For advertising information please email

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Trip to North Country Ag and Food-Related Enterprises

I’d heard about the sustainable agriculture initiatives going on in the “Hardwick Loop” and, for quite some time, I had considered making a road trip to check out some of these ventures. Finally, my friend Cheryl Devos and I decided to make a day of it. We were initially thwarted by an early March snowstorm but we rescheduled for a beautiful day the following week. Cheryl and her husband JD operate Kimball Brook Farm, an organic dairy farm in Ferrisburgh. For several years they have worked on a proposal to develop a milk bottling plant. She was particularly interested to see production facilities in action. My husband’s family farm ships their milk through the Cabot/Agrimark Cooperative.

Our perusal of the map showed that there were more sustainable food businesses in the NE Kingdom than we would have time to visit. To our dismay, we had to postpone the trip to Butterworks Farm in Westfield. A full hour north of Morrisville, this will have to be a separate trip of its own. I look forward to visiting Jack and Anne Lazor who have truly pioneered the philosophy of “caring for the earth through organic farming.” The Lazors have managed their single farm operation for over 25 years producing organic milk, yoghurt, cheese, cream, beans, grains and oils. Butterworks Farm maple yoghurt can be found in local Vermont supermarkets and is the most delicious yoghurt ever!

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!

No comments:

Post a Comment