Peaslee’s Leaves a 90-year Vermont Potato Legacy

Two weeks ago, we received the bittersweet news that Peaslee’s Potatoes, one of our celebrated farm partners, is selling the farm.  Peaslee’s leaves a 90-year legacy of selling potatoes grown in the Connecticut River Valley of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.  We started working with Peaslee’s three years ago after our Scaling Up Forum, a Vermont First event focused on educating and connecting producers with our Vermont supply chain.  At the time, Peaslee’s was in their third generation of ownership, and to their knowledge, the only female-owned potato farm in the country. They were looking to increase market share and were looking for new partnerships with Vermont businesses.

Peaslees 10With Peaslee’s long history of selling to wholesale markets, putting the pieces together to buy from them was fairly straight-forward.  We identified our potato usage by variety to inform their crop planning, and brought in our distributor, Black River Produce, who already carried Peaslee’s potatoes to help fulfill our statewide demand. In adding their products into distribution, Peaslee’s became available to many other Vermont food establishments, including the five Skinny Pancake restaurants throughout VT and western-NH.  In addition to buying potatoes directly from Peaslee’s, the University of Vermont was looking for a fresh cut diced potato, as UVM didn’t have the time to process all of their potatoes in-house.  The Vermont Food Venture Center in Hardwick, VT, made a diced potato for institutions, also sourcing their potatoes from Peaslee’s.  We promoted our relationship with Peaslee’s at many regional and national conferences, and the relationship was featured in a Vermont Farm to Institution ‘Best Practice’ report in 2016.  Over the years, Peaslee’s also became heavily involved in the food security movement with the Vermont Foodbank and Salvation Farms.

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Karen Guile-Caron giving the Johnson State dining team a tour of the potato storage space that Karen’s grandfather built in the 1920’s in the basement of the potato barn.

As Peaslee’s Vermont markets continued to grow, most people didn’t know that third generation owner Karen Guile-Caron was also the owner of an equine therapy business, Stable Connections.  While running two businesses is no surprise to most Vermonters living in rural areas, that doesn’t make the task any easier.  In addition to running her own business, with the combination of not having a 4th generation transition option while also looking out for her mother’s best interest, Karen knew she had a tough decision on the horizon.  “Selling to Sodexo and the Vermont Food Venture Center [in Hardwick, VT] these past few years put us in the position of being able to sell the farm on our own terms,” shares Karen.

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Annie Rowell and Karen Guile-Caron in a Peaslee’s potato field.

To honor her grandparents and her father Bert, Karen preserved the home farm of 64-acres of river-bottom land through the Vermont Land Trust, ensuring their family land will always stay part of Vermont’s working lands.

Succession planning can take many forms.  For three generations, the Peaslee’s followed the more traditional path of the succession plan, passing the farm down from generation to generation.  This succession takes a different approach, but ultimately keeps the land in production for a new farmer, and allows the family to pick the time for a graceful exit.

We could not be more grateful for our partnership with Peaslee Vermont Potatoes these past three years.  There is no denying that this story is ridden with emotional undertones, but we honor the tough decision and celebrate the history of what the Peaslee’s have contributed to the state of Vermont for almost a century.

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Student Reps: the Student Voice in Vermont First – Part I

It’s hard to believe it is officially the end of the fall semester!  As we wrap up the semester – before I get to intended topic of this post – I would be remiss if I didn’t point you to a few stories from this past semester that involve eating invasive species, the reemergence of the coveted UVM Dairy Bar, Vermont spuds on VPR, to name a few. Check them out here – we’ve been busy!

The real crux of this post is to highlight two folks behind the scenes in the Vermont First world.  In fact, to give each their proper due, I will break this post into two.  This fall, we launched Vermont First Student Reps, an internship program for students at our Vermont campuses to learn more about Vermont First, sustainable procurement in Vermont and beyond, and to represent the student voice on each campus.  Today’s post highlights one of our Student Reps, and stay tuned for the second installment!

We spent some time with Student Rep Flannery Mehigan, a junior at University of Vermont, to learn more about why she is interested in Vermont First and what she does when she’s not focused on her Vermont First responsibilities!

FLANNERY MEHIGAN

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Student Rep Flannery Mehigan, UVM, getting ready for the holidays!

College: University of Vermont

Year: Junior

Major/Minor(s): Environmental Studies with minors in Psychological Sciences and Dance

Favorite class this semester: Contact Improvisation, a wonderful form of dance focused on exploration of bodies and their unique relations to space

Favorite Christmas food: My mom makes a delicious Moroccan Spiced Pie with squash, spinach, chickpeas, and a whole slew of amazing spices.

What does ‘local’ mean to you? When I think of local I think of a way to connect people to their homes and surrounding landscapes. When we make the decision to purchase local, we create a tangible and dynamic relationship between food and farmer. In the evening when I prep veggies grown in Vermont for my dinner, I feel overwhelming gratitude for the fact that I can make local a priority in my budget, that I can take the time to try my best to support Vermont producers as I strive to eat seasonally.

What interested you in being a VT First Student Rep? I’m interested in my position as a VT First Student Rep because it has continued to strengthen my perspective on local food systems. There is a whole arrangement of externalities to consider when thinking about bringing local food into institutions like colleges and hospitals – externalities I found myself neglecting to consider before this position. Farm to institution is an amazing movement and I feel immensely grateful to be witnessing it in a place like Vermont.

What have you enjoyed about your experience so far? I have loved my experience as a Student Rep thus far. I have enjoyed being able to think about the complexities of supply chains and consider the difficulties of food access. As a VT First Student Rep I’ve been able to strengthen my perspective of the Vermont food system and continue to foster a deeper connection to how I live and relate to food here.

Photo Journal: Peaslee’s Vermont Potatoes

 

 

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From left to right: Karen Guile (Peaslee’s Potatoes), James Marsh (Johnson State College Dining Team), Tom Fondakowski (General Manager at Johnson State College), Annie Rowell (Sodexo’s Vermont First), Janice Peaslee (Peaslee’s Potatoes), and Corey Kelley (Johnson State College Dining Team)  Photo Credit: Nicole Chicoine

In 1928, on the eve of the Great Depression, Fred and Gertrude Peaslee set out to find land along the Connecticut River to start a farm.  Settling in Guildhall, Vermont, little did they know they were building a business that would be the livelihood of their family for multi-generations.  Eighty-five years later, Janice Peaslee, Fred and Gertrude’s daughter-in-law,  together with Karen Guile, their granddaughter, own and operate the 250-acre potato farm.

This year, through Vermont First, we identified an opportunity to increase our local potato purchasing in partnership with Peaslee’s Potatoes and our distributor partner Black River Produce.  In our excitement, we made the trek to Guildhall to see the potato crop in full bloom and meet Karen’s family and team.

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Karen Guile showing us their potato storage in the basement of the barn built by her grandfather, Fred, during the Depression.  Take note of the slots meticulously molded in the concrete walls behind her.  They use the same space and system built and designed by Fred Peaslee: after potatoes are harvested and brought back to the barn, the floor boards on the main floor of the barn are taken out and the potatoes are emptied into the barn basement potato bunker, guided by boards inserted into these angled concrete slots. Photo credit: Nicole Chicoine
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The farm doorbell next to the front door of the barn.  In the background, you can see a blurry image of the farm’s refrigerated truck backed up to the loading dock.  Photo credit: Nicole Chicoine
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This year’s potato crop was in full bloom when we visited – fields of white flowers as far as the eye could see. Photo credit: Nicole Chicoine
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Marc Labens, Farm Manager, has been with the farm for twenty two years.  He dug up some red potatoes to see how they are coming along.  “Not too long now,” he said. Photo credit: Nicole Chicoine

 

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Our Johnson State College Dining Team – Corey, James, and Tom – explores one of the many Peaslee potato fields along the Connecticut River. Photo credit: Nicole Chicoine
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These potatoes will feed our campus communities across Vermont – from Castleton University all the way to Lyndon State College.  Photo credit: Nicole Chicoine

Results: Vermont First Local Purchasing 2015

The 2015 results are in!

But first, a few thoughts:

When we launched Vermont First, we knew that in order to make strides towards our goal to increase local purchasing across all our Vermont accounts we needed to establish a baseline.

This baseline data needed to provide enough information to support the complex and detailed decisions made on the ground:  for chefs, which products to purchase from a local source; for producers, which products Sodexo is looking for from local producers.

In order to support these challenging decisions, we have built our Vermont First local purchasing tracking system to break down the data by:

  • Account
  • Product Category (i.e. “Produce”)
  • Product Sub-Category (i.e. “Apple”)

VT First FY15 Results - Infographic

The data used to support this infographic will be instrumental in the year ahead, helping to inform conversations and decisions with producers, distributors, and chefs about local purchasing opportunities.

As we turn the corner from data compilation to data analysis, we can begin asking the tough questions to match-make between demand and supply.

We are already seeing how the data can be put into action.
In 2015, our Vermont accounts spent  $123,165.50 on whole potatoes – 14% locally. Peaslee’s Potatoes, out of Guildhall, VT, sells local potatoes that are competitively priced and available through our local produce distributor, Black River Produce.  After identifying this opportunity, Johnson State College began using Peaslee’s for their hand-cut fries daily in the dining hall.  When I stopped in at the college earlier this month, Tom Fondakowski, General Manager, pointed out how the Peaslee’s marketing poster is now a framed wall fixture because they use Peaslee’s potatoes exclusively for the duration of their availability.

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We look forward to sharing more stories like this in the months and years ahead.

Excited to read more?  Check out the latest coverage on this story in Vermont Biz.