Harvesting Close to Home

Most of you are probably familiar with the “three sisters” companion planting technique, where corn, beans, and squash are planted together on a mound to reap mutually beneficial rewards. The corn provides a natural support for the beans, which love to climb toward the sun. The beans, in turn, have nitrogen-fixing bacteria living on their roots that supplement the soil. This makes corn happy, because it requires lots of nitrogen to grow! Finally, squash is planted around the base of the mounds. As it vines out along the ground, the squash’s large, flat leaves act as a living mulch, keeping the soil moist and weeds in check. Its prickly vines also help deter pesky animals.

Native Americans such as the Abenaki of the Champlain Valley practiced this form of agriculture for many hundreds of years, growing crops that stored well for the winter to supplement the wild foods they hunted and foraged. In the Intervale, you can find the Abenaki Heritage Garden proudly carrying on these traditions. Open to the public, the garden is close to the entrance of the Intervale, near the Calkins Farmhouse. It is planted with heirloom varieties of corn, beans, and squash that are well labeled and a joy to see growing in the very floodplain where Abenaki have practiced agriculture for generations. Learn more at a harvest celebration held on September 23rd. (For more details, go to www.intervale.org).

Another place you can find heirloom varieties of corn, beans, and squash well-suited to Vermont’s growing season is here at City Market. Our buyers in Produce and Bulk have been checking in with local growers all summer and are looking forward to bringing these crops into the store again this fall. We’ll be seeing squashes primarily from River Berry and Rockville Farms, as well as Lewis Creek and Pomykala. I like the fanciful names: Buttercup and Kabocha squashes (well-suited to roasting), the adorable Jack-Be-Little and Carnival squashes (so little, the kid in you will love them), and the smooth Red Kuri and Butternut squashes (perfect for soups).

Over in Bulk, we’re thrilled to once again be bringing in local yellow popping corn from Cosimo Brigante in North Hero and Early Riser cornmeal from Butterworks Farm in Westfield. Lynn Hazen from Island View Farm in North Hero is hoping for a good yield on his creamy and delicious Yellow-Eye beans, which are a little trickier to grow than the Black Turtle beans we are now able to stock year-round from a few different local sources. “The main challenge is working with gaps between seasons,” says Sean Flemming, our Bulk buyer. People expect different crops in different seasons in Produce, but not so much in Bulk. So as we get more local products in the Bulk bins, we’re hoping to educate shoppers about their seasonality (typically filling our bins from fall through spring) and also find products to cover the gaps that are as local or regional as possible.

In the meantime, try a variety of squash or bean you’ve never had before this fall, or better yet, make a meal of the three sisters together. The carbohydrates in cornmeal, protein in dried beans, and vitamins in squash complement each other nutritionally, and the local flavors can’t be beat.