Every once and awhile it is important to leave the farm to see what other farmers are producing and how they go about doing it! On the weekend of April 13th, Zuri and I took 8 students up to the beautiful state of Vermont to do just that.
Michael, Paige, Catherine, Pat, Cam, Lauren, Jack and Jess with Zuri.
We traveled to Montpelier, the state’s capital, where we were warmly welcomed by Jack’s parents and quickly introduced to the generous hospitality of this small and strong state where local and enticing goods are produced, marketed, consumed, treasured and enjoyed.
Montpelier: our home base for the weekend.
Early April equals the “Mud Season” in VT and much of New England, but that doesn’t keep hardy Vermonters (and weekend guests) from walking in the woods.
Jack and Cam point out the beauties of Mud Season: Open to People – Closed to Cars!
Over the course of the next couple of days we visited a number of businesses, such as:
Ben and Jerry’s…
At Ben and Jerry’s we learned all about their commitment to sustainability and how they work to keep true to their roots despite Unilever’s takeover in 2001.
Cabot Cheese …
Cold Hollow Cider Mill…
Checking out Cold Hollow Cider Mill, where the fields were filled with solar panels and the Cider Mill store sells a wide array of products made in VT to attract business and be economically sustainable.
…where Paige found a tractor to test drive…
Paige, hard at work.
…before we headed up to Hardwick to visit Highfields Composting and Claire’s Restaurant.
We took in the scene – lots of compost in windrows breaking down – at Highfields Composting.
Catherine and the class enjoyed an informative conversation with one of the managers of Claire’s Restaurant.
Our first day was filled with many planned and unplanned lessons on the many ways to be environmentally and economically sustainable and the related challenges. On our drive, we saw fields filled with solar panels and a biodiesel station. Cam Hill reflects on the solar fields here:
While driving through Vermont there were numerous solar fields visible from the roadside. These ranged from small solar panels on the roofs of houses to much larger solar fields of free standing solar panels. Vermont has a commercial production of 8.8 million watts through solar fields, which currently provides 18% of all electricity used in Vermont. The numerous solar fields are due to Vermont’s numerous state programs that incentivize the installation of solar panels through different state programs. For example, a 100% sales tax exemption on renewable energy systems, a 100% property tax exemption for photovoltaics of 10kW or less and a business energy conservation loan program up to $150,000. All these different state level incentives, coupled with an environmentally aware populace have created a situation where it is very beneficial to install renewable energy systems.
At the cider mill, we learned that the solar panels out in the field nearby are owned by Green Mountain Solar. A woman working at the mill informed us that energy they harness feeds back into the grid and is utilized throughout the area.
On our way back to Montpelier for the night, we stopped off at a covered bridge to take a walk and enjoy the cool, spring weather.
We pause to check out a sleepy covered bridge on the way back from Hardwick.
The next morning we started the day with a visit to Vermont Compost. It was incredible to see how this operation – that produces the “Fort Vee” mix which we start all of our seeds in at our Farm at Stonehill – works. Upon our arrival, our guide took us right into the center of the operation where we were quickly surrounded by steaming piles of nutrient rich piles of organic material.
Some of the components of the compost – chipped wood.
The chickens and two working German Shepherds were clearly important components of this operation – as well as bulldozers that run on biodiesel, thermometer gauges, screens to sift the soil, and important soil amendments like sphagnum, kelp, and mica.
Note the chickens doing their part at Vermont Compost in the background.
We made a quick stop at Morse Maple Farm Sugarworks where we learned about how the syrup is made by boiling down gallons upon gallons of sap from the Sugar Maple trees.
Checking out the process of boiling down the sap in the sugar house.
Our last stop of the trip was at Fable Farm in Barnad, VT. A good friend of mine, Chris Piana and his brother started this community focused farm a couple of years ago.
Chris Piana, one of the founders of Fable Farm, and most of our group pose with one of the farm’s beautiful old trees.
Paige shares a bit about our time with Chris here:
Fable Farm is a CSA Organic Farming Project situated in Barnard, Vermont. At Fable, we talked to Chris and learned about their community partnerships and support and the farm’s commitment to growing healthy, local produce. Though many of the fields we saw were covered in snow, the promise of produce was near. Because of their relationships with Barnard community members, Fable Farm has been able to expand their growing area and now have plots in many places across the town. Chris and Fable Farm are a constant reminder that the promise to live a sustainable, organic lifestyle is attainable with support, dedication and passion. As Chris shared with our class, he does what he loves, and sees farming as a lifestyle, not an occupation.
Enjoying the field at Fable Farm.
Many thanks to our hosts for a fun and informative weekend in a beautiful state. It was a wonderful weekend away, made possible in part by funding from Stonehill’s Green Fund.
We learned a number of sustainable farming techniques that we look forward to employing at our farm this season!
5 members of our Sustainable Ag class: Cam Hill, Jack Bressor, Pat Cabral, Paige Begley and Jess Mardo.