Uber-Local: The Summer Farmstand

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

Photographed by Daria Bishop.

One of the joys of summer in Vermont is rounding a corner in a road and seeing up ahead a cart piled high with glossy tomatoes and cucumbers and a sign advertising fresh eggs. A part of the Vermont scene for generations, farmstands flourish here, some having become so large and well-established that you can check off everything on your grocery list. Here are a few of our favorites:

1. Over 35 years ago in central Vermont, Tim and Janet Taylor bought 15 acres — but the lawyer and teacher had no plans to farm professionally. “Our big garden became a small farm,” says Tim. “Our first farmstand was a card table.” Today, Crossroad Farm in Post Mills cultivates asparagus to melons on 45 acres with a peak summer crew of about two dozen employees, five or six of whom are dedicated to the farmstand. “When we started, we used to literally run from the eld to help customers,” Janet says. The couple, both 64, is starting to think about transitioning the business to their farm manager, who has worked for them on and off since he was 14. The farmstand provides balance to wholesale accounts, including restaurants and local summer camps, Janet explains, as well as constant, direct customer feedback. Their airy, timber-frame stand surrounded by beautiful landscaping rose from the ashes of one that burned down a decade ago. There was a silver lining, the couple reflects. “By 10 a.m., neighbors had rallied to help put up a temporary stand,” Tim says. His wife recalls: “A longtime customer said, ‘I’m really glad you rebuilt the stand because that means you’re here to stay.’”

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2. Situated on a well-traveled stretch of Oak Hill Road in Williston, Scratch ’n Earth’s compact wooden farmstand is filled with produce they grow on a few acres behind it. Becca Bergeron and Jon O’Connor, both 35, returned to Vermont in 2007 from upstate New York where the couple had considered starting their own farm. “Land is cheap there,” Bergeron says, “but there are no people to buy stuff.”

Back in Chittenden County, they started knocking on doors looking for land to cultivate. Eventually they were able to buy just under 15 acres with an old barn and — the clincher — 800 feet of road frontage along a busy commuter route. Easy-to-read wooden signage updates drivers on the day’s offerings while cheerful pick-your-own sunflowers beckon. “People like to see this in their neighborhood,” says Bergeron. “When they stop, they say, ‘I saw you plowing, [or] I saw the corn coming up …’ Some people leave $20 on Monday and get corn every night on the way home.” The couple has steadily built a following, but each still works another job. The Mr. Potato Head watching over the cash box is their only helper.

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3. A table of fresh organic vegetables set up under a maple tree launched Clear Brook Farm in Shaftsbury back in 1995. “Local extension agents told me no one around here would buy organic, that I was crazy,” recalls Andrew Knafel, 49, as he restocks corn with his 11-year-old son. “I think the farmstand helped. It allowed us to interact and have a conversation.” Clear Brook is now a one-stop shopping destination boasting a 1,000-square-foot stand built with beams from the property’s 19th-century barn and stocked with everything from the farm’s own certified organic vegetables and apricots grown just across the New York border to Vermont cheeses, locally roasted coffee, freshly baked pies and even bananas from nowhere close. “We grow all that we can,” Knafel says, “and try to source as much else as we can from around here.” In addition to cultivating vegetables, Knafel believes in cultivating relationships, including those with about 30 employees, all locals. “The farmstand is important partly because it is a gathering place,” he explains. “People run into friends. There’s always a social line going on as well as a sales line.” This year, Clear Brook has also planned talks and workshops on topics like planning a home garden and preserving. It’s nice for the crew, Knafel says, to come in from the fields to the farmstand buzzing with customers: “They can see their hard work makes people happy.”

Melissa Pasanen

Melissa Pasanen

Contact Melissa Pasanen at mpasanen@aol.com and follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TasteofVermont.

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