“Organic, biodynamic, and integrated pest management systems are working all around the world and are the hope not only for food sustainability but for the control of global climate change. Even normally conservative World Bank scientists maintain that 51 percent of greenhouse gasses come from agriculture. This has to change, and local, organic and sustainable agriculture are the answer,” says Will Allen.
Allen is an acclaimed leader in the organic food movement, a public policy advisor, an educator, part of the California Certified Organic Farmers Organization from his days in California, and the author of “The War on Bugs” making a compelling a argument against the use of chemical pesticides (http://www.chelseagreen.com/bookstore/item/waronbugs).
Most of all he is a farmer and he and Kate Duesterberg are the co-managers of the 52 acre Cedar Circle Farm in Thetford, Vermont. They met, when Duesterberg worked at the Center for Sustainable Agriculture in Burlington, Vermont and Allen was heading the Sustainable Cotton Project. When they decided to marry they looked for a farm where they could put their beliefs into action and found a beautiful, riverfront farm that already had barns, a farmhouse, greenhouses, and a farmstand.
The non-profit Azadoutioun Foundation of Cambridge, Massachusetts, on Duesterberg and Allen’s recommendation, bought the farm. The Foundation retains ownership with Duesterberg and Allen as farm managers. The previous owners, the Stones, had sold the development rights to the Vermont Land Trust, so Cedar Circle land, is protected, in perpetuity, as farmland.
The farm grows blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, melons, flowers, corn, all the brassicas (broccoli and more), beets, onions garlic, leeks, carrots, potatoes, winter squashes, pumpkins and herbs such as basil, parley, and dill.
Produce is sold at their farmstand and at local farmers markets. They participate in CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) where people buy shares ahead of the growing season and so pre-pay for a share of the coming season’s fruits and veggies, which helps the farmers pay for seed and provides produce at lower prices to members.
Cat Buxton, the Education Programs Coordinator for the farm, and I sat early one morning in the farm café, drinking their delicious coffee. Actually, I was drinking the delicious coffee, Buxton declined, having just finished her usual morning drink, a smoothie she shared in the kitchen. The smoothie recipe varies with supply and with the seasons. That day it was one avocado, two bananas, one pear, one peach, one cucumber, one head of lettuce, half bunch kale, quarter bunch parley, all but the rind of one lemon, and water to thin to a drinkable consistency.
We talked about a recent thunder and lightning storm and Buxton, describing the safety procedures on the farm said, “at the first sound of thunder all field crew know to come in. Even if that means that sometimes you’ve got to leave what you’re doing and get yourself to a safe house.”
Forty of Cedar Circle’s 50 plus acres are cultivated. Farm buildings, internal roads and trees and a 50’ buffer zone, one of the requirements of an organic farm, occupy the other 10 acres. On the Connecticut River edge there is a wildlife corridor of oaks and maples and native flora to create habitat and prevent erosion. Buxton told me that they knew “Deer, fox, groundhogs, raccoons, skunk and bears all use the corridor.”
Three draft horses live, and are used for work, on the farm.
“As part of our ecological mission we are working toward horse drawn agricultural in order to reduce petroleum use,” Buxton said. “Currently, in addition to using the horses we use nine tractors as well.” (http://cedarcirclefarm.org/on-farm-energy/#horsepower)
Buxton works on all the community outreach programs.
“We have lots of families that come here to spend the afternoon, strolling, picking berries (on the traditional Vermont honor system),” she said. “We have lots of events, Dinner in the Field happens once or twice a year; we have a harvest festival, a strawberry festival and a pumpkin festival. We’ve had over 1000 people come to the festivals. The festivals feature music, education tables, horse drawn wagon rides and, of course, food and produce. There is no entry free for those who come by foot or by bike. There is a $5 parking fee if people come in their cars. We are also part of the Tour de Taste, a recreational bicycle event with stops for good food at farms along the way.
“We offer gardening and cooking classes, the fees depend on the length of the classes,” she said. “We hold free community garden clinics in Thetford and White River and we sponsor the school garden at Thetford Elementary where we teach a ‘food loop’ from seed starting through planting, garden care, and harvesting. Then the produce the kids have grown goes into the cafeteria and they love eating the food they’ve grown themselves. Garden waste goes into compost and the compost is used for the next season’s garden, hence a ‘food loop.’ Crispy kale is now a favorite at the school cafeteria!” (http://cedarcirclefarm.org/recipes/view/crispy-kale/)
In talking about the future, Buxton said, “Our mission is large. We want to stay on the same track but we don’t want to get too big because that wouldn’t be sustainable.”
Alison Baker and Justin Barrett were the chefs of the Dinner in the Field al fresco banquet at Cedar Circle Farms. Baker is the Kitchen Manager at the farm and Barrett is the founder of Piecemeal, a local enterprise in community driven food. Barrett trained in architecture before focusing his talents on sustainable food, working in Portland, Oregon and in Manhattan before coming to Vermont.
Long, trestle tables were placed end to end on a grassy lawn with rows of crops abutting one edge and a horse paddock at the far end. Draft horses, used for pulling plows on the farm, were munching away on the grass in their paddock.
About 25 happily anticipatory people sat at the tables; among them a professor from Dartmouth, a banker from the Netherlands, a holistic health coach, volunteers from the farm, the director of online education at Dartmouth Medical School, a local housecleaner, locals and vacationing families, all looking forward to a dinner showing off the splendor of locovore, the name given to the choice to eat local, sustainably grown food. Alison Baker welcomed us, sharing her pleasure with everyone sitting down together, outside in the light of early evening, and next to the field where the food is grown.
A festive mood, created by the gorgeous day, the glamorous farm where all was perfection. The air was soft, the breeze gentle, the blue sky painted with the pinks and yellows of the coming sunset and the soft whites of occasional clouds.
The dinner, delicious and local and communal represented the antithesis of most of the food grown in the United States. Will Allen describes that food, “So much of what we eat is at its core fossil fueled. Let’s begin with fertilizer. Fossil fuels power the nitrogen manufacturing plants. U.S. farmers use more than 24 billion pounds of nitrogen fertilizer every year. To manufacture that nitrogen more than 660 billion pounds of nitrous oxide are released. Nitrous oxide is 300 times more destructive as a greenhouse gas than CO2. Two-thirds of our drinking water is contaminated with nitrogen fertilizer runoff. More than 400 oceanic dead zones are caused by nitrogen fertilizer runoff. Growing the crops in the U.S., which are mostly for animals, requires enormous amounts of fossil fuel for tractors, swathers, combines, and dryers. After the crops for feed or human food are harvested they are shipped 1500 to 3000 miles, using more fossil fuel. Shipping and storage require cooling and freezing, and more fossil fuel. Clearly, this is not endlessly sustainable.
So the challenge is before us and the danger is clear. Food that is grown with petrochemicals is harmful to our health and the health of our soil and water. That is the message. Now it is up to us to do our part. We are the consumers, if we let the places where we buy food and go out for food know we want sustainably grown food, food grown without petrochemicals, they will respond and we will be able to complete the farm to table cycle for healthy food.
Let us support our local farmers, going to farmers markets for our produce, buying locally, supporting restaurants and markets that carry local, sustainable and organic foods.
Alison Baker, as she and Justin Barrett were being applauded at the end of this summer’s Dinner in the Field, said, “There is no end to the deliciousness possible with local food, sustainably grown.”