Topic: Local Food

Turkey farms across Vermont gear up for holiday season – Rutland Regional Guide

Posted on December 21, 2011 by - Local Food, Rutland Regional Guide

Turkey farms across Vermont gear up for holiday season

By Nathaniel Gibson

Peter Stone and Siegrid Mertens' daughter Catherine practices her turkey herding skills in one of the barns at Stonewood Farm. Photo Credit: Peter Stone.

With the holiday season fast approaching, Vermont turkey farmers are busily preparing for the huge spike in turkey demand, particularly for Thanksgiving.

Turkey farming has a long history in the state. Back in the days before rail and refrigeration, the birds were herded on foot to major markets, which presented a number of challenges for farmers, namely keeping track of their birds and caring for them over the long distances.

“In the old days turkeys were given tar walking shoes by farmers, who would heat tar, pour it on the road, and then herd the birds through it,” says Matt Proft, who operates Someday Farm with his wife Scout in East Dorset, located in southern Vermont. The Profts raise 400-500 birds a year: all natural, range-fed turkeys on pasture with feed that is free of hormones and antibiotics. Their turkeys are ordered for pickup directly from Someday Farm.

Since the old-time turkey marches typically took several days, farmers were obliged to overnight with their flocks at farms en route. “The birds back then could fly, so in the evenings they would have to be corralled in a barnyard before it got dark and the birds decided to roost — as gathering them up again in the morning would have been a big headache,” explains Proft.

While the trials of the annual turkey march are long gone, raising turkeys nowadays still presents some unique challenges. “There are times throughout the years that we shake our heads at the birds,” says Proft. “They’re definitely curious animals, and they like to escape their fence when they can. We’ve had the them take an interest in people who are passing by walking their dogs — and all of a sudden 300 turkeys have gotten out and are tagging along.”

“You never know what they’re going to try,” Proft observes. He recalls times when the turkeys have flown into the pond to avoid being rounded up. Seldom considered fact:  turkeys can swim.

A much larger-scale turkey farm can be found to the north in central Vermont. Peter Stone and Siegrid Mertens operate Stonewood Farm in Orwell, where they raise a staggering 29,000 turkeys per year for distribution across the Northeast. The birds are grown naturally without any antibiotics or growth hormones in their feed and are prepared for table without preservatives or artificial ingredients.

The Stonewood turkeys are raised in barns that are open on the sides to permit sun and air in while keeping other birds — and any illnesses they may carry — out.  In previous years, the couple experimented with raising 5,000 turkeys outside in a 13-acre field but found that they were more susceptible to sickness associated with the wet and cold conditions they encountered. Birds raised indoors can be easily kept dry and warm.

Stonewood Farm turkeys are available in food co-ops, health food stores, and gourmet food stores across New England and New York state. In Vermont and parts of New Hampshire, Stonewood Farm turkeys can be found at several stores, including Hannaford. Anyone interested in checking out the farm in Orwell is welcome to visit; please check in upon arrival.

Vermont farm-fresh turkeys are available all over the state. About 25 farms are listed by the state’s Department of Agriculture; visit www.vermontagriculture.com/buylocal/buy/ to find your local turkey.

Nathaniel Gibson is a freelance writer who lives in Pawlet and may be contacted at www.nathanielrgibson.com.

The article originally appeared in the Fall 2011 edition of the Rutland Regional Vermont Insider Guide.

Farmers markets are sprouting up all over Vermont — Rutland Regional Guide

Posted on October 21, 2011 by - Local Food, Rutland Regional Guide

Farmers markets are sprouting up all over Vermont

By Nathaniel Gibson

The Cobb Hill Farm stand at the Hartland Farmers Market offers a wide range of local food items and fresh produce, including green beans and rainbow chard. Photo Credit Shari Altman.

Celebrate National Farmers Market Week in August by visiting your nearby farmers market – all autumn long. Luckily, you won’t have far to go.

Farmers markets are sprouting like wonderful flowers across Vermont to meet the growing demand for fresh, local food products.

The trend is reflected nationwide as well: from 2009 to 2010, the number of farmers markets across the country grew by an estimated 16 percent. Farmers markets not only offer food and quality crafts; they also provide entertainment and build community.

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture’s Web site lists 77 farmers markets statewide.

Some, such as the Hartland Farmers Market, are relative newcomers. Founded in 2010, it is open 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. every Friday and offers seasonal veggies — green beans, carrots, rainbow chard, to name just a few — plus farm-raised beef, baked goods, local cheeses and specialty-cut flowers.

Picnic tables are available where visitors can sample the fare and listen to live music. In keeping with the theme of sustainability that runs through all Vermont farmers markets, a local company offers recycling pickups at the market.

The Cobb Hill Farm stand at the Hartland Farmers Market offers a wide range of fresh produce and local food items, including farm-raised beef, cheese, and eggs. Photo Credit Shari Altman.

Organizer Sharon Irwin attributes the Hartland market’s growth to word of mouth and lots of community support. The market attracts a mix of local residents, people from neighboring communities and out-of-state visitors. “The town and community have both been really supportive of it,” she says. “It’s great to see people coming to hang out with their neighbors and friends.”

Other new farmers markets have taken root in Lyndonville (Fridays, 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.), Castleton (Thursdays, 3:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.), and Pawlet (Fridays, 3:00 p.m. to 6 p.m.).

Many of these newcomers are offshoots of the state’s larger, well-established farmers markets.

The Wood Family of Pawlet offers their maple products and farm-fresh eggs at the very first Pawlet farmers market this summer. Photo Credit Sue LaPorte.

The downtown Rutland Farmers Market is the biggest — with over 90 vendors selling a huge variety of food and crafts. These include seasonal fruits and produce, local honey, fresh eggs, artisan cheese, flowers, pickled vegetables, jams, and pies and more.

The Rutland Farmers Market is open two days per week. It operates from May 7 to October 29 on Saturdays (9 a.m. to 2 p.m.) and Tuesdays (3 p.m. to 6 p.m.). The market is a collaborative effort of the Rutland County Farmers’ Market and the Vermont Farmers Market, whose members have watched it grow steadily over the years.

“It’s been a good thing for the vendors, a good thing for the city, and a good thing for the customers,” says Judy Dark, one of the organizers, noting that in addition to supporting local farmers and craftspeople the market encourages people to come out and interact with the downtown area.

Beyond a core contingent of local customers who loyally support their favorite vendors, the market also attracts visitors from out of state. Dark has fielded calls from people planning trips from Massachusetts and metropolitan New York who want to know if the market will be open when they visit.

Other well-established markets are in Burlington (Saturdays, 8:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.), Montpelier (Saturdays, 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.), and Fair Haven (Fridays, 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.).

For more information visit the Vermont Agency of Agriculture’s Web site at www.vermontagriculture.com/buylocal/buy/farmersmarkets.

Nathaniel Gibson is a freelance writer and locavore who lives in Pawlet. He can be contacted via www.nathanielrgibson.com.

The article originally appeared in the Late Summer 2011 edition of the Rutland Regional Vermont Insider Guide.