By Jackie Cooper • Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014
Four years ago I walked into Katy Lesser’s office and gleefully announced that I wanted to grow food in the parking lot of Healthy Living Market. To my delight and surprise, Katy’s reply was an enthusiastic, “Great! When can you get started?” I have to confess I didn’t have any specific ideas for plantings. but in my mind I knew that a market like Healthy Living could be a model for the rest of the community. I wanted to see more food grown in urban places in a way that could be both inspiring and educational. I remember the first day of planting; it was just me on a wet and really cold morning and I had 20 big blueberry plants to dig into the landscape.
I thought to myself, “This can not fail! Please little plants; grow, grow, grow.” That year I planted currants, seaberry, hardy kiwi and grapes, mostly haphazardly, around the landscape. I planted a kitchen garden, which I have done each year and have to admit of all the agricultural projects I work on, that little 20 x 20 space is really special to me.
Fast forward to 2014 – I walked back into Katy’s office and proclaimed that I wanted to start converting the islands beds into edible forest gardens. I wanted to recreate the beds as edible ecosystems that mimicked the structure and function of a natural forest. Almost breathlessly, I tried to communicate that we would install the plants in polycultures, dynamic self organizing plant communities, that include medicinal herbs, perennial vegetables, fruits and berries – all the while trying to increase biodiversity, utilize plants that accumulate nutrients, create habitat for beneficial insects and fix nitrogen in the soil. This time I thought for sure Katy would think I was a nut, and even if she is an avid gardener she would think my idea was a little far fetched. Again Katy said “Yes, yes, yes!”
When I started four years ago I was mostly ignored while standing outside tending the plants. Today I’m constantly asked about the gardens. In fact I had a community member once leave a note on the trellis saying how much they enjoyed seeing the garden come to life each year. Wowsa! At that moment I realized I’d done my job.
Thanks to Katy and staff for indulging the crazy gardener. The opportunity to work with Healthy Living Market has unquestionably given me the opportunity to grow my business, create jobs for other skillful gardeners and share my knowledge with enthusiastic gardeners.
See you in the garden,
Vermont Edible Landscape, LLC is a land planning business focused on the development of agro-ecosystems. We work with our clients to design, install and establish ecologically regenerative landscapes. We approach land management through an agrarian lens utilizing a variety of diverse biological disciplines. Our services include: Site Evaluation, Planning and Development. As an extension of our land planning business we run a small nursery that offers a wide range of planting materials to help support both residential and agricultural projects. We are solely focused on growing perennial plants that sequester carbon, produce food, fodder or medicine.
By Jackie Cooper • Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014
This blog post was written by our friends at Tangletown Farm! You can follow what they’re up to by clicking here.
It’s hard to believe we’ve been on our farm for almost two years now. We are learning so much about our fields and land, about the climate up here (windy) and about all the different things we can do with our farm.
Our animals are thriving, and we have a lot of them. We moved here and had to reinvent our portable coops for the meat birds because it is so much windier here than it was in Middlesex! It is exciting to be delving into understanding our farmland and evolving our farming practices to match.
As we do our chores each day, feeding birds, moving coops or cows, collecting eggs or stopping to scratch a pig belly, we are still in complete awe of how beautiful and peaceful it is here, and how healthy and content our animals are. We are raising about 10,000 meat chickens and 400 turkeys on pasture, free ranging this year. We are proud that our birds free range during the day and aren’t pastured in tractors or coops they can’t get out of. Seeing them wander, graze, sunbathe or choose a nap inside is a good feeling. We set out on our farming endeavor with the goal of raising animals with extreme care and attention. We are growing more and more animals, and figuring out how to do it so all have fabulous lives is fun and incredibly rewarding. We feel great about the progress we are making.
We have expanded our laying hen operation a lot. When we moved here we had about 150 laying hens. Last summer we received a loan from the Vermont Farm Fund (www.https://www.vermontfarmfund.org), we purchased another bulk feed bin, a flock of hens and what we needed to scale up. This year we started many more laying hens from chicks, and they have all just begun laying. We have about 1,000 laying hens now, and we are so excited to be pasturing them all, having them fertilize our fields, live an exceptional life, and lay us exceptional eggs.
We have been able to expand our pig farming as well. Before we moved and found this farm, we were struggling with the amount of driving we were doing, and found it very difficult to have lots of sows farrowing so far away from home. We spent countless nights sleeping in the pig barn in East Montpelier. We decided that if we couldn’t find a farm we were going to get out of the pig business. We kept getting outbid on farms and we lost a bunch of hope. We sold our sows. And then… we found our farm. We moved here with just a few feeder pigs, no sows, no good genetics to begin a new herd. We have spent the last two years rebuilding our herd and our genetics. It was a blessing in disguise because we now have ten gorgeous sows. We have had some great litters of piglets this year and and this coming spring we will have even more. We have created some great farrowing beds and are pleased with how well everything worked this summer.
There is so much more we could say, the stories are never ending! The best part about our move is how lucky we are to be a part of the community up here. There are so many farmers, of all different varieties, all willing to collaborate and share knowledge. There are lots of other great people and families too. We live right next to Parker Pie Company, which, if you’ve never visited, you should. It’s a great restaurant supporting many local farmers. Come up, enjoy a pizza (and a great beer), and then visit us!
The last cool thing for today: Our kids are up here, deep into our farm, learning and growing and enjoying life. The pumpkins in the photo with them are some of the pumpkins they planted and grew. Willa had quite the crop of cucumbers, too. We are doing the best we can to farm and live well, and make as much great food as we possibly can.
Don’t forget to become friends with us on Facebook because we are constantly putting new photos of the farm up there. Thanks!
By Wellness Manager • Friday, September 12th, 2014
Do you take Vitamin D? Healthy Living has a wide range of Vitamin D supplements. Below are some interesting facts about Vitamin D that most people may not know about.
Vitamin D the Sunshine Vitamin
New studies have linked Vitamin D deficiency with Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. David Llewellyn of the University of Exeter Medical School conducted the study and reported, “He and his team found that adults who were just moderately deficient in vitamin D had a 53 percent increased risk of developing dementia — the general term for any severe decline in mental ability — while the risk jumped to 125 percent for those who had a severe deficiency. Similarly, for Alzheimer’s disease — the most common type of dementia — the moderately deficient adults were 69 percent more likely to develop it, while the severely deficient had a 122 percent increased risk.”
Being Vermonters, this is a bit alarming due to the fact that 80-90% of Vitamin D is synthesized through sun exposure, hence the nick name the sunshine vitamin. Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to seasonal Depression Disorder also known as SAD. Don’t fret, fellow Vermonters! Research shows that 15-20 minutes a day of sunshine is enough to fulfill the daily intake, especially if we include certain fish and Vitamin D fortified foods such as milk and some cereals in our diet. However, for the winter season (especially for the vegetarians and vegans) a Vitamin D supplement is wise; it will replace our lack of sunshine and help prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder. To check out the article for yourself click here. Enjoy what’s left of our beautiful Fall sunshine!
By Richie Snyder • Tuesday, September 9th, 2014
We were proud to be a sponsor of the 14th Annual Wine and Food Festival presented by Saratoga Performing Arts Center. Thousands of foodies attended this weekend long festival that featured a BBQ, Brews & Blues event, a Grand Tasting, and a Sunday Jazz Brunch! Healthy Living Market and Cafe was the featured establishment during the Grand Tasting in the Connoisseur Tent on Saturday.
Butcher Shop/Seafood Manager Paul Hoffman and his team prepared a classic steamship round that was brined for seven days and slow roasted for over eight hours. The flavor and presentation was amazing! The house made shrimp salad, foie gras, and charcuterie selections were also delightful.
Executive Chef Matt Buley along with Managing Sous Chef Heather Cuedek created a beautiful menu of distinctive and delicious finger foods for Guests to enjoy. The menu ranged from classic muffaletta on grilled focaccia to vanilla bean cheesecake bites.
We were also lucky enough to have three local cheese makers with us! Three Village Cheese, Netlle Mettle, and Vermont Creamery all had wonderful selections to sample. We proudly sell many of their cheeses in our Cheese and Bread Department. Special thanks to Cheese and Bread buyer Mark Smith and Wine/Beer Manager Charlotte Guyton!
Our Team worked really hard preparing and executing this wonderful event. Thank you to everyone who helped make it happen!
By Wine Manager • Monday, September 8th, 2014
Here at Healthy Living Market, Owen Roe has long been one of our favorite domestic wine producers. The wines, which hail from the Pacific Northwest, always provide exceptional quality for the price. For fifteen years they have been producing beautifully balanced wines from some of the most prized sites in Washington and Oregon. Their philosophy of low intervention, minimal processing, and hand harvesting, results in wines that are both elegant and expressive of the terroir from which they come.
Under the Owen Roe umbrella, there are several distinct labels; Owen Roe, Sharecropper’s, Corvidae, and O’Reilly’s. This means they are able to offer a wide variety of wines at different price points. Currently, we proudly carry O’Reilly’s Pinot Noir, Sharecropper’s Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, Corvidae Rook (Merlot based blend), Owen Roe Yakima red (a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon), Ex Umbris Syrah, Sinister Hand (Grenache based blend), and Abbot’s Table (Zinfandel and Sangiovese based blend).
The fruit for O’Reilly’s Pinot Noir is sourced from the Willamette Valley of Oregon. The wine is fresh and light, with bright cherry and raspberry flavors. O’Reilly’s is a great food wine, especially with salmon or mushroom dishes. The Sharecropper’s Pinot Noir is darker and richer on the palate, showing notes of baking spice and vanilla, along side the cherry and marionberry fruit. The Sharecropper’s Cabernet Sauvignon showcases fruit from the Columbia Valley of Washington. It is classic Washington State Cabernet, offering flavors of cassis, plum, and black olive. The fruit for the Rook comes from Columbia Valley and Yakima Valley Washington. The wine is soft and plush, with red and black fruit flavors. Owen Roe’s Yakima red is a beautiful Bordeaux style wine showing both power and finesse. Aromas of blueberries and violets are reinforced on the palate, along with a dark chocolate note. The Ex Umbris is an inky, bold wine featuring dark berry flavors wrapped in a silky texture. Sinister hand is Rhone style blend with complex flavors of currants, raspberry, mint, and black pepper. Abbot’s Table is a unique, richly structured blend. Spicy, floral, and dark berry flavors mingle harmoniously on the palate.
Come by today, and let our knowledgeable wine staff help you find an Owen Roe wine that fits your palate and your budget.
By Lead Bulk Buyer • Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014
Who we are:
Travis: Bulk buyer- ask him about tea, nuts, dried fruit, ordering, ETA’s
Julie: Bulk Replenishment Buyer- ask her about vegan products, ordering, ETA’s
Brittany: Bulk Stocker- ask her about tea and healthy snack suggestions
Frances: Bulk Stocker- ask her about baking tips
Connor: Bulk Stocker- ask him about dried herbs for meat seasonings
Why should I buy bulk foods?
You can buy the exact amount that you need. (If you need a teaspoon of a certain spice, you can spend less than a dollar for your recipe.) Buying in bulk also cuts down on packaging waste. All that packaging makes organic foods more expensive, here in Healthy Living’s Bulk Department we take that out of the equation allowing us to provide you the same quality, great foods at rock bottom prices!
How do you buy in bulk?
You can use a scoop for the spices and bins, or simply pull the black lever on the “gravity bins” while holding any container (plastic/paper bag, plastic cup) underneath. Write the PLU# (or bin number) on the white tags located all over the bulk department. The cashier will then calculate the price with the PLU#. Feel free to enter the price per pound into our handy bulk scale to get an idea of the dollar amount you are purchasing before getting to the cashiers!
If you need to measure the product, we have measuring cups and spoons in the bulk room, just knock for assistance!
How do the nut butter machines work?
It’s simple. On the left side of all the machines, there is a switch. Push it up and it starts right up. Find a bulk employee if it gets clogged or just slows down, we are happy to help!
Where is everything located?
- Snacks (popcorn, candy, trail mixes) are next to customer service, across from the chocolate/protein bars
- Soaps are in the cleaning supplies aisle
- The cooler is next to the salad dressings over next to the meat department, which has bee pollen, raw nuts, yeast, prunes and dates
- Coffee is across from the bagged coffee section, on the back side of our baking section
- Tea is to the right of the coffee, sharing the counter with tea strainers and various tea related housewares products.
- Salt/Pepper/Mushrooms are located on the wall between Grains and the Spice Section
- Rice and Gluten Free face each other near the Produce/Wine section
Here’s a list of products you wouldn’t guess we carry:
Baker’s yeast (cooler)
Bee pollen (cooler)
Pine nuts (cooler)
Teff Flour (grains)
Textured vegetable protein/TVP (grains)
Millet (gluten free)
Soap (non-foods aisle)
Empty capsules (spices)
Where do the nuts come from?
Brazil nuts- Bolivia
Cashews- Vietnam, India, Uzbekistan
Pine nuts- China
What are sprouted nuts?
We carry sprouted almonds (cooler), walnuts, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds. They are simply soaked in water. Sprouting promotes easier digestion and substantial increase in nutrients.
How do you cook grains and rice?
There are cooking instructions next to the labels on the bins. We also have magnets with information on cooking grains. They are located next to the grains and also on the spice section counter. Please take one for your fridge!
Is it cheaper to buy in bulk?
It generally always is. Cost depends on organic/conventional, its origin, and general price changes which happen due to a variety of reasons; drought and freezes being the main two. Check out the Mix-Your-Own Trail Mix endcap. We have selected a wide variety of products that go well together, these products range from Goji Berries, at $24.99/lb, all the way to roasted salted peanuts at $2.49/lb. You can pick and choose your favorite snacks, throw them in one bag, and pay $8.99/lb up at the registers. It’s a great deal!
Packaged: ~ $4.00/lb
Bulk: org. brown rice $2.49/lb
Packaged: ~ $5.00/lb
By Ashley Fuentes • Wednesday, August 27th, 2014
New products from local producers are popping up all the time at Healthy Living, and new friends and old pals of the Dairy Department are making some delicious things!
Kimball Brook Farm: Maple Milk
Yes, this is what it sounds like – get excited. They’ve taken maple syrup (VT’s all time favorite food) and blended it with organic 1% milk straight from the farm. Old family recipe, new family favorite.
In the perfect on-the-go pint size.
Luiza’s Homemade With Love: Pierogi
Based in Shelburne, VT, Luiza makes pierogi that are authentic and light. To quote the Seven Days, “Bloomberg’s most popular pierogi, the potato and cheese, is fluffy inside, almost like a soufflé.”
If you are a fan of pierogi, even if you have a Polish granny, there is no way you could be disappointed.
photo credit: Luiza Bloomberg
To see the full article about Luiza and her creations, click here.
Mama Hoo-rah: Saucy Spreadable Dip
Susanna’s Catering out of Morrisville is making a product that is both delicious and hard to categorize…it’s that versatile. Mama Hoo-rah is a saucy, spreadable dip made of mostly roasted red peppers, so it’s healthy and yummy.
- a sauce for grilling, pasta, or pizza
- a dip for veggies, chips, or crackers
- a spread for sandwiches
Find it with our pesto and pasta, use it wherever you can!
Mountain Home Farm: 100% Grass-fed Ricotta
The Tunbridge,Vermont artisan farm has come out with amazing 100% grass-fed dairy products this year. We started out selling their single source cultured butter and “true buttermilk, and now that they have started producing ricotta, we obviously couldn’t resist. If you want to become instantly famished, just look up “ways to cook with ricotta,” like I just did. Whoops.
Stay tuned for more ways to shop local, and we’ll keep looking for Vermont businesses to support!
By corrie mersereau • Thursday, August 21st, 2014
When I was sixteen I worked at Hand Melon Farm
for the summer. I lived right in Greenwich, and the farm was only a mile or so from home. My days were spent crouching in the strawberry fields deciding which berries were perfect for the pint containers and which I had to eat, standing amongst blueberry bushes, and walking through rows of corn, counting ears to rip off and bag and getting soaked by the dew-covered stalks. Hand Melon Farm is where I formed a deep relationship with dirt and an appreciation for excellent produce.
It’s really cool to have come full circle and now be able to stock and sell the same produce I once helped pick and package. Here at Healthy Living Market we love local, and Hand Melon Farm is the real deal: a local, family-run farm that runs the way farms used to and should, with care and thought being put into each piece of produce. We are proud to sell their GMO Free Corn!
Thanks to the summer of ’07, I’ll always crave strawberries still warm from the sun and know where to go to find the best sweet corn around, and I’m glad to be able to share this appreciation firsthand with our guests at Healthy Living Market who come in looking for the type of quality product that the Hand family has been producing for a century.
This post was written by Produce Team Member Micah Waldron!
By Gary Daluisio • Thursday, August 21st, 2014
Shop bulk coffees here at Healthy Living and it’s a win for you, the local economy and the world! For the consumer, bulk packaging and shipping means better prices for you and you can buy as little or as much as you need, always keeping you supplied with the freshest coffee! For the local economy we have local roasters like Uncommon Grounds from right here in Saratoga and Lucy Jo’s out of Hebron, NY and Tierra Farms from Valatie, NY and Equal Exchange out of Massachusetts. So how does our bulk coffee benefit the world? More effective shipping and reduced packaging, as well as organic and sustainable farming are good for the environment. And then there is fair trade.
Fair Trade: The going rate for “free trade” coffee is around $0.75 per pound. ”Effective April 1, 2011, the minimum price set by Fairtrade International for washed arabica coffee beans was $1.40 per pound. Another 30 cents is added if the coffee is also certified as organic. An additional 20 cents, called the Fairtrade Premium, is collected and is used to fund social and business development projects in the producing communities. One fourth of that premium is set aside for efforts to improve quality and productivity. These prices are paid to the farmers’ cooperatives, which then distribute profits after expenses. Fair Trade farms must also meet labor standards such as paying a minimum wage to workers, allowing workers to organize, and ensuring health and safety standards (http://www.ethicalcoffee.net) Additionally, Fair Trade certification has sustainability standards for farming not present on “free trade” farms. Fair Trade cooperatives put money back into the community providing education where often there was none.
Great taste! As a coffee drinker and self proclaimed connoisseur, run of the mill coffee just won’t do! Each coffee here is picked for it’s quality, complexity, consistency and did I mention? GREAT TASTE!
Stop by and say, ”Hi!” and let’s talk coffee!
By Anna Glavash • Tuesday, August 19th, 2014
A bee takes shelter from rain showers while we explore farm fields. Half Pint Farm, Burlington Intervale
Farm season in Vermont is peaking, and to us at Healthy Living, this means it’s also farm trip season! Last Wednesday, a group of HL staff took a trip to several of our local producers’ fields (I guess that makes it a field trip??) to see what’s coming out of the ground and learn more about how it’s grown. To me, this opportunity to connect, to witness and to deepen our relationship with vendors is vital to being part of a business that supports local. For anyone who buys local, when we get to know our farmers, we enrich every bite and add value to every purchase by knowing who grew our food, what care they took in doing so, what they risked and sacrificed to make it possible, and what it means to them to bring it to us. I don’t think anyone we visited would mind another friend stopping by, so I highly encourage you to make a pilgrimage to your local farms and let them know you love their food! I swear, it makes the veggies grow bigger…
Open doors greeted us as every farm we visited. MR Sol Farm, Grand Isle
What struck me most about this farm trip was how different each farm is. So different, in fact, that it reminded me of the four student houses in Harry Potter’s Hogwarts School. Each house, and each farm had its strengths and its weaknesses, its characteristics and its aversions, and these differences are what make them all worth appreciating. When we all play to our strengths and diversify, a rainbow of bounty (and a stronger food system) is the result. As with people, I’m sure glad every farm isn’t the same…how boring would that be?
The MR Harvest farm truck
Our first stop of the day was on Grand Isle at MR Sol Farm. MR Sol—formerly MR Harvest —is certified organic and run by Dave McGregor of MR Harvest and his partner Greg Sol, formerly of Sol Fresh Farm in Charlotte. Dave and Greg together manage several high tunnels as well as two sets of fields in diversified vegetable production. Dave grew up on the farm, which started as a large flower garden under his father’s hand and grew into what it is today, 25 acres of intensively cropped land.
Greg Sol and Dave McGregor of MR Sol Farm
The farm is still recovering from a very wet season last year, which had a big impact on the diversity of their crops. This year, they are working on restoring variety to their fields, with moderate success. Dave was quite honest with us when showing certain heirloom species, explaining that they can be more fickle and susceptible to environmental factors than their more common descendents, and a risk to grow.
Slicing tomatoes and purple basil at MR Sol
It’s obvious that Dave has to make tough choices between offering more to his customers and protecting his business, but his positive attitude more than makes up for any disappointments. I’ve never met a farmer so determined to problem-solve and willing to try anything and everything to squeeze the most out of his acres.
These jalapenos came with a warning to wear gloves when prepping! That means a lot coming from a farmer…
And I wasn’t fooled by his less-than-perfect fields, which were unapologetically weedy—ever since we started receiving boxes from him back in April, I am consistently impressed with the quality of his produce, which is unmatched and stands out from our already exceptional shelves, practically glowing with vitality.
A full harvest of curing onions and garlic to look forward to!
After being invited to pick right from his plants on our tour, we stepped into his walk-in to conclude the visit and found it impossible to stop him from filling an overflowing box of his best produce for us to take home. Dave’s generosity, ethics and above all, his down-to-earth honesty all impressed me greatly. You can taste the best by looking for MR Sol’s yellow and red onions, cucumbers and eggplant, gold beets and green cabbage, scallions and a mess of tomatoes this week in Healthy Living Produce.
Savage Gardens, North Hero
We continued on our rainy journey to Savage Point Road on North Hero, home to Savage Gardens. They are probably most famous for their delicious eggs, but what I didn’t know is that they also have a bustling farm stand and extensive gardens. I can also personally attest to their having extra tasty meat birds, after bringing home a fresh one and roasting it whole.
Hugo and Amanda Gervais, Savage Gardens
HL is currently carrying their beautiful red and blue new potatoes, which I can’t get enough of—did I mention I roasted my chicken on a bed of them? Be sure you visit their happy farm to pick up a fresh bird if you get a chance.
Amanda’s pigs feed the family and provide friendly nuzzles
Hugo and Amanda Gervais started growing on the property after building their home in 2001. Amanda’s garden grew and brought her to local farmers’ markets, and eventually animals were added to the mix and Hugo joined her to farm full-time. The diversity of their farm is amazing for its size—quite small, that is. This land supports thousands of laying hens, broiler birds, their 3 dairy cows—yes, they sell raw milk—and a cornucopia of fresh produce, as well as cut flowers. They also sell piglets! We met their 4 pigs who were friendly and frolicksome.
Weighing out lettuce for market. Behind her are cut flowers, and–you guessed it–a hoophouse full of tomato plants
Savage Gardens tomatoes ready for wholesale
They now farm 30 acres in North Hero and 60 in Isle Lamotte, practicing rotation with their animals and cultivation. This means that the fields for planting have been pre-fertilized by the chickens, who were pastured on them the year before. This practice ensures the long-term viability of the land for growing and minimizes the need for inputs and pest management. They are certified organic and clearly care deeply about their land and creatures, great and small.
Laying hens roosting in their shelter
Everybody huddling together out of the rain
Hugo and Amanda are incredibly humble and warm people and spent a long time talking with us, which shows me how much they value their supporters. They have two young children and while they did recently built housing for their handful of seasonal employees, it was so beautiful to witness a family farm run by folks who are doing it themselves and for love and have a true passion for growing and raising. You can find more of their produce (and sometimes chicken!) at the Fletcher Allen Farmers’ market on Thursdays’, as well as weekly markets on the Islands.
Amanda and Rob in the barn, where they recently held a farm dinner and contradance
After we dried off and ate some lunch, it was down to the Intervale our group went next. Our first stop was Half Pint Farm, which is leased by Mara and Spencer Welton.
Mara and Spencer Welton, Half Pint Farm
Half Pint’s philosophy boils down to a whole lot of planning, seed saving and a very specific focus: specialty and heirloom varieties. Specifically, tiny versions of heirloom varieties—think baby squash, microgreens, cherry tomatoes, hot peppers, baby lettuce… And their farm is correspondingly tiny. Don’t be fooled by its’ size, though—comprised of just 2 acres, it boasts close to 400 varieties of vegetables.
Half Pint’s exquisite baby lettuce heads
I think micro-managed is the appropriate term here—as Mara said, “we are a spreadsheet farm”—but far from obsessive, it’s incredibly inspiring to listen to her talk about her passion for overseeing the cropping, bringing in new varieties and experimenting to learn what works and what doesn’t. In regards to what doesn’t work, I found their approach very interesting —when a crop falls victim to disease or pests, they don’t fight at all. They let nature take its course and instead focus on what’s doing well. And on a farm with so many varieties of a given crop, they can afford to do this, which is fortunate.
San Marzano tomatoes ripening on the vine
During the winter, which Mara calls “conference season”, they are traveling and sharing their techniques with other farmers and learning new ways to improve their return. This combined with subscribing to as many food magazines as she can get her hands on is what allows Mara to be perched on the cutting edge of food trends and still drawing on traditional grower wisdom.
Sunflower buds–the next summer delicacy?
For example, among the bouquet beds for CSA members she pointed out sunflowers whose heads had not yet opened. These large buds look somewhat like baby artichokes, and she had heard that if steamed, they could be eaten much the same way. She was going to try it out and if it got her approval, the sunflower buds would go into her CSA boxes for the week. This kind of experimentation in a farm share wouldn’t be everyone’s way of doing things, but they have cultivated a customer base who are as enthusiastic about slow food as they are, and it works.
Mara explaining to Rob how best to stuff a squash blossom (with lots of cheese, of course!)
As we walked around the small farm, it was as clear there as it was at all of the farms that it’s tomato and pepper time right now. I couldn’t keep track of all the varieties of each that they have growing, not to mention the jumble of mature squashes on the ground (don’t forget about those squash blossoms, either).
Tiny cuke-o-melons are a hybrid of watermelon and cucumber
I saw cuke-o-melons and sunchokes growing for the first time, and even got to taste the elusive Trinidad Perfume, a habanero variety with no heat. I never knew habaneros had so much flavor!
The only Habanero I will ever eat whole: the Trinidad Perfume
Leaving Half Pint, I was most impressed by the obvious success they have had working within self-imposed parameters. A small farm size, a tight plan and a specific focus all have helped Half Pint succeed as a specialty producer that customers seek out time and again for exceptional food. While other farms, such as Savage Gardens, are looking to grow all the time, Half Pint seems pretty content to be the mini-farm that it is.
Half Pint’s tidy washing and packaging station, and their 2 seasonal staff
Speaking of growth, our last stop of the day was just down potholed and puddled Intervale Road at Diggers’ Mirth. 22 years ago, Diggers’ started as another small Intervale farm, and season by season it has grown into the essential and dependable mid-sized farm that it is. They have acquired several additional fields in the Intervale, allowing them to grow specialty crops for their diverse customer base, as well as expand their “bread and butter” crops: salad greens.
MR Sol Farm
Hilary, one of the partners, explained to us as we traipsed through the rain that the 5 of them track their hours worked, and at the end of the year they divvy up their profits accordingly. This system allows them to travel, work other jobs, and get out what they put in.
The other thing Hilary emphasized is their mission to make fresh food accessible to as many people as possible—this is what got the collective started in the first place. The Diggers’ Mirth Farm Truck rolls through the streets of Burlington’s Old North End, a mobile veggie disco with a mission: bring the food to the people. The price is right on this produce and it’s very important to the Diggers’ crew to keep paying it forward.
Multi-colored yarrow growing at Half Pint Farm
Though farmers have come and gone from the collective, they share the same core values, and the same ability to grow amazing food. You’ll regularly see their fresh herbs on our shelves, such as parsley, cilantro and dill, as well as piles of bagged mesculun and spinach. Keep your eyes peeled soon for their oblong Sangria watermelons—the best I’ve ever had.
Seeing and hearing all of these people share their farm stories with us and thinking about their diverse backgrounds and approaches was a powerful experience for me, as it would be for any eater. Whether it’s by cunning, hard work, love, or dumb luck, these 4 farms are all growing amazing produce and working true magic in the fields. I am proud to be a part of helping support them and bring their food to the people. But don’t let us do all the work! Bring your people to the food—visit your local farmers today! It’s a trip I won’t soon forget.