A Summer on the Middlebury College Organic Farm

Adding to my Plate

 

We have only met in a classroom once this Summer, but six trips to various farms and centers in Vermont has launched me into the local food system faster than any reading could. I have begun to see patterns, make connections, and think about solutions for food systems beyond Vermont.

The Center that Decentralizes

Center for an Agricultural Economy, Hardwick, VT

It only feels right that our first visit was to the first Food Hub that started it all, a tangible sign of the collaboration of leaders like Tom Stearns, Andrew Meyer, and Pete Johnson. The majority of our time at the Center was spent with Executive Director Sara Waring. She was passionate and knowledgable, but most importantly honest. She reflected on their trials and errors equally as much as their success in bringing the community together and aiding local farmers. She reminded us, we cannot assume what the community wants or needs. My other visits would go on to show me how Food Hubs reflect their locations and customers and do not overlap with one another significantly. Middlebury has a great opportunity for an accelerator or incubator, but it must offer unique services. While the Center for an Agricultural Economy in Hardwick is leading, no one is actually following exactly.

A Midd Alum to be Proud of

Pete’s Greens, Craftsbury, VT

Stepping into the giant and bustling new barn at Pete’s Greens farm, I was eager to put a face to the name we had read about. I was taken by surprise when we were being toured around by him just minutes after arriving. Workers were busy packaging hundreds of bags of greens to be sent off to stores, but he did not seem too stressed for this busy time of year. He was laid back and humble about his success. His personal tour showed that he trusts his workers and knows when to delegate others for areas that aren’t his expertise. When he made a disparaging comment about his tomatoes that were 4x the height of ours at the Middlebury farm I was reminded of the scale of this operation. It is not one that interacts with a Food hub, but it is essential to the food system. I am still not sure how he is received by his competitors and neighbors, but there is no doubt that what he has done for vegetable farming in a harsh climate is remarkable. As Pete’s Greens continues to expand, I am interested to see how other Vermont farms can follow to provide commodity products like vegetables to the food system.

6:30 AM, Muck the Stalls

Sterling College, Craftsbury, VT

It is one thing to read nature writings and do lab reports, and another to have your hands inside a cow for class. I had no idea there were schools this specialized, but after the fact I cannot imagine how we would sustain ourselves without them.  Unless you are raised on a farm, there are not many places to learn the specific skills and trades to run a farm. I am learning more and more as the Summer goes on that a lot of farming is about intuition, which comes with years of repetition and learning a landscape and weather patterns. We want everyone to think philosophically, but at some point a farmer needs to learn how to farm. I think the small trade schools like Sterling are planting the seeds for the people that will work with agricultural entrepreneurs in Food hubs like the CAE, and creating farmers that are aware of more in the world than just the specific area they farm.

No more Carrots at the CO-OP

Elmer farm, East Middlebury

While my fellow interns and I were in awe of the weedless beds, washing stations, and planting techniques, during the visit I also kept thinking of connections to our class. Spencer and Jennifer Blackwell started out at the Intervale which we visited the day after I went to Elmer Farm. They grow on 8-acres so this operation sat more comfortably between Pete’s Greens and our very small farm. They have a substantial CSA with many pick your own beds, but their main market is the Middlebury CO-OP. Their carrots have made a name for themselves and Spencer seems to be reminded quite well when they are unavailable. His fields are well kept but not overly ambitious. He farms to his market and seems to have figured out what grows best here. He was not embarassed to point out a bed that he had forgotten to fertilize to show us the difference it makes as compared to its neighboring fertilized bed. I appreciated visiting a farm that is directly involved in my food system, but it made me wonder how other local vegetable farmers that weren’t able to tap into the CO-OP are surviving. Spencer is successful because he is very intelligent and mindful of the water and soil systems at his farm. Yet, he only has 5 workers and 8 acres. There is lots of room for more farms like this.



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