Thursday, July 2, 2009

Our Brush with Richard Branson: Sustainable Agriculture Rises to a New Level

Earlier this year, Sterling College placed two recent grads, Angie Revallo and Ben Mackie (giving tractor driving pointers to Sir Richard in the photo) at Natirar’s Culinary Center, Ninety Acres, in a collaborative effort with Rutgers University, to achieve agricultural authenticity and develop the Farm to Fork model for sustainable agriculture.

Take the international influence of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin trademark, a 100-year old estate in central New Jersey, newly minted organic farmers from northern Vermont, and a culinary school and you get the exciting beginnings of a farm-to-cooking school-to-table resort enterprise—The Farm at Natirar.

Named for the number of acres of land leased from Somerset County, Ninety Acres Culinary Center consists of a restaurant, cooking school, and a working farm complete with livestock and herb gardens.

It is no surprise that recent graduates of Sterling are very proficient at using the tools and skills they learned on campus in today’s “real world." Natirar discovered this first hand when Angela Revallo and Benjamin Mackie joined the development team. Both graduates of Sterling’s class of 2009, Angie and Ben were hired as Natirar’s full–time farmers and have begun strategically planning and implementing the farms, gardens, and livestock programs on the property. They are supported in this massive undertaking, not only by the professors and administrators that taught them during their years as undergraduates in Vermont, but also by the faculty at Rutgers NJAES and the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences who are right in the “backyard” of their new home in New Jersey.

Natirar is collaborating with both Sterling College, Vermont, and the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences and the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, NJAES, both units of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

Building an Agricultural Economy

From Eating Well (July/August 2009):

An illustrated map of one rural foodie town.

By David Goodman, for EatingWell, July/August 2009

Here, in a tiny corner of northern Vermont where cattle seem to outnumber people, farms and food businesses are blossoming and garnering both national and international attention. Their secret? Collaboration. Here’s how it works.

(1) Claire’s Restaurant—Two years ago, more than 100 locals bought shares to help start a “locavore” restaurant in Hardwick, recently named one of the top “up and coming” restaurants in the U.S. Down the road in Morrisville, locals loved “their” restaurant so much they chipped in to support (2) The Bee’s Knees when it needed a cash infusion.

Both restaurants source most of their ingredients locally, including cornmeal and other grains from (3) Butterworks Farms, which also produces yogurt and is part of (4) Pete’s Greens CSA. Though Pete’s Greens is best known for the organic baby greens it once sold to trendy restaurants in Boston and New York, today half its business comes from its Good Eats CSA, which bundles everything—from its own greens to bread and bacon made by other local producers—and delivers it to some 250 neighboring members.

When (5) High Mowing Organic Seeds, one of the country’s largest purveyors of organic seeds, had a surplus of pumpkin, it went to the Pete’s Greens kitchen to be made into pies that were given to the local food bank. High Mowing Organic Seeds founder Tom Stearns is the president of the (6) Center for an Agricultural Economy, a not-for-profit founded by (7) Vermont Soy entrepreneur Andrew Meyer with the goal of building a sustainable community around food and agriculture.

You can find the best products of the region—ranging from seeds to soy—at the (8) Buffalo Mountain Co-op, one of the oldest in the country. It’s also a good place to pick up lamb and sheep’s-milk cheeses from (9) Bonnieview Farms and other cheeses from (10) Ploughgate Creamery, (11) Cabot Creamery and (12) Jasper Hill Farm, whose 22,000-square-foot cave (said to be the finest in the U.S.) ages many of the region’s award-winning cheeses.

Two agricultural-education centers complete the circle, with (13) Sterling College sending many of its students to work on farms and (14) Highfields Institute focusing on composting and providing sustainable solutions for many of the neighboring farms and businesses.

So, a squash grown from High Mowing Organic seeds in the greenhouses at Pete’s Greens might be harvested by a Sterling College student and then served at Claire’s. Claire’s leftovers might be composted at Highfields Institute, then returned to fertilize High Mowing Organic Seeds’s land.

Please visit Eating Well for more information about the Hardwick area and for free locally sourced recipes.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Farm and Food Reading List and Resources

The following is a bibliography from Clark Wolf's keynote presentation. These books, articles, and web resources are a great place to start a more thorough exploration of Food, Farms, and Community. Another wonderful reading list can be found at the Greenhorns' blog.

Books & Articles
Adler, Jerry. “Finding Meaning in Each Mouthful.” Newsweek. 28 January 2008. 48.

Brady, Diane. “The Organic Myth.” Business Week. 16 October 2006.

Baker, M. Sharon. “Buying the Farm.” Nation’s Restaurant News. 7 April 2008.

Barrionuevo, Alexei. “Salmon Virus Indicts Chile’s Fishing Methods.” NY Times. 27 March 2008.

Bridges, Andrew. “Imported Food Rarely Inspected.” USA Today. 16 April 2007.

Brown, Tom. “Food Processors Ask State For Regulations on Toxins In Fertilizer.” Seattle Times. 23 July 1997.

Cohn, Jeffrey P. “The International Flow of Food: FDA Takes on Growing Responsibility for Food Safety.” FDA Consumer. Jan-Feb 2001

Coleman, Eliot. “Beyond Organic.” Four Season Farm.

Fackler, Martin. “Mercury Taint Divides a Japanese Whaling Town.” 21 February 2008.

Gay, Lance. “Americans are tossing $100 Billion of Food a Year.” Organic Consumers Association. 10 August 2005.

Grescoe, Taras. “Opinion: How To Handle an Invasive Species? Eat it.” NY Times. 20 Feb. 2008.

Halweil, Brian. “Change on the Horizon: A Scan of the American Food System.” Worldwatch Institute. Feb. 2005.

Harris, Keecha. “Community Implications: Food Programs, Policies, and Access Issues.” New Perspectives on Food Security. Glynwood Center. 2005. 113-115.

Harvie, Jamie. “Redefining Healthy Food: An Ecological Health Approach to Food Production, Distribution, and Procurement.” The Center for Health Design.

Hirshberg, Gary. “Response to a cover story in Business Week magazine referring to Stonyfield Farm” 19 October 2006.

Knox, Richard. “Dangers of the Global Food System.” NPR Morning Edition. 25 May, 2007. Transcript.

Leonard, Rod. “Losing Control of U.S. Food Safety.” Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. Nov. 2007.

Lotter, Don. “On the Path to Bird-Friendly Coffee.” Rodale Institute.
9 Dec. 2004.

McConahey, Meg. “Branding Sonoma.” The Press Democrat. 4 Nov. 2007.

Milano, Jessica. “Policy Report: Spoiled: Keeping Tainted Food Off America’s Tables.” Progressive Policy Institute. 7 Sept. 2007.

Muhlke, Christine “American Pastoral.” New York Times Magazine, June 7, 2009

Mulcahy, Mark. “Yes We Have No (Conventional) Bananas: The Case for Buying Organic.” Natural Foods Merchandiser. July 1997.

Mundell, E.J. “U.S. Food Safety: The Import Alarm Keeps Sounding.” US News and World Report. Jan.15 2008.

Peterson, Diane. “Hog Wild.” The Press Democrat. 27 Feb. 2008.

Pollan, Michael. “The Way We Live Now: Our Decrepit Food Factories.” NY Times. 16 Dec. 2007.

Pollan, Michael. “Weed it and Reap.” NY Times. 4 Nov. 2007. Online

Ruhlman, Michael. “The Way We Eat: Friends with Benefits.” NY Times Magazine. 9 March 2008. 67-8.

Salatin, Joe. “Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal.” Acres: A Voice for Agriculture. Sept. 2003. Vol. 33,No. 9.

Schmit, Julie. “US Food Imports Outrun FDA Resources.” USA Today. 18 March 2007.

Streitfeld, David. “As Prices Rise, Farmers Spurn Conservation Program.” NY Times. 9 April 2008.

Stutchbury, Bridget. “Opinion: Did Your Shopping List Kill a Songbird?” NY Times. 30 March 2008.

Wallinga, David, Navis Bermudez, and Edward Hopkins. “Poultry on Antibiotics: Hazards to Human Health.” Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. Dec. 2002.

Weise, Elizabeth. “Support from city folk takes root on the farm.” USA Today 5 November 2005

Wilson, Duff. “Fear in the Fields.” Seattle Times. 3 July 1997.

Wilson, Duff. “Experts: How to Reduce Risk.” Seattle Times. 4 July 1997.

Zinczenko, David. “Feeding the Obesity Epidemic.” USA Today. 25 March 2008. 11A.

“Editorial: The World Food Crisis.” NY Times. 10 April 2008.

“Editorial: Tuna Troubles.” NY Times. 24 January 2008.

“Editorial: Shrimp and Mischief.” NY Times. 21 July 2004.

“Editorial: The Biggest Beef Recall Ever.” NY Times. 21 Feb. 2008.

“Editorial: Protecting All Waters.” NY Times. 7 March 2008.

Restaurant Spending.” National Restaurant Association.

“High-Grain Cattle Diets Cause Antibiotics Need.” Reuters. 22 May 2001.

“Everything I Cook Is Good.” Newsweek. 25 February 2008. 14.

Antibiotic Resistance and Agricultural Overuse of Antibiotics.” Going Green: A Resource Kit for Pollution Prevention in Health Care. 2 July 2004.

Prescription drugs found in drinking water across 10 March 2008.

Recommended Reading

Berry, Wendell. The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books. 1977.

Imhoff, Dan. Food Fight: A Citizen’s Guide to the Farm Bill. Healdsburg, CA: Watershed Media. 2007.

Kingsolver, Barbara, Camille Kingsolver and Steven L. Hopp. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. New York: Harper Collins. 2007.

Nestle, Marion. Food Politics, new revised edition. Berkeley: University of California Press. 2007.

Pollan, Michael. The Botany of Desire: A Planet’s-Eye View of the World. New York: Random House. 2002.

Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. New York: Penguin. 2006.

Other Resources
Local Harvest

Sustainable Agriculture

American Farm Land Trust

Chez Panisse Foundation

Farm to College

The Farm School

The Food Project/BLAST Youth Initiative

Food Systems Network NYC (FSNYC)

Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture

Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association

New Haven Ecology Project


The Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont

Sterling College

Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture

Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE)

The Tufts School of Nutrition - Northeast Food Systems Partnership

University of Maine Sustainable Agriculture Program

University of Massachusetts Extension Vegetable Program
State Extension Service.

University of New Hampshire Office of Sustainability

University of Vermont Farms

Wholesome Wave Foundation

Wolfe’s Neck Farm

Yale University Sustainable Food Project

Monday, June 22, 2009

How to smeare a Rabbet or a necke of Mutton

From the workshop "Cooking with Historical Texts" with Ken Albala:

How to smeare a Rabbet or a necke of Mutton

Take a Pipkin, a porenger of water, two or three spoonefuls of Vergis, ten Onions clean pilled, and if they be great quarter them, mingle as much Pepper and salte as will season them, and rub it upon the meat, if it be a rabbit: put a piece of butter in the beliye and a piece in the broth, and a few Curraans if yon wil, stop your pot close and sieth it with a softe fier but no fier under the bottome, then when it is soden serve it in upon soppes and lay a few Berberies upon the dishe.

Thanks to Ulla Kjarval for the photo.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

authentic experiences

Among the many helpful suggestions among the end-of-Institute surveys that have been filtering in on this rainy afternoon of the last day of this year's Rural Heritage Institute is one that suggests one missing element is concrete, tangible action. We have shared and discussed much over the past 3 days--so much that it will take some time for many of us to assess, assimilate, and decide how to best move forward.

We have seen examples of activism exploiting new and traditional media - of schools' successes and challenges in on and off campus farm/food collaborations - of building local barter-based economies - of successful business ventures that integrate local economic support with cooperative distribution to broader markets.

All of these examples have contributed to a growing (though occasionally cacophonous) chorus of individuals who *are* doing something. Through these examples of leading-edge, progressive approaches to agriculture, education, cooking, activism, economy, and outreach, we leave here - I hope - inspired to act...together.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Time's up. Food is the most important thing in the world.

With dimming light and cooling air, we listened to the soulful strains of Mayfly outside of one of Sterling's residence halls and reflected on a very full day of events. I am honestly awed by the energy of our 50 or so participants and the interactions and conversations among us all.

Some highlights this afternoon and evening (other than the delicious Local Foods Banquet!):

From a session on Saint Lawrence University's blossoming farm program, in response to concerns about farmers resorting to food stamps--and not eating the food they produce themselves--Saint Lawrence's Sustainability Coordinator, Louise Gava, said, "Sometimes I think we should pay farmers more than they are asking" in order to maintain and support vibrant local economic and food networks.

In a talk on religion's influence on food choices, Kate Holbrook, a Ph.D. candidate at BU, offered that "People have been going back to the land since before they left it."

Ulla Kjarval and Annie Connolle highlighted strategies for farmers to use social networking tools like Facebook, Twitter, and Blogs to communicate, collaborate and monetize their operations with little to no overhead (except time). I'd have to agree with Annie's candid assertion that, well, "blogging is awesome!"

Some key moments from Clark Wolf's keynote:

"Time's up. Food is the most important thing in the world."

"I don't believe in training. I believe in education."

"Calling food 'conventionally grown' is lying -- it's industrially grown."

Growing quality healthy food "is not brain surgery. It's common sense."

"It takes a village. It takes a zucchini. It takes a third grade class. It takes dirt."

"All Earth is public trust."

"It's great for food to be a metaphor. It's more important for it to be lunch."

"Men and women in their early 20s want to *do* something. I suggest farming."

There are no "producers" and "consumers" in a healthy food system. There are just people in a relationship with one another.

Educated Palates

From a morning session with Kerri LaCharite, Sandy Sterner, and Jessie Buckner from Chatham University on college student food choices:

"Advanced capitalism practices the illusion of choice"

Sandy brought students on a forage tour of Chatham's 6 acre urban Pittsburgh campus to find 30 edible species - including apples, berries, mushrooms, greens. Although successful, the event was less popular among students than the guided tour of the local Whole Foods. Amazing to see what is possible even on a small, urban campus where we might not ordinarily consider wildcrafting as viable.

Kerri pointed to a disconnect between students' environmental "concern" and "awareness," recognition of global warming, population issues, etc. and actually engaging in meaningful, dirty, and productive work on the land. Students continue to predominantly have abstract concepts of nature and approach environmental issues from a consumerist perspective (i.e., we can buy our way out of this crisis).

Jessie: "The environmentalism taught in the classroom has no place to be practiced."

"There's nothing wrong with a little dirt in the classroom."

I couldn't agree more.

Scale and Efficiency

Last night's roundtable, moderated by Severine von Tscharner Fleming, of The Greenhorns, featured nearly a dozen farmers from around the region, including:
We were all engaged in the range of stories and experiences represented by this group of active, young farmers (all of whom were under the age of 40). Among the issues discussed in the 90-minute dialogue among participants and audience members was the distinction between efficiency and scale. Princess MacLean responded to a question from Matthew Hoffman about whether large scale industrial agriculture was truly more efficient (and could thus outcompete small local producers) or if that competition is simply a matter of scale.

The discussion turned to address Michael Pollan's use of the term "efficient" in his descriptions of large scale agriculture (for instance in the Progressive and on his own website). A number of participants disagreed with this notion and sought to redefine efficiency to include community, holistic farm management practices, and closing the system with regard to inputs/outputs - rather than the massive volume or inputs and outputs and the long supply chain required by the industrial model.

There was also a clear need to develop new partnerships, continue dialogues, and move toward collaborative distribution networks both locally and regionally (as well as marketing nationally if that model can support the local enterprise). The true efficiency in the models presented by the farmers last night was one based in cooperation, collaboration, and community--The 3 Cs of efficient and sustainable farming.


Please welcome to the Food, Farms, and Community dialogue Ulla Kjarval, who will be presenting on Social Media and the New Food and Agrarian Movement with Annie Connole this afternoon. Visit Ulla's blog, Goldilocks Finds Manhattan, for her reflections on the event (not to mention really yummy recipies and more about food, place, and culture).

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Local or Organic?

A morning workshop facilitated by Dave Rogers of NOFA-VT, Tom Stearns of High Mowing Seeds, and Helen Whybrow of Center for Whole Communities asked us the questions "what does localvore mean?" "Does it matter if we buy local or organic?" In an hour and a half, we came to no conclusions save for that we have many more questions: what does "local" mean in the context of "local" Lay's Potato Chips? How can the average supermarket consumer come to terms with the meaning of words like "local" if even a group of agrarian activists, entrepreneurs, and scholars cannot?

Perhaps, to summarize from our group's discussion, the next word (like Organic or Local - now that these are going the way of Sustainability in losing the essential qualities of their meaning) should encompass the sense of community and our relationship with food that many feel is embodied in the terroir implicit in the word "local."

This session brought together themes of community and the cultural identity of agriculture: farms as not just sites of production, but as culturally defined...a relationship between people, the land, and community.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Day one

It's great to see people starting to arrive--from upper NY state, NH, MA, CT, and even California's Central Valley. Rain has done little to dampen the spirits of early arrivals this evening, and we're looking at two days of warm sunshine--perfect for our outdoor workshops and for exploring the communities and farms around the Northeast Kingdom. As I'm going to note in tomorrow's welcome, Sterling College is situated within a short drive of at least 4 high quality cheese makers (Jasper Hill, Ploughgate Creamery, Lazy Lady, and Bonnieview), a mile from a year-round CSA (Pete's Greens), fewer than 10 minutes from three well-provisioned farm stands (Bub's Best, Wild Branch Valley Farm, and Pete's Greens).

All this in a town of barely 1000 people.

We are also just north of Hardwick and Wolcott, which are home to The Center for and Agricultural Economy, Vermont Soy and Vermont Natural Coatings, High Mowing Seeds, Claire’s restaurant, and a range of other businesses committed to the local and regional agricultural economy.

As we look forward to three days packed full of workshops, seminars, and, well, food, farms, and community, my hope is that we will take away more than notes & ideas, but contacts and a sense of community that can continue to foster dialogue well after this Institute is over.

Some of the places to keep the dialogue going (other than here!) are:
New Vermont Cooking
Pete's Greens Blog
Vermont Pasture Network

On Twitter:

more suggestions are welcome...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

In the Field

Food, Farms, and Community will have a number of chances for participants to visit area farms and get their hands dirty as we make connections from soil to table. On our opening morning, Sterling College faculty, Rick Thomas, Jody Stoddard, and Pavel Cenkl will each lead workshops and demonstrations on using draft horses, dyeing wool, and scything -- if you're joining us, be sure to arrive in time for these workshops from 9-10 on Tuesday morning.

Later that day, participants can visit either (this is a hard choice to make!):

Jasper Hill Farm in neighboring Greensboro, which is described on the Farm's website as:

We are currently making three varieties of raw milk cheese. Aspenhurst, a cloth bound cheddar-style cheese, (actually for all you caseophiles a variation of a traditional English Leicester); Bayley Hazen Blue, a natural rinded blue-veined cheese with a dense chocolaty paste that melts on the tongue; and Constant Bliss, a soft, mold-ripened bit of yumminess.

Our intent is to create far more than just great cheese however—we hope to create a business model that can be replicated by others interested in making a transition to value-added production. By purchasing our cheese, or the products of other local producers you are ensuring the long-term viability of the farms that keep Vermont beautiful.

or High Mowing Seeds, in neighboring Wolcott:

An independent, family-owned business dedicated to supporting sustainable agriculture by providing organic growers with the highest quality certified organic seed.

At High Mowing Organic Seeds, we believe in re-imagining what our world can be like. We believe in a deeper understanding of how re-built food systems can support health on all levels – healthy environments, healthy economies, healthy communities and healthy bodies. We believe in a hopeful and inspired view of the future based on better stewardship for our planet. Everyday that we are in business, we are growing; working to provide an essential component in the re-building of our healthy food systems: the seeds.
Later in the week - Ken Albala will help us craft a meal of local ingredients over an outdoor fire, Rick Thomas and Paul Ferrari will showcase their draft animals for a true hands-on-the-lines experience, and so much more!

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Greenhorns are Coming to Sterling's RHI

Severine von Tscharner Fleming, of The Greenhorns will be sharing her wisdom, humor, and farming expertise with us this year. The Greenhorns is a group of farming enthusiasts who has created a guidebook of Farming for Young Farmers and is in the midst of travelling around the country filming a documentary on young farmers. Severine will be moderating a Farmer Roundtable on the opening day of the Institute immediately following dinner .

Clark Wolf Moderates Chefs Roundtable

Check out our exciting keynote speakers including Clark Wolf, author of American Cheeses: The Best Regional, Artisan, and Farmhouse Cheeses, Who Makes Them, and Where to Find Them. Clark’s latest mission is to connect local farmers to restaurants and he will be presenting on this subject as well as moderating a Chefs Roundtable on Wednesday, June 17th at 7:15pm. The Chef line-up is as follows:

  • Steven Obranovich of Claire's
  • Jeff Egan of Bee's Knees
  • Eric Warnstedt of Hen of the Wood; Eric
    is a Northeast semi-finalist of this year’s James Beard Foundation “Best Chef
  • Elena Gustavson, Sterling College Kitchen Manager and Chef

Thursday, May 28, 2009

RHI Schedule

Wow! RHI is shaping up to be an amazing conference. Here is a quick overview of what's happening this year...

June 16 - Live, hands-on, field demonstrations covering everything from scything, farming, working draft horses and oxen, to food preservation. Listen to presentations on buying organic and local food. Tour High Mowing Seeds (organic seed producers) and Jasper Hill Farm (raw milk cheese producers). Close out the day, and discuss topics of interest, with a lively Farmer Roundtable.

June 17 - This day holds an extensive lineup of experts who will be presenting on topics ranging from changing food choices and food awareness in higher education communities, "Cooking from Historic Texts", policy and economy of agriculture, inspiring communities to eat local food, the roots of agrarianism, social media and the new food and agrarian movement, and readings from an author on american cheeses. The day will end with a Chefs Roundtable followed by live music.

June 18 - Discussions on modern tools for traditional economies, finding a sense of place on the farm, the farm as a wildlife sanctuary, agrarian literature, saving local economies with local food, and redefining American regional cuisine. Participate in workshops dealing with using farms as places for learning about community, and small-scale sustainable agriculture using draft horses. Open talk with the founder of the Center for Agricultural Economy, owner of Vermont Soy, and Vermont Natural Coatings. Finish the evening with a reception for photographer Karl Decker, a viewing of his exhibit "The People of Townsend, Vermont", and energetic discussion of Wendell Berry's Mad Farmer Poems.

BTW for a detailed RHI schedule click here--> RHI-Schedule.pdf

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


We are very excited about the upcoming Food, Farms, and Community at Sterling College. The Second Annual Rural Heritage Institute (RHI) is shaping up to be a rich and diverse experience bringing together farmers, activists, artists, teachers, students, and community members for three days of collaboration and learning from June 16-18, 2009.

This blog will hi-light the many elements we are excited about in this years program. Check back often to see what's new, discuss topics in more detail, and connect with this unique community.