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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Local Vermont Business Helps Bar Holiday Hunger

By Katie Horner, UVM Food Systems Graduate Fellow

In the world of energy bars, there are countless options, and many of those options contain bizarre ingredients that most of us can’t even pronounce. Fortunately, those in need of an energy boost here in the Green Mountain State can ignore the overly abundant, mass-produced products and simply reach for a Garuka Bar. These locally-made, small-batch bars feature raw Vermont honey in a recipe designed to provide the ideal pre-exercise combination of natural carbohydrates and healthy, plant-based fats.

In addition to being a delicious way to fuel up and stave off hunger during a workout or hike, Garuka Bars are also helping stave off hunger for a number of Vermont families this Garuka Bars Promo.jpgholiday season. For the third year in a row, Garuka donated one meal to the Vermont Foodbank for every one of their bars purchased during the week leading up to Thanksgiving; an additional meal was donated for every customer who posted their bar purchase on social media using the hashtag #VTBizCares. This year, the company donated 1,616 holiday meals, an almost 300% increase from the 600 or so meals they were able to donate in 2015. While impressive even out of context, these meal donations become even more important when you consider that an estimated 153,000 Vermonters need to access food shelves and meal service programs each year.

While for many individuals and businesses this kind of philanthropic giving is limited to the holiday season, for Garuka it is a central tenet of the business’ mission. Since its inception in 2011, Garuka has focused on a unique hybrid of local and global social responsibility. While the company focuses on supporting innovative local producers here in Vermont, it also donates 1% of profits to support gorilla conservation efforts in Rwanda. The name of the company translates to ‘return well’ in the national Rwandan language of Kinyarwanda. This concept pervades the company’s social endeavors, such as their partnership with the Vermont Foodbank. For a small business, Garuka has a big impact.

If you ask company founder Mike Rosenberg, this is in part thanks to the support Garuka received from Sodexo over the past five years. Garuka bars are sold at aGaruka Bars.jpglmost every Vermont institution served by Sodexo and at some of the food service provider’s accounts in New Hampshire and Maine. The relationship operates as a two-way street: not only does Sodexo provide a large market for the local energy bars, the bars also align with the goals of Vermont First and the Real Food Challenge, two initiatives that represent core values of many Sodexo accounts in the state. In this way, Garuka exemplifies how local businesses benefit from increased institutional demand for local products.

This begs the question, what is the relationship between local business and addressing hunger in Vermont? According to the Vermont Foodbank website, of 51 donor businesses, about 75% are Vermont-based. When one considers the significant imvermont-foodbankpact that local businesses have on addressing dire problems, like hunger, that affect Vermonters, the mission of Vermont First takes on another dimension. In promoting local products like Garuka Bars, not only is Vermont
First fostering the local Vermont economy; it is also promoting a network of businesses that together are working to help Vermonters in need. So it seems appropriate, at this time of year, to remember the impact we can all have by supporting Vermont businesses, and therefore Vermonters, first.