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The Runaway General by Michael Hastings | Web Exclusive

Written by Vermont Life on . Posted in Web Exclusives

In the Summer 2013 edition of Vermont Life, Kim Asch profiles war reporter Michael Hastings, who graduated from Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington in 1998. In the profile, we reference Hasting’s controversial article about Gen. Stanley McChrystal. If you’d like to read the article, click here. Please note, as the article deals with war, it includes adult language.

Dreaming of Summer and My CSA

Written by Melissa Pasanen on . Posted in Taste of the Landscape

It’s that time of year when the warm, sunny days start to outnumber the grey, chilly ones … finally.

Spring and then, yes, even summer are coming, or so e-mail communications from my community-supported agriculture (CSA for short) farm assure me, promising my first pick-up in early June.

This is also the time of year when many people decide whether to re-up their CSA membership, look for another one that they think might better meet their needs, or decide that they prefer to get their locally grown produce and other foods through other channels.

We’ve belonged to the same CSA for more than a dozen years, heading down the Intervale in Burlington’s Old North End once a week from June through early October to pick up (and also sometimes, pick) our share of the weekly harvest. In the early years, our two sons came with me, reveling in the sandbox and later the old tire swing before “helping mommy” by grabbing fistfuls of sun-warm cherry tomatoes or hunting for raspberries and eating more than ended up in the basket. Now they’re busy teenagers and I can only occasionally convince them to tag along, but they do still appreciate those cherry tomatoes and raspberries— and even the Brussels sprouts.

The Intervale Community Farm was founded in 1990, making it one of the oldest CSAs in Vermont. It is different from many in that a co-op board governs the farm but it is run by hired farm managers; in other ways it’s pretty traditional. Generally, a CSA signs up paying members before each season to share the farm’s bounty, along with some of the upfront investment and risk. (It also saves the farmers having to market and sell their produce during the height of the busy growing season, although many still attend farmers’ markets and do some retail sales.) Members go to the farm for pick-up and, while there is some choice, generally they are allotted a specific quantity from among a number of options each week.

When everything goes well, members reap the rewards of a bountiful harvest, almost always paying less than they would at regular retail prices for equivalent products. Occasionally things don’t go so well, like in 2011 which, in the case of the Intervale, was waterlogged through late spring and came to a hard stop at the end of August with Tropical Storm Irene flooding. But that is part of the pact you make when you agree to support a particular farmer and it is a fairly rare occurrence.

Over the last 20 years, the number and variety of CSA’s have grown exponentially in Vermont and around the country. There are many who deliver their shares to local workplaces and other centralized locations. There are a number that also include products from different farms and regional food producers. Some provide free choice of produce and others offer discounts for paying ahead that can be applied to purchase whatever customers want in a given week. (Some of these are not technically CSA’s but they are all community-supported agriculture in some form or another.) Many, including ICF, now go almost year-round offering storage crops as well as hardy winter greens and even peak summer produce frozen, dried or canned.

While I’ve dabbled in other forms of CSA during the winter, my summers would just not be the same without my weekly pilgrimage down to the verdant Intervale to catch up with friends (including the farmers) around the piles of broccoli and sweet corn. Even when my desk is piled high with work, I have learned to welcome the forced break of leaving my computer to crouch among the green beans and listen to children giggling as they run through the raspberry patch. It’s a chance each week to connect directly with the source of my food and with a community that truly values local food and farmers.
E-mail Vermont Life food editor Melissa Pasanen or tell us what you’re thinking via Twitter or on our Facebook page.

If you’re looking for a CSA in Vermont, you can start with the lists at here and here. There is also a new service in development, available for Chittenden County only at this point, that allows you to search based on certain criteria for a CSA.

Get a Jump on Summer: Starting Seeds Indoors (Part 1)

Written by Julianne Puckett on . Posted in Taste of the Landscape

As spring is just around the corner (knock on wood) here in Vermont, I can finally let my thoughts turn again to gardening.

It’s difficult, over the course of the long winter, to think about next year’s garden when it feels like the cold and the snow might just last forever. But once March rolls around, I begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel and start planning my garden.

Each spring, I make a graph-paper map of my garden and decide what plants I’m going to put where, being mindful that most crops should be rotated around the garden space annually, rather than being replanted in the same place. At the end of the gardening season, I make notes on that map, delineating the successes and failures, yields, pest issues, amounts of mulch and compost used and any other significant items that I want to remember — because, if you’re like me, you can’t remember details from one month to the next, let alone from one year to the next. Then, in the spring, when I make my new plan, I consult the previous year’s notes and use those to guide my plant selection and placement.

A few weeks ago, I drew my plan for my 2013 garden and decided which vegetables I would grow. Now it’s time for the fun part: seed starting.

I’m fortunate that I don’t have to bother to spend time with seed catalogs over the winter months (although for some, this is gardening porn!) because I live right near Gardeners’ Supply, which carries an amazing variety of seeds from a myriad of companies, including several local ones. I just set aside one day as a “seed day” and go shopping for my packets.

Mind you, I didn’t always start my plants from seed. In my earliest gardens, I felt too much the novice to tackle seed starting so I simply bought seedlings from a local garden center and the farmers market. This is still a fine way to plant a garden but can present several issues:

  1. You are limited to only the varieties of vegetables and herbs that your supplier grew. If you want to try some unique heirloom tomato varieties, for example, they might not be available.
  2. If your garden is large or even medium sized (mine is 20′ by 26′), the cost of all those seedlings can really add up. For the price of a single potted seedling, you can buy an entire packet of seeds that will often yield rows and rows of plants.

Once I gained a little gardening confidence (and was reassured by my gardening pals and DIY websites that it isn’t difficult), I began starting my seeds indoors. I quickly became hooked, especially now that I live through much harsher winters, because the seeds I grow bring images of my garden and thoughts of warm summer days to mind sooner than the outdoor weather ever could.

And, even though I still consider myself a novice gardener, I want to share what I have learned, with the hope that I might inspire another novice to take the plunge and start her own seedlings this year. You can read my step-by-step getting started instructions, complete with how-to photographs, on my blog. Be sure to check back here at Vermont Life at the end of April for Part 2: Caring for Your Seedlings.

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