some gleaning and then bring back food to the kitchen and cook.

 

CAE: What is a long-range goal for you for the orchard and bees? What does success look like there?

Bob: The main goal is for Atkins to be a center for place-based learning and community connections. I don’t think the goal is to turn it into the most productive farm. It’s a place to try different things out, and be an educational place.
 

CAE: How is your time split between Atkins Field Orchard Manager and Farm Connex Delivery Driver?

Bob: Half of the year I work at Atkins, with reduced hours at FX. It's kind of a pinch point. We’ve had several FX team members who are also farmers and need more time off in the summer. We are going through some growth around that at FX. The organization has been really flexible, not just with me. Accommodating others’ schedules due to farming and gardening: it’s part of what we do.
 

CAE: Farm Connex and your role at Atkins Field are quite different. What do you do at Farm Connex? What interests you about that work?

Bob: FX is fun. You're out on the road, seeing so many different people. It's nice to build relationships and rapport with the farmers and the producers and the retailers. It’s always nice to go to a new farm to see another slice of the pie, another part of the local food system.

The days are long at FX, and we work hard, we really do; especially moving crates of milk, it takes a while to get used to that. When you do milk routes, you build some muscles. We move a lot of milk and dairy. We move ice cream for Kingdom Creamery and yogurt for Butterworks Farm. FX moves all the milk for Strafford Creamery and Sweet Rowen. We also have whole runs dedicated to Pete’s Greens wholesale and CSA. 

 

What I really love about FX is the sense of serving the farms and the farmers and getting their product to market for them. We do things in a way that a larger company wouldn't want or be able to do. We’re going out to places where other companies won’t go. A farm on the mountain top in the winter, or a farm way down some dirt road. The volume is often much less than larger companies want to deal in which allows us to help the smaller farms and producers. It’s nice to show up at a farm or producer and they're grateful we’re there picking up their products.

 

CAE: What are some of the most exciting parts about driving a truck?

 

Bob: The horn! (Just kidding). Getting to see so much of Vermont. Getting out there and seeing the world, and the responsibility that comes along with it: you have to be a good driver.

 

CAE: Farm Connex is more than just a trucking service. How have you seen it impact farmers? Any specific stories to share? 

 

Bob: When we had the flooding in December, I was headed up to Strafford Creamery. I had a truckload of empty bottles that they needed to bottle their milk. We were able to safely get the bottles up to the farm and unload as quickly as possible and get out of there [before flood waters made the route dangerous].

 

CAE: What holds your interest and has kept you working for CAE for so long?


Bob: I have a very deep belief in the goodness and power of a local food economy. I’ve thought long and hard about it at times, and it seems to be the number one, most positive thing that we can do in this world, for so many different reasons: social, economic, environmental, sustainability. It builds so many connections between people, people and the land, people and nature. It builds community. What makes me stick with it is my philosophy about local food.