Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Local Words: Town Meeting

Another week and another post of Local Words!

Paige Wierikko, our Program Intern here at the Center for an Agricultural Economy, wrote a narrative earlier this month when she attended her first Town Meeting in Vermont.

Although Paige was there to observe the tradition of "direct democracy", her essay for us reflects on the community - the people, the conversations and the connections. It is refreshing to see the familiar world through the eyes of another.

-Elena Gustavson, Program Director

Town Meeting

by Paige Wierikko

As an outsider looking in, town meeting was as much educational as it was entertaining. I say “outsider” because I wasn’t a registered voter. Feeling slightly like Hester may have when I was made to stand and show all that I, Paige Wierikko am not allowed anywhere near the voting box, and if I were to get the itch to push my luck, I should be tackled on-spot. Okay, so the last part was not specified but if it had, people would have been talking about the 2012 town meeting indefinitely.

My outsider status also comes from my Wisconsin roots. I just moved to Vermont in July of 2011. But I must say that as I looked out into the crowd, I didn’t feel like a stranger. Walking into the Craftsbury Academy gym quite possibly for the last time before it’s torn down and rebuilt into a regulation size gym was slightly sad. My spirits were lifted immediately when I was greeted with a benevolent, “Paaaaige” at a very generous decibel level from Jay Wright. I picked a spot high up in the bleachers next to my buddy Ethan Morrison but only after I was embraced in a great big bear hug from Willie Ryan, shot a big smile at Bob Twiss, said a friendly hello to Pete Johnson, waved to all the Sterling students, and asked Harry Miller about his day.

I was in complete awe of how smoothly the meeting went. A very memorable moment that could have easily turned awkward happened when the vote for the Lamoille Solid Waste District Supervisor came up. Adrian Owens, the incumbent, stood and introduced himself. He then invited anyone who would like to take on this position to do so because it offered a limitless learning experience. The crowd got a nice chuckle but that laughter grew when the next person to raise her hand nominated Adrian again for that position. ..a second was quick to follow. In spite of his community throwing him under the bus, he good-naturedly sat back down and took one (well, more accurately, two years) for the team. This was the reigning attitude of the day, and surely dissolved potential for any greater conflict.

I skimmed the crowd and there sat Max and Nancy whom I met just a month ago while attending a Super Bowl party at Lou’s house. Sitting just behind them was Anne, an extremely compassionate lady who looks after Neil and Kristin Urie’s four amazing children. I spotted Princess, Annie, Tim, Bruce, Sarah, Adam, Joe, Elena, Jeremiah, another Annie, another Tim, another Joe, but not another Princess.

Eventually another paper vote comes up and I am able to stretch my legs and mingle with the people I have “I spied.” During a paper vote, everyone who would like to vote on the current article writes on a sheet of paper a “yes” or “no” and deposits it in a single box in the front of the gym. There is a last call and the ballots are counted. This process can take a while, but gives adequate time for socializing. I meet up with Tule, the Craftsbury Schools art teacher, who introduced me to the lady that makes Vermont Bee Balm, the lip balm I had put on my lips just minutes prior to our meeting. As I walked back to my spot on the bleachers I ran into Mansosoi and Kate Tagai. I am indebted to Kate for helping me find my first job milking sheep at Bonnieview when I first moved to Vermont. I also thank Mansosoi every day that he agrees to participate in the Sterling volleyball team that plays every Monday night at the IROC, the new recreational facility thirty minutes north in Newport. Now free for all Craftsbury youth 18 and younger, a motion the town was happy to support.

I not only got to see a gym full of all the memorable people I’ve come to know in Vermont since my move from Wisconsin, I also got to witness the purest form of democratic governing. Craftsbury taxpayers get the unique opportunity to voice their opinions and hear those of their neighbors, possibly louder than desired. In those few short hours, important decisions were made and citizens walked away feeling like they were an important voice and were able to personally represent their best interests. I am inspired to register to vote in the state of Vermont, not just because of the prideful “I voted” sticker whose absence on me seemed to emblazon a badge of humiliation across my chest, but because I want to be an active participant in the process that shapes the community I live in.

2012 Craftsbury Town Meeting in the school's gym
photo by Paige Wierikko

Local Words: A "Dating" Service for Food Producers

Annie Rowell is the Center for an Agricultural Economy's Farm-to-Institution Program Associate and began working for us last summer shortly after her graduation from Middlebury College. 

A multi-generation Vermonter, Annie has been the driving force behind our pilot Farm-to-Institution program at the Vermont Food Venture Center, funded by the John Merck Foundation and the Vermont Agricultural Innovation Center where in a typical work day, she goes from writing reports, researching and creating labels to donning a hair net and rubber boots to work the equipment in our kitchens, processing anything from applesauce for the local pantries to cubing root vegetables for a retail pack of winter vegetables.

In February, the VFVC hosted a group of forty or fifty enthusiastic specialty food producers and local farmers to network and make some local connections between value added production and locally grown food. What a success! Annie shares the story below. 

-Elena Gustavson, Program Director

Annie lugging squash from a local farm

In the White Room

By Annie Rowell

When passersby stop in to see what the big, new green building behind Aubuchon Hardware is all about, we talk about how we are an incubator, a resource for small food businesses, a new piece in the puzzle for the Vermont food system, but never about the Vermont Food Venture Center (VFVC) as a matchmaker – that is, until recently.  Turns out, the VFVC has become a bastion for collecting names and trading digits.  Thanks to our ever eager food producer clients, we witnessed our matchmaking potential on an evening in early February when fifty foodies congregated in the back corner of the VFVC.  

Since the launch of their businesses, two VFVC clients had struggled with their mission to source all or most of their product ingredients locally.  To Sumptuous Syrup’s Linda Fox, any words associating ginger, berries, and herbs (basil in particular, if you happen to know anyone) with local growers grab her attention faster than the word “fire.”  She and her business partner, Don Horrigon, never tire of finding new ways to find local ingredients for their cocktail syrups, which are perfect for anything from an evening tonic to a delicious ice cream drizzle.  For Michelle Guenard of Michelle’s Specialty Foods, she knew she wouldn’t be satisfied with her spicy kimchi until she knew the entire immediate family of the farmer she bought her raw ingredients from.  

After several months of run-ins and small talk in the warehouse, Linda and Michelle came to the conclusion that other area food producers must share their frustrations.  In the innovative spirit of true problem solvers, they took matters into their own hands.  Before we knew it, our staff were receiving emails of confirmed RSVPs for a matchmaker event between farmers and food producers to be held at the VFVC.  We were energized by the enthusiasm of our food production clients and hopped on the bandwagon to help out where we could.   For an event captained by two go-getters, we didn’t have to do much. 

In the potluck-y spirit of most Vermont gatherings, the VFVC doors opened after hours to area farmers and food producers on a Thursday evening in early February.  While I’ve always thought that the overhead panel lights in the office felt austere and institutional (hence my desk lamp), the spotlight brightness seemed to highlight a premier event as attendees trickled in.  I steered attendees along the warehouse cow-path that weaves around client storage racks, between the freezer units, and into the tucked away back corner.  The back corner (also known by its other very literal name: the “white room”) is the unfinished space in the warehouse; an empty 5,000 square foot room is quite the novelty in the Northeast Kingdom where gatherings generally occur in town halls and the occasional school gym. 

At Linda’s beckoning, we quieted our chatter and congregated in a large circle in the large empty space, a room where all who enter will soon be required to don hairnets and sanitized foot wear once it is finally fit-up for food processing. 

I’m a new vegetable farmer and will grow whatever you need.”
This common one-liner proved to be the best pick-up line of the night.  Food producers, ranging from current VFVC clients in production to those on the treasure hunt for the magical million dollar recipe, scribbled contact names and zealously confirmed phone numbers as introductions traveled  around the circle.  Before Linda called “break” for the real one-on-one networking to begin, I couldn’t help but notice the collective focus in the room.  No clatter, whispers, or fidgeting in the crowd.  Everyone present was exactly that – present, thinking deeply on the goal of the intimate gathering and calculating how he or she could best contribute to the conversation.  While to an observer we may have looked slightly hunky dory (we had a rather high percentage of hand knit sweaters, clogs, various Carhartt items, and creative casserole dishes as part of the potluck spread), there was certainly a lot going on upstairs, so to speak.

Matchmaking is a tricky business, but with the right combination of persistence, spunk, and perhaps a stellar shepherd’s pie, the VFVC community looks forward to setting you up.  

The "sharing circle"

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Local Words: Farming and Writing in Vermont

Julia Shipley, a writer and farmer, has been the co-organizer of our Local Author Reads event for the past two years. Julia is a 2010-2011 recipient of the Vermont Arts Council Creation Grant and is completing a "manuscript of braided essays about small scale agriculture". 

Her essay below, originally appeared in the Fall 2011 issue of Local Banquet. Samples of her work as well as information about her writing retreats and classes, can be found on her website, Writing on the Farm.

Having Both Lives: Farming and Writing in Vermont before 1972
by Julia Shipley

“Why anybody would want to be either a farmer or a poet when there were spools turning in factories was beyond the grasp of the old man. That his grandson should desire to be both was almost enough to bring on a stroke.”

According to the grandson’s biographer, “Determined in his course, Robert laid the whole matter before his grandfather. He would have a farm, live on it, produce his food with his own labor, and write poetry.” 

And although the grandfather eventually purchased a farm for his grandson, he turned it over to the young Robert Frost with no real encouragement. “You’ve made a failure out of everything else you’ve tried. Now go up to the farm and die there.” 

As we know, Frost exceeded his grandfather’s expectations. And many more have succeeded in this stroke-inducing thing—being both farmer and writer—and particularly here, in Vermont. And because of these dual efforts, we have a cultural harvest of literature. All of the farmer-writers mentioned in this article had firmly established their books and crops by the time I came into the world in 1972 (hence the title of this article), and all of them have inspired me since I moved to Vermont in 1997 with foolishness and feistiness, endeavoring to cultivate a farming and writing life of my own. 

Five years prior to this move, I had accosted a farmer-writer, Scott Chaskey, at a sustainable agriculture conference. He had just retrieved a notebook from his car and was heading back inside when I ran up to him and asked the author of This Common Ground: Seasons on an Organic Farm and head farmer of Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett, New York, my burning question: “Which comes first, which are you more of—a writer or a farmer?” He sighed and gazed across the lot, then back at me, and said, “Well, I’m a writer. I’m a writer first.” 

READ MORE HERE... Originally published in Local Banquet, Fall 2011

Fall 2011

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

SAVE THE DATE: SpringFest 2012 in Hardwick

The long standing SpringFest in Hardwick is an annual spring tradition for generations of Hardwickians. Coordinated by Kiwanis and many other supporting organiziations, join us for a 5K Run at 9am, parade on Main St., vendors/exhibitors, crafts, music, food, rides and games at Atkins Field starting at noon and ending at 4pm.

So, mark your calendars and come enjoy spring in Vermont - Hardwick style.

When: Saturday, May 26th; 9am to 4pm
Where: In and Around Hardwick

Main St. Parade
Photo courtesy of 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Local Words: Living and Working in the NEK

Here's a blog post by a young lady who moved to the area last year, after working both in NYC and on small, northeast farms. A fine cook, a good farmer and an excellent writer, Annie Myers shares her love for food and soil on her blog, Thoughts On the Table. 

This story is an affectionate reflection on the people she's met this past year, while working at Pete's Greens and living in Craftsbury. Enjoy!

More People Than You Know
June 26, 2011

The other night I was introduced to a poetry professor from MIT and a photographer from NPR, after working all day with a 60-year-old woman who is stronger than many men half her age, and a 30-year-old man whose obsession with old Volkswagens leads him to sell the vegetables from our farm like a good car salesman sells lemons.
The next night I had dinner on the porch of the lodge in the next town over, with a mother of three beautiful children, who lives on the same street as her ex-husband’s mother and brother and sister-in-law. We ate together with a collared-shirt-wearing boy in his late 20s, who is building a house in the Common where he hopes to live forever, and a friend of his, who is deaf, who communicates wonderfully with hand motions and scribbled scraps of paper that pile up on the tables where we’ve spent time.
Every day, I’m surrounded by the people on the farm, who have their own stories. There’s the 80-year-old man who has helped build the new facility, who I see eating out by himself in Hardwick. There’s the guy who fixes all the equipment, and does much of the tractor work in the fields, who lives down the road with his family, and sugars every early spring. He’s been married since he was nineteen to a girl he’d met three weeks before he proposed. There’s a couple in their 30s – he runs the construction of the new facility, she helps with crop planning and farm regulations- who spent the last two years in the Peace Corps in Panama. He grew up here, and his parents and sisters live nearby, while her family visits occasionally from Virginia, where she (incidentally) went to high school with the Volkswagen vegetable man. There’s the woman who used to work for Phish, and the boy who got hit by lightning (or so I hear), and the man who once crashed Pete’s truck and gave up his motorcycle in exchange. There are all the previous men and women, girlfriends, boyfriends, sisters, brothers, neighbors, friends, who worked on the farm in the past, whose presence remains in stories and habits referred to every day.
Read the rest of Annie's post, "More People Than You Know" on her blog, Thoughts On the Table.
photo from Thoughts on the Table