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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Farm Tours: Building Resilience in the Vermont Food System

The sun was shining through the rolling hills of the Northeast Kingdom as members of the UVM Dining team and Vermont First began a day of farm tours. Every summer dining staff takes time out of busy work schedules to engage with the farmers that help bring food from farm to dining hall table.

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Cows happily grazing at Butterworks Farm in Westfield, Vermont. Written on every cow tag just above the number is each cow’s unique name. Photo credit: Flannery Mehigan

Our first stop was Butterworks Farm. Located in Westfield, Vermont, Butterworks Farm started in 1976. Today you will find about 50 Jersey cows grazing through endless fields of grass. From Onyx, a member of the Gem Family, to Chipotle, a feisty Spice Family member, each happy healthy cow has a name and a family unit. 100% grass-fed and Vermont Organic, Butterworks Farm makes products from Whole Plain Yogurt to Orange Sunshine Kefir. Our team was lucky enough to get a taste!

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Mike Heald, Christine Lazor, Collin Mahoney, and Hazel of Butterworks Farm were generous enough to send Flannery Mehigan, Emily Portman, and Sarah Langan of UVM Dining home with arms full kefir and yogurt. This photo is in front of Butterworks’ old granary.  Photo credit: Annie Rowell

Full of delicious yogurt and pictures of Butterworks’ beautiful herd of cows, we headed to Craftsbury to check in with Pete’s Greens, a certified Organic four-season vegetable farm. Inspired by farms from around the world, Pete’s has gleaned a number of innovative ideas, including expanding the width of their planting rows to require less passes of the tractor and therefore less energy expended. From a new tomato greenhouse, better equipped for heavy Vermont snowfall, to endless rows of red leaf butter lettuce, Pete’s Greens pursues its goal that Vermont can feed itself. We ended our tour with a quick lunch at Pete’s Farmstand, a building complete with a living roof and veggies galore!

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Pete’s new four-season tomato greenhouse. Photo credit: Annie Rowell

Have you ever seen a barn with a moon mural? A moon made of cheese suspended in space? Look no further than Jasper Hill Farm in Greensboro, Vermont. Driving past the cheese-inspired galaxy barn, we headed into the Cellars. Nestled into the hillside and stocked with seven cheese vaults, the Cellars at Jasper Hill age and care for cheesy favorites like Cabot’s Clothbound and Harbison, a favorite of UVM Dining’s Chef Sarah. We toured the vaults and were lucky enough to end the hour with a tasting of a few of their divine cheeses.

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A look inside the cheddar vault at Jasper Hill. Photo credit: Annie Rowell

Finally, we ventured from the Cellars towards our last stop of the day, the Center for an Agricultural Economy in Hardwick, Vermont. A non-profit with a mission to build and engage a healthy Vermont food system, the Center for an Agricultural Economy has kitchens for anyone, from entrepreneurs with a bold new idea to the Just Cut Program, which helps institutions (like us!) purchase minimally processed vegetables to ease food preparation later. Jasper Hill Farm also holds space here, and our team was able to witness an exciting part of the cheese making process—fresh curds being poured into molds.

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From left to right: Josh Minot (Center for an Agricultural Economy), Emily Portman (UVM Dining), Flannery Mehigan (UVM Dining), Sarah Langan (UVM Dining), and Connor Gorham (Center for an Agricultural Economy) Photo Credit: Annie Rowell

Partnerships and relationships of farms throughout the Northeast Kingdom became even clearer as our day of farm tours folded to a close. From Butterworks Farm’s trucks cross-docking in the Center for an Agricultural Economy’s warehouse space, to Pete’s Greens partnering with Jasper Hill Cheese to create a local pork product under the label “VT 99 Meats,” to Jasper Hill Cheese leasing space at the Center for an Agricultural Economy to make cheese, these farms and organizations exemplify the Vermont ethic of being a good neighbor and building resilient systems.

Be sure to keep an eye out for these Vermont farmers and producers next time you’re at one of our Vermont campuses!

Remember when…

…we went on all those tours last summer?

One thing we didn’t mention was that for those tours, we were joined by a UVM student, Olivia Pena, who is part of the UVM Real Food Challenge.  She was spending her summer interning with UVM Dining to make videos about where our local food at UVM comes from.  After much anticipation, we are excited to have these videos to share!

On a frosty November morning, it feels like a mini-vacation to look back at our summer adventures.  Enjoy!

 

 

We’ve Been Everywhere: Summer Tours 2015

How can Vermont First help create connections between Vermont accounts and Vermont producers?  I asked chefs and managers of our Vermont campus accounts that I visited this spring.

“Easy,” Rob MacFarlane, the General Manager of Castleton State College, offered.
“Get people out visiting places.”  I couldn’t agree more.  An excellent place to start.

Each week this July, we have organized tours in the region of each Vermont Sodexo campus.  Our goal is to use this time to strengthen two types of communities:
– Build closer connections between campuses and their farms and food business neighbors
– Community of chefs and managers at Vermont accounts, building awareness within Sodexo surrounding the goals of Vermont First.

Castleton State College, Champlain College, and UVM went to:

Champlain Orchards: It’s hard to leave Champlain Orchards and not feel passioChamplain Orchards group picturenate about everything apple.  Sandi Earle, Executive Chef at Champlain College, met and thanked the crew who make the apple pies she serves in her dining hall.  We watched an incredibly efficient crew pack the remains of last years apple crop into retail bags.  We poked our heads into the newly constructed cidery.  We ended with a stroll up the hill to see the new apple trees.

Sandi at ChamplainChamplain Orchards bins

Vermont Sweetwater Bottling Co.: As we see more and more maple-based drinks enter the market, it becomes increasingly apparent how mu Vermont Sweetwater productsch Vermont Sweetwater was ahead of the curve years ago.  The company began with a Vermont Maple Seltzer in the mid-1990s, made using sap from their neighboring sugarmakers in the Poultney area.  In a retro-fitted dairy barn which houses all of their production and storage, we sampled their creative additions to the product line of natural sodas, with flavors like Rugged Mountain Root Beer and Mango Moonshine.                              Vermont Sweetwater samples
Vermont Sweetwater bottling ling

UVM and Champlain College went to:

Intervale Food Hub: Less than a mile away from the UVM campus, Intervaintervale walkle Food Hub aggregates products from farms across Vermont and distributes throughout the Burlington area.  This was our first visit since Intervale Food Hub became an approved vendor this summer, becoming a gateway for many small to mid-scale farms to sell into UVM.  Our team got to see the packing room where all products get aggregated and packed out to then be delivered to three sites on UVM campus.  Thanks to Bobby Young and Sona Desai at IFH for being great partners!

Intervale - Phil and Melissa Intervale Food Hub - Phil Melissa Paul Caylin

Intervale Community Farm: Manager Andy Jones feels that member-owned Intervale Community Farm has done something right to have a model that has worked for 26 years. I agree.intervale community farm Opening the door to their new greenhouse packed full of tomato vines, Andy explained how they expect to produce over 20,000lbs of tomatoes out of this one greenhouse. As Andy fielded questions, it was apparent how the combination of his experience, technical knowledge, calm manner, and calculated approach to farming were a good example of the “something right” that has dictated this long life of ICF.

Diggers’ Mirth: Part-owner Hillary Martin made it clear to our groupUVM at Diggers Mirth that the word “mirth” in walk to diggers' mirthDiggers’ Mirth is truly a fact of life on this farm.  Quality of products grown at Diggers’ Mirth as well as quality of life seem to hold equal weight.  Since 1992, they have enjoyed slow growth, experienced very little debt, and have enough shared responsibility to not over-tax any of the owners and workers.
A noteworthy model.

Catamount FarmIt seemed only fitting that chefs and managers fCatamount Farm - chef joerom UVM should visit the UVM farm, Catamount Farm.  Our tour guides, Isabella and Amanda, were part of the UVM Farmer Training Program, a 6-month intensive training program for aspiring farmers and food system advocates.  In addition to seeing where our food comes from when we purchase from Catamount Farm, we got to see first hand all that Isabella and Amanda have learned in just a few short months of being in the program.  To top it off, Isabella whipped out a pocket knife to slice off some vegetable samples during our stroll through the fields.

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Catamount Farm - beet sample

Johnson State College, Lyndon State College, Champlain College, and UVM went to:

Vermont Soy: I have to be honest here – the places we visited with this group had a degree of interconnectedness that I had not planned for.  As we entered VermVT Soy group photoont Soy, Michael Carr, Business Manager, asked if we were indeed going to Boyden Valley Winery later that afternoon.  Yes, I confirmed.  Michael went on to say how the Boyden’s had just planted a large crop of soybeans for Vermont Soy, and circled around to explain that the okara, a by-product from tofu production, then went back to the Boyden’s to feed their cow herd.
Since 2007, Vermont Soy has worked closely with Vermont farmers to grow soybean to be used in Vermont Soy products. Tom Fondakowski, General Manager at Johnson State College, explained how he likes using the tofu scramble product from Vermont Soy in residential dining.

VT Soy Michael and Sandi
VT Soy production

Center for an Agricultural Economy: Just across the street from VermoConnor and floor plannt Soy sits the 15,000 sq ft facility of the Center for an Agricultural Economy, the home of the Vermont Food Venture Center.  For full disclosure here, this is where I worked before coming to Sodexo!  A lot has happened since my last day back in February, from new products being made to new equipment coming in the door.  In addition to the community building, market development for farmers, and food business incubation work they are known for, what’s clear in walking away from a tour with Connor, Sarah, and Alissa is that they’re a great team.

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VFVC beets and Sandi

River Berry Farm: A backbone of organic farming in Vermont, River Berry Farm knows what they’re doing.  In Fairfax since 1992, they chose their spot for the river bottom soil.  After we arrived, co-oRiver Berry Group Photowner Dave Marchant pulled up in a golf cart, having been harvesting greens in a distant field.  I think one thing I deeply admire about experienced farmers is their ability to quickly calculate what “makes sense.”  When asked about the history of the farm stand that we stood in while talking with Dave, Dave simply responded it was the result of needing a place to send folks who stopped by looking for a head of lettuce.  So he built them a farm stand that operates with an honor code system.  Create your own market that requires very little management to run – makes sense.

River Berry farmstand
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River Berry in the fields

Boyden Valley Winery: Going on their 5th generation of ownership andbridget at boyden business management, the Boyden’s are a staple of Vermont’s farming economy.  Operating at least five different businesses under the family name, from maple produboyden wineryction to a winery to an event center to growing soy beans for Vermont Soy, they have discovered a way of creating business opportunities between and within generations on this, rather large, plot of land.

For more photos from our travels, check out the UVM Dining Facebook Page.

…still to come:

Chappelle’s Potatoes

Long Wind Farm

Freedom Foods