Saturday, August 14, 2010
Slow Money National Gathering Held at Shelburne Farms
by Robin Reid
The two-day Slow Money conference sold out with over 600 people in attendance from all over the USA and beyond. Opening Wednesday night at the Flynn Theater with an eTown taping featuring Steve Earl and Allison Moorer, the Slow Money gathering gained momentum for the events and speakers scheduled over the next two days. The roster was brimming with visionaries and social pioneers offering inspiration and practical economic solutions for the ill treatment humankind has afforded the earth.
Vermont and Shelburne Farms is perfectly suited to the mission of this gathering. The spectacular setting surrounding the Coach Barn helped foster the “can do” attitude that prevailed among the speakers. Larger than life posters of Slow Money founding members and like minded entrepreneurs festooned the area. A large tent was erected on the Homestead Lawn and this was where the presentations were made.
The morning session featured Bill McKibben of Middlebury repute. He is the founder of 350.org and author of the newly published Eaarth. Bill will be the keynote speaker this year at Solarfest in Tinmouth, Vermont on Saturday, July 17. Another initiative, the Soil Trust, was also addressed in the morning session by several speakers including Woody Tasch, the founder of Slow Money.
After lunch, Joel Salatin presented his talk on “Scaling Up Without Selling Your Soul.” Joel become known nationwide after his appearance in the film Food, Inc. He outlined his principles of success and sustainability and described the symbiotic model of Polyface Farm. The Salatin family farm has four generations currently living and working on the premises. Following their ethics based contrarian business model they have seen sales grow to $2 million dollars. Their products are sold to a market area that extends no further than four hours from the source—their farm. Visitors are always welcome. For more information check www.polyfacefarms.com.
A dense and very wet storm passed through in the afternoon that was fortuitously devoid of electricity. However, panels were put up on the lake side of the tent and wind gusts were somewhat threatening. After the breakout sessions, Gary Hirschberg, CEO of Stonyfield Farm, shared his powerful vision of socially responsible food production on the large scale. He was followed by Will Raap of Gardner’s Supply, Tom Stearns of High Mowing Seeds and Eliot Coleman of Four Season Farm in Harborside, Maine who each provided their real life examples of how new business models that put ethics before traditional economic principals can succeed. The message was clear that swift action is needed to heal the earth and move into the next era of sustainability and survival.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Team Up for the Gardening Season
by Robin Reid
News that an organization has been formed to provide an “endless harvest” to those in need and teach people how to maintain sustainable, ecologically sound methods of growing fresh produce year round is circulating in the Champlain Valley. A group of young visionaries has formed The Root Center, a registered 501c3 in the State of Vermont and their following is growing.
Executive Director Drew Burns is excited to see this project moving forward to a hands on stage. He has been working on the formative stages for three years and now with the assistance of Treasurer Robin Schulte, most of the paperwork required for national nonprofit status has been completed. Volunteers are ready to get to work in several plots that local residents have donated for The Root Center to use—extra rows in their gardens or a fallow area in their yards.
One such location is the north shoulder of Barber Hill in Charlotte where the Rural Route Today garden was expanded in order to share adequate space with The Root Center. Despite the chilly and wet weather, Schulte and another Root Center supporter, Jeremy Hammond, managed to construct the “trademark” geodisic dome at the end of the garden. The dome will house vegetable starts and can also be used to extend the growing season.
For more information on The Root Center, visit www.therootcenter.org. On Thursday, May 27 you can support The Root Center while enjoying a lovely afternoon at the Shelburne Vineyard. Lowell Thompson will provide entertainment from 5-7 pm. 10% of all wine sales will benefit The Root Center.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Our painful decision to skip Butterworks Farm on this trip was made easier by the fact that Jack Lazor had to be at UVM that day for an organic grains meeting. So, we decided to route ourselves through Montpelier and visit the Cabot Retail Store on Route 215, Main Street, in Cabot Village instead. We were not prepared for the first class tour we received of the diary processing facility. The Cabot Creamery was in full swing when we arrived but you wouldn’t know it if you stayed in the storefront to shop.
Deb Maxwell, the head tour guide, took us for a “quick walk” down the corridor behind the visitor’s center. To our right, large pans filled with freshly cooked and drained curds were being processed and prepared for pressing into “young” cheddar blocks that would be shipped to aging facilities and eventually cut and wrapped for retail sale. To our left, soft curds were being processed into cottage cheese and sour cream. The products were packed into the familiar containers we see on the supermarket shelves and prepared for shipping as they raced down the conveyor belts. Everything was very clean and the workers went about their business with a smile. There is another cheese factory in Middlebury but all Cabot butter is manufactured in Springfield, Massachusetts where much of the fluid milk produced by Cabot co-op members is also shipped.
Our next stop was the Cellars at Jasper Hill located just up the road in Greensboro. Actually, you get off the main road and finally hit a fairly steep dirt road before arriving at the “caves.” We were met by Emily who took us out to the sunshine for a walk over to the cheese making facility in a nearby building. Our visit coincided with a cleaning day but we saw the vats where the milk is ripened and the moulds where the curds are ladled. We visited the drying rooms and saw racks of freshly salted Constant Bliss (a delicious, small soft-ripened cheese with a bloomy rind) that would soon be moved into the cellars for aging.
The cellars themselves are amazing and contain cheeses of half a dozen or more artisan cheese making partners. Although not open to the public, you can google Jasper Hill Cellars for more information or internship opportunities.
We continued on to Vermont Soy in Hardwick where production manager Jamie Griffith treated us to a delightful and informative tour. They were in the process of bottling their new 10-ounce size containers for retail sale. Jamie explained the process of making soymilk from organic soybeans that are mostly grown by the Rainville farm in Highgate. Vermont Soy is always looking for suppliers of organic soybean! The dry beans are soaked in water for ten hours and then cooked to slurry, which goes into a liquefier where the solids are removed. Ingredients are added for flavor (they make the original flavor, vanilla, chocolate and unsweetened). The product is lightly pasteurized which adds to the flavor but shortens the shelf life, especially once the packaging is opened. About 600 gallons of soymilk is made per week. Tofu is produced two days each week yielding roughly 1,100 lbs. of tofu weekly. They process about one ton of soybeans every month.
Vermont Soy has been in their new building for about two and a half years. Much of the equipment was purchased in auction from Ben and Jerry’s and the bottling machine came from Monument Farms Dairy. Owner Andrew Meyer grew up on a nearby dairy farm. North Hardwick Dairy, now run by Andrew’s younger brothers, has won the Vermont award for the best tasting cow’s milk for six years in a row! Andrew is dedicated to figuring out how to make the Vermont landscape a viable and successful resource in order to keep the land open. He believes in creating demand for value-added products. Andrew also runs Vermont Natural Coatings which manufactures a “naturally durable, naturally safe, PolyWhey® Exterior wood finish.”
We then peeked across the road at the new location for the Honey Gardens distillery. Proprietor Todd Hardy was not on site but he reports that the building now contains much of what is needed to begin making herbal spirits and a special type of gin... so stay tuned for more details on Honey Gardens new adventure.
Down the road in Wolcott, we stopped at the High Mowing Organic Seeds Warehouse. Owner Tom Stearns met us and gave us the most incredibly inspired tour and talk on how he has grown this seed business, literally from scratch! High Mowing sells seeds in all fifty states. When we were there, peas were being sorted for packing. Stearns noted that starting in October, seed packing activity reaches a frenzy in the warehouse for several months. At this time of year, the focus is on shipping.
We headed to the other end of the warehouse to see the shipping operation and sure enough, it was a bustle of order processing. Long rows of seed packs stacked nearly to the ceiling filled the warehouse. The seed varieties come from different locations around the country but they are carefully selected and most are tested in a nearby garden whose greenhouses are already in full swing. We did not have time to visit the testing area but Tom took time to talk with us about his business plan. The success of this 34-year-old entrepreneur is marked by the enthusiasm he has for what he is doing. His dedication to providing the highest quality organic seed on the market is truly an inspiration.
Next and last stop of the afternoon was at the Rock Art Brewery in Morrisville. We were lucky to catch the owner, Matt, and his head brewer at the end of the day. The brewery started in Matt and his wife Renee’s cellar! They expanded to their current location but the need for more space is currently dogging them.
The brewery houses an attractive taproom with lots of Rock Art Merch. Matt and Renee picked the logo from native designs that they observed during several years when they lived out west. They now have two young sons and a growing brewery to manage!
We arrived home in the Champlain Valley tired and happy with beer, cheese and seeds!
Thursday, April 1, 2010
Sunday, March 28, 2010
Rural Route Today recently hosted a presentation by Richie Westman, Vermont Commissioner of Taxes at the Charlotte Town Hall. Although his projections may not all come true, the future looks daunting as Vermont state revenues dip and education costs—funded primarily with property taxes—continue to rise. Benefits such as tax exempt properties, local option tax, TIF (Tax Increment Financing) districts, income sensitivity payments and the Current Use Program eat away at revenues. Granted, these programs are valuable tools for many people but the end result is that the spending is more than we can afford.
So, what’s a citizen to do? At least this year in Charlotte voters finally said NO to some spending proposals. I’m afraid getting out of this mess will take more than a few “No”s to do the trick. “Conservative” is not always a bad word to be associated with the right wing, just as “Liberal” doesn’t have to mean excessive social programming from the left wing. Typically, it takes two wings to carry the bird, so we must find a happy—or at least balanced—medium. Some good old-fashioned frugality and plain common sense may be the ticket.
Voters at the Polls in Charlotte, Vermont - Town Meeting Day 2010