by Libby Collier
A Pennsylvania native, I came to the Green Mountain State for school in 2013. I knew little about Vermont except for its shape, and I only knew that because of my exposure to it on the side of the maple syrup bottle my mother would serve with her silver dollar pancakes.
But after four years in college there, Vermont has become my home, familiar and comfortable. The landscape and the people alike cultivate a sense of collective welcome and warmth. Even in winter’s sub-zero temperatures, when the trees are bare and the winds off Lake Champlain cut through layers upon layers of clothing, the cerulean sky reminds you of Vermont’s steamy summer days, and you can find refuge in a cozy coffee shop with a wood-burning fire with good friends.
Every town in Vermont has something to offer. Though I’m most familiar with Burlington — a vibrant college town just under an hour from the Canadian border — I’ve explored different parts of the state over the years. About two and a half hours south of Burlington is the rural town of Putney.
Despite its small size, Putney is known throughout the state for its apples and syrup, for its well-renowned schools, and as the governor’s hometown. As you drive through into Putney, lush fields and farmland flank dirt roads. In autumn, its trees become a vibrant yellow and orange canopy, and the roads transform into tunnels of flickering color.
Putney’s homes have been passed down from generation to generation, along with its small-town traditions: people still go physically carol from door to door, and every summer, there are concerts on the green. The community is so tight-knit in Putney that even if you’re only there for a visit, you’ll pass the same familiar faces going about town. You can only imagine how familiar those faces must be to Putney families, who’ve lived there for decades.
This summer, I visited my partner and his family in Putney, and we took a trip to the neighboring town of Brattleboro to their farmers market. The Brattleboro Area Farmers Market takes place every Saturday from May through October, and on this particular July Saturday, cars filled the parking area despite cloudy weather.
Instead of typical market tents, the vendors here set up at wooden structures with roofs of wood and tin. Each table was decorated with the shades of summer: candy-red strawberries, chartreuse lettuce with flecks of emerald and viridian; carrots and radishes vibrant as though they’d been dipped into buckets of paint.
I made my way down the tables, sampling whatever was available — and then I came to a particularly breathtaking table. The Tavernier Chocolate stand sold sculptures of artfully crafted chocolate, textured and speckled with color. Chocolate bars were carefully ornamented with dried berries, flowers, seeds, salts, and nuts — their Brattlebar, for example, boasted dried goji berries and raw pumpkin, hemp, and chia seeds embedded in 70% Venezuelan dark chocolate.
But it was their Chocolate Charcuterie that really caught my attention. Various chocolate pâtés were designed to adorn a cheeseboard, or to be enjoyed on their own “charcuterie” dessert board. Their chocolate salami was made up of rosemary shortbread pieces, marsala-marinated dried black mission figs, and roasted hazelnuts, dusted with organic powdered sugar. All of their sliceable chocolates were wrapped in butcher paper and delicately tied with twine.
But despite the wonderfully overwhelming chocolate table, and although there were many more delectable edibles there that morning, it was the energy of the market that made it so remarkable. Neighbors, family, and friends stood in pleasant conversation, or sat to enjoy the renowned Thai chicken sticks from Anon’s Thai Cuisine. (The family-owned business has been in attendance at the market since 1984.) Children played in the middle of market grounds as their families looked on, relaxed and happy.
I left the market feeling refreshed by my trip back to Vermont, and particularly to the market. The Brattleboro market embodies Vermont in its entirety: above all else, Vermonters value their connections to their community and to the land. Every stand had products made with care and quality in mind, and the people who made them were eager to connect and tell you about them. Vermonters across the state share that spirit. It’s what allows a small Saturday market to leave a warm and lasting impression.
by Libby Collier
Miniature spoons and stained fingertips are my most vivid memories from my first farmer’s market experience, following my mother’s khaki-colored shorts through a farmer’s market in Lakewood, Washington. My siblings and I scanned every surface for free samples, and found plenty.
The market became part of our weekend routine. Sunny days meant the market tables would be partitioned by the aromas of tomatoes, caramels, and herbs. Other days featured the famous Pacific Northwest rain, marinating the market in a fresh green scent. Even now, the smell of warm peaches and rain-rinsed flowers still drift to the surface of my memory.
Throughout my life and the different places I’ve lived and traveled, I’ve found myself perusing avenues created by tents and tables, colored with crates of locally grown fruit and vegetables. While studying in New Zealand, though everything else was foreign to me, I was comforted by the familiarity of the weekly market and its ability to make me feel connected to my home in the US. Conversations overflowed each table, running into the next tent as I walked along rows of vendors selling handmade jams and jars of honey. Occasionally, I would stop noticing the Kiwi accent, and I would travel over 9,000 miles in an instant. The sounds and smells of the Wellington farmer’s market could transport me to the other side of the world: I was back in my college town market in Vermont, watching a group of bees hover over a maple cookie. I was navigating the Lakewood market with my family and friends back home.
But even as I spoke with farmers and vendors in New Zealand, the distance between my life there and my life in the US continued to shrink. I met neighbors that lived on my street and students who had already become friends with my American peers. In turn, my American friends in New Zealand had connections to relatives or classmates of mine from back home. I was able to effortlessly cultivate a network between international populations. The farmer’s market was a touchpoint that linked social constellations across the world.
As a recent college graduate, I’m becoming accustomed to my environment constantly changing. In May, I packed four years of college into a few dilapidated boxes and cumbersome three-dollar Tupperware containers. My empty room felt eerie, and the process of packing seemed like a metaphor for post-graduate life: disheveled and unstable. I left the comforts of Vermont and the reassuring faces of my friends and professors for New York City. I quickly felt the absence of a social network. Beyond the academics, schools provide a rich curriculum of relationships that’s lost when you leave.
After days of fleeting interactions in New York with individuals in my apartment building and coffee shops, I felt consoled by the sight of the Union Square Market. Four times a week, vendors from the city, as well as farmers from New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and other neighboring states, meet in this park in Manhattan.
Wandering the stands, I sampled Andrew’s Honey, made from the “rooftops, balconies, and community gardens of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens.” Silver tops of glass jars reflected orange and red next to bunches of radiant tomatoes. The concrete hexagons of Union Square worked as a blank canvas, deepening the hues of purple kohlrabi, making radishes an alizarin crimson. Kids gathered under the Union Square Greenmarket tent, passing various root vegetables, listening to each of their distinctions. A wooden sign displaying “watercress, lettuce, potatoes, ramps” in bright yellows, greens, and blues mirrored the jovial welcome of the vendor.
I left the Union Square market feeling connected to a community, full of refreshing conversation and samples of coffee cake alike. For the first time since I’d moved, I felt reassured that between the tall, daunting buildings of New York City, there were networks and neighbors to be found at the market.
by Libby Collier
On the coast of North Carolina, I followed a trail of sandy steps to find my way along a hiking path, only to find them obscured upon my return. Backpacking in British Columbia, an imprint of a hiking boot sunk deep within a pool of mud served as a warning to take an alternate route. In Vermont, I lifted my feet high over trenches of powdery snow to place them down into already packed prints, to save my energy and keep me from falling. This past summer in San Francisco, I found myself focusing on my steps again, carefully slowing my feet down a steep sidewalk on my way to the Richmond District Neighborhood Center.
The RDNC has a welcoming presence on 30th Avenue, with its landscaped grounds and personal touches. The center sits within a residential neighborhood made up of mostly minority groups, in a section of the city known for its wide range of multicultural architecture, shops, and eateries. Most staff members speak Cantonese, Vietnamese, or Spanish.
I was there to meet with executive director, Michelle Cusano and learn more about the programs offered at the RDNC. As we walked outside, the Thursday Food Pantry was in full swing. Over 300 people from the community had gathered to pick up enough fresh produce and other grocery staples to sustain their families for the upcoming week. The event was set up outdoors, akin to a farmers market, so that shoppers could maneuver around each table to select various produce, poultry, and family favorites like Annie’s Organic Mac & Cheese.
In another area, a group of students organized bags of groceries to deliver to local senior citizens with low mobility. Volunteers are paired up with the same individual each week, so that the program also facilitates consistency and new friendships.
The RDNC also offers a variety of programs for adults, youth, and families in the Richmond area. Youth programs range from weekend art workshops to urban gardening and after-school learning activities. The RDNC also provides opportunities for the wider community, such as wellness classes including Pilates, Tai Chi, and empowerment courses.
“Staycations” are a way for families to explore the city in which they live. Among the day-trip options, there are bike trips and kayaking in Sausalito. There are also overnight camping trips. In the spring, family cooking classes are offered at the RDNC with the goal of teaching families how to prepare healthy meals. Families leave every class with a bag of fresh produce.
Festivals, celebrations, blood drives, and fundraisers supplement the weekly programs and events. The programs at the RDNC encompass academics, art, and recreation; the center provides the nutrients that enrich the community as a whole.
The building itself is historically community-oriented, as it was founded in 1980 while residents of the Richmond area rallied to save a local school. It was then repurposed to become a maternity center and eventually an orphanage.
Today, the RDNC sees over 3,000 different footprints each week. You can see the indents of knees from community members working in the garden beds, and the imprints of feet along the soil paths. While the footprints at the RDNC are of varying shapes and sizes, they work in unison to foster community growth, inclusion, and support.
by Jordan Renouf
It was a Wednesday afternoon in mid July and I was on my way to a milk farm outside of Northampton, Massachusetts, in neighboring Hadley. Getting off I91 and crossing the Connecticut River which snakes its way through Western Mass, I arrived in what I can only assume is the hub of Hadley. Cute cafes and beautiful old New England homes seemed to be in a neck n’ neck race with the Dunkin’ Donuts and Texas Roadhouses’ of the world. Running directly through Hadley, Russell street certainly guaranteed to take care of all of my consumer needs but that was not why I was here and as I took a right turn onto Mill Valley Road, I knew that what I had come for was not far.
The moment you arrive on Mill Valley Road, you have landed in a different world. On a slow-moving, two lane road I made my way past cows grazing, corn reaching for the sky and white barns that looked to be older than many of the large oak trees dotted throughout the flat valley. Arriving at a four way stop, I saw what I had been looking for: a large sign with the emblem of a rooster standing atop a barn in front of a rising sun, all framed by the words “Mill Valley Milk Company”. It was a hot day and as I pulled off the road I saw two men with their shirts off and gloves on, heaving hay off a large wagon onto a bale elevator to the 2nd floor of Mill Valley’s large barn beside the road. As I stepped from my car and made to enter the small attached store, I could hear the men joking in ominous voices about the still half-full wagon and the dark storm clouds looming in the distance.
I entered the small store and was told by the young woman working the register to head through a door in the back leading to the barn. On the other side I found Bruce Jenks, the man I was scheduled to meet, pumping a blue liquid into a large cow’s mouth. After firmly shaking my hand, he resumed pumping and explained to me that on especially hot days, many of the cows need extra electrolytes to stay hydrated. The contents of the large bucket was basically gatorade and the pump was to ensure that the overheated cows did not skip on this addition to their summer diet.
With the bucket empty, Bruce walked to the end of the barn and swung open a large door to let in the other six cows still to be milked that day. Bustling past Bruce with feigned indifference, it was clear each cow had a personality and preferences which had to be accommodated for by their farmer. The hungry cows made their way to a spot in the lineup, obediently stuck their heads through the metal grate, and began to eat their allotted hay.
As the seven cows began to eat, Bruce took a knee next to Renegade and began to manually milk her. He showed me the pressure build up in her udders and lamented the discomfort this must be for her. With his two bare hands, he rubbed cream on her fore udder and gently massaged it as she ate. Attaching the small automatic milking device to each teat, he spoke to her in reassuring words as the machine was turned on and began to hum. Renegade was merely the first to get Bruce’s personal attention and it was with this care I saw him interact with each heifer. Some were rubbed down and given appreciative head scratches as they agreeably ate their food and let the small milking machines do their work. Others were not so willing to conform and had to be persuaded by firm pats on their rump to keep their place along the line until the job was complete. As the milking began in unison, Bruce took his place at the rear of one of the larger cows, dark tan in color and named Challenge. He assured me that she had been named long before her personality had fully emerged but now, as a fully grown adult, she had certainly lived up to this title. With the machine whirring beneath her, Bruce explained that Challenge only agreed to be milked when she was being rubbed. This stubbornness may have come from some inherited arrogance as Challenge’s mom had been deemed the 2nd best cow in the world years back at the annual Wisconsin fair. Recounting the story, Bruce’s hands began to slow and eventually fall from the large cow’s back. No sooner had they returned to his pockets did Challenge stop her eating and in one swift kick, buck the small machine from her teats. Laughing, Bruce reattached it and scolded her with fake disapproval as he returned to his rubbing.
It had begun to rain outside and claps of thunder caused only brief pause for the heifers who were now fully immersed in their mid day snacks. With the milking done, it was time for the barn to be vacated and cleaned. As they moved away from their spots, the cows revealed a small conveyor belt recessed in a foot-wide gutter in the floor which was designed to carry away their fresh dung. As I admired their precision and the efficiency of this system, Challenge, who had dawdled and was now the last to leave the barn, grunted and with a look of obstinance in Bruce’s direction, laid a large patty in nearly the exact place her head had been a minute ago - a full 6 feet from the preferred conveyer. With her work done and her reputation upheld, Challenge made for the rain with her tail flicking at nothing in particular, a signal Bruce quickly translated for me as a snide middle finger.
Bruce had grown up across the street with a father who ran their family farm. They’d started with calves who they used for a local 4H program which allows high schoolers first-hand experience in a variety of professions. As Bruce grew older the cows were moved into the barn they now inhabit and began producing raw milk at a rate of 5-8 gallons per day which far outpaced the direct needs they had for it on the farm. They began selling it locally and eventually creating ice cream. Today this ice cream is what allows for their farm to operate. It is not only sold in the small store attached to their barn but across the northeast in over 400 stores and scoop shops. The raw milk has a much smaller market but is loved by the surrounding community and sells out virtually everyday. The fridge which stands in the corner of their store and houses the glass milk bottles also holds a “sample” jug in order for newcomers to see what all the hype is about. The stories of its effect on people could fill a small book. Bruce himself drinks half a gallon a day and swears by its benefits. He tells me about a woman who comes by every week to restock her supply and recently told him that she had consumed nothing else for a month. Every time hunger struck, she’d drink a glass and by the month’s end had lost 25 pounds.
Although Bruce is quick to dismiss the label of ‘dairy farmer’, as his modest roster of cows hovers around 30, this title seems better suited to him than to many others in his field. Dairy farms across America often have their sights set on the eventual goal of selling. Starting locally, they expand to become a regional player and eventually come to sell their products across the country. It is at this point, with thousands of dairy cattle and their product on store shelves from coast to coast, that they will sell to a dairy conglomerate. This trajectory is not a dream of Bruce’s. As he reminds me many times throughout my two hour visit, his drive is to keep the cows that he lovingly refers to as “his girls”. He has found a product in ice cream which not only provides smiles across the northeast but also allows him to continue doing what he loves. A farm with the eventual goal to sell operates much differently than the one Bruce runs. Here in the Mill Valley, “the girls” are allowed the dignity to live full lives and die a natural death, often close to 20 years. Expensive veterinarian visits are happily paid for so that Bruce can be confident his cows are comfortable and content.
It’s with this same care that Bruce interacts with the visitors to his farm. As the rain began to slow and I prepared to leave, Bruce exclaimed that he would not let me go empty handed, despite my protests. Excitedly moving from barn to store and finally, to his truck, he found a medium sized cooler. Back in the store with the cooler having just been hosed and wiped down outside, Bruce moved between refrigerators grabbing cheese curds, local kombucha, mozzarella balls, a pint of raw milk, blueberry donut holes and a whopping 5 pints of ice cream with flavors ranging from coffee to blueberry lemon cheesecake. He arranged the treats nicely in the cooler for me, all the while batting away my many thanks. Saying goodbye and promising to return soon, I made to leave and over my shoulder heard an out-of-stater lamenting that the raw milk refrigerator was now empty. Bruce, hearing the same, jumped into action and disappeared through a side door. Minutes later he returned, wiping down a glass jug of pearly white milk. Handing over the gallon to the thankful New Yorkers he accepted their thanks and said with the voice of someone who loves his job: “Doesn’t get any fresher than that! That was grass an hour ago!”.
I left Mill Valley Milk Farm with that rare feeling one gets when they meet someone like Bruce. A feeling of confusion that, had I never heard of his farm, I could have gone my entire life without ever having met this man. Bruce and the beautiful little world he runs would have existed regardless of me and yet, I would not have been granted the pleasure of stepping into it for two short hours. Late that night as my girlfriend and I taste tested the ice cream we had been gifted, I felt thankful for Bruce. The kindness he gives to animals, the focus he puts on his community and of course, the deliciously creamy dessert he’d filled my freezer with.
by Jordan Renouf
It was Saturday morning in mid July and I awoke early with my mind abuzz, already hatching a plan for the day. No matter where one finds themselves in Vermont, Saturdays are special as these are the days that most of the state’s farmers’ markets take place. Today I planned to make the 15 minute drive into Brattleboro for its weekly gathering which takes place from 9am to 2pm. I was on a quest to revisit an event which had been a foundational part of my early life but which I had not returned to in many years.
Before hitting the hay the night before, I brewed a fresh cup of coffee, carefully transferred it into a large mason jar and set this to the back of the refrigerator to rest for the night. Now, with the dawn of the weekend morning and a few eggs from the coop next door scrambled and eaten, I threw ice cubes in the jar, splashed in some milk and made my way to the car with a wonderfully chilled ice coffee in hand. Driving into town with the fresh caffeine doing its best to replace my introversion with an excitement to talk with my fellow market goers, I began to retrace my history with the Brattleboro farmers’ market.
When I was young I would attend the farmers’ market alongside my parents. I remember the sense of adventure I would feel as we entered the market, abuzz with activity. Being of the wonderful age where familiar adults could still be ignored without seeming rude, I would run through the market with friends finding trees to climb and stalls to disappear behind when girls appeared. These were some of my earliest opportunities to be free of my parents, as they knew that I would be safe within the boundaries of a tract of land no bigger than my backyard. At last I was independent, making bold decisions, moving outside of their radar - all with the nervous excitement that accompanies the innocence of that age. These early encounters with autonomy were made possible by the microcosm of society that the farmers’ market is. It was here that I would bring my hard-earned chore money and make purchases without disapproving looks from above. Here that I had my first interactions with adults that were not prompted or mediated by others. Here that decisions of caution and safety were left up to those of us who found ourselves with a friend’s bloodied knee or a raging river to be crossed. Farmers’ markets provided the early instruction into what is required when you are on your own. While adult life was still far in the future, the waxing independence that accompanies the transition into early teenage years was right around the corner and the market provided an exciting glimpse into these approaching days.
Fast forward to 2019 and adulthood had long been upon me. Arriving at the turn off to the farmers’ market and quickly spotting a recently vacated grass covered parking spot, I pulled in and made my way towards the nearby hum of activity. Walking under a white 2x4 with painted blue lettering marking the entrance, I found myself at a corner of the rectangular market. The market’s perimeter is made up of canopied stalls with exposed wood framing. Some are built with large counters to display goods while others have folding tables with brightly colored cloth coverings. Stepping into the gentle stream of people making their way around the market, I saw vaguely familiar faces, both young and old, aged 10 years since our last meeting. There were tourists too, having made their way off Interstate 91 and stumbled upon the gathering, moving around the market with wide eyes and curious stares.
Lazily making my way from booth to booth I stopped at Gilles’ Baguettes where a young father is tearing apart a small roll for his toddler to eat as he pays. I introduce myself to Charlie, a twenty-something year old behind the counter, and learn that his father started the business and has steadily transitioned their home into a bakery. He shows me the bread they make, styled after the French, and the pastries he offers which are made by the woman selling jewelry next-door. It’s a quick conversation and I make my way further down the row to ‘Wingrate Farm’ which advertises itself as a “Women owned & operated” organic farm. Here Susie Park-Sutherland moves between baskets of veggies, answering questions and waving to passersby. Wearing a grey sleeveless T, a low brim baseball cap, and a tan to match her profession she explains to me the journey she and a friend have been on over the past 6 years in operating their 1.5 acre farm and recently hiring on their first employee. With 1,100 pasture raised laying hens, Susie’s largest markets are the wealthy suburbs of Boston and NYC, where “free-range” and “Vermont-raised” can still command a premium price. The Brattleboro market, however, is still the best way to sell her variety of vegetables as they’re at their freshest when sold locally. While we chat, Susie continues weighing veggies and exchanging cash with patrons. After selecting turnips, radishes and a large bunch of kale, one man bashfully admits he has forgotten his bags at home. Asking if Susie has any, he laments the use of plastic all the while assuring her that he will reuse the small grocery bag she has given him. Noticing my recorder as he makes to leave, the older man proudly informs me that these are the finest salad turnups around. By now, a line has queued up and I move on to let Susie get back to business.
Making my way around the famously long line in front of the “Fresh Squeezed Lemonade” booth, I enter Dwight Miller Orchards farm stand, intent on finding the fresh strawberries that I’ve been waiting for all year. Here Ruth Miller, a mid-twenties woman stands between low shelves of fruit on her right and aluminum maple syrup containers on her left. She regretfully informs me that all of her beautiful strawberries were sold out but raspberry season was right around the corner if I come back next week. As I look around the stand, Ruth points me to her jams and explains that a good chunk of her business comes from using her farm-grown fruits and vegetables to make “value-added products” like jam, maple treats and cider vinegar. I ask Ruth what her favorite part about selling at farmers’ markets is and without hesitation she replies that the EBT program is what makes this special for her. The State of Vermont has created a unique food program for those in need which provides a debit card and monthly balance for food so that all in the state are guaranteed three square meals. Partnering with the State’s farmers’ markets has meant that EBT recipients can use this money, in the form of small wooden tokens worth $1 each, to purchase healthy, nutrient dense food - all while supporting local producers. At the Brattleboro market, virtually every single stand had a welcoming “We Accept EBT Tokens” sign pinned at the front. It is through this program that Vermont signals its belief that healthy, local food is a human right and not a privilege. While in many places, certain food markets are exclusive based on the purchasing power of individuals, Vermonters in need have the dignity and freedom to shop for whatever food they wish. In the small microcosm that is Vermont, we see the potential for programs which uphold human liberty and foster community inclusivity.
By now the sun was high in sky and a rare 90 degree day had fully arrived. As I make my way to the corner of the market where I had entered, I stop at a small folding table with a darker skinned man in his late 40s contently sitting cross legged behind. This was Bigan and as I introduce myself he welcomes me behind his table to take a seat on a wood, Windsor-style chair. Bigan was an Iranian man who had moved to the States in 1985 and had lived in Vermont ever since. He shows me the beautiful, multi-colored bars of soap he was selling at $3 a piece and then points to the chairs we were seated on. These he hand made and sold at a few local farmers’ markets in Windham County, Vermont. He explains to me how he was usually able to make ends meet with these homemade products but when money ran low, most often in the winter, he’d drive a cab in Brattleboro to make some extra cash. He enjoyed this occasional seasonal gig as it allowed him to meet new people and explore Windham County. I asked if he had returned to Iran since his coming here and he replied with a soft smile and a shaking of his head, “I could go back but I might end up being a guest of the State”.
It was closing in on 2pm and the caffeine buzz from the morning had been replaced with a vague tiredness from the hot sun. Bigan and I leave the stand together, him walking barefoot and with a slow ease in the direction of the lemonade stand, me out the exit and towards my car.