Over the summer, City Market organizes farm tours where we bring community members to different local farms across the state to learn about and gain a deeper understanding of where our food comes from. On Friday, June 15th City Market staff and participants gathered at our Downtown store to begin a full day of farm tour fun where we visited two of our vendors, The Farm Between and Lewis Creek Farm.
Our first stop was located not far from Smugglers Notch in Jeffersonville. We arrived and were greeted by John Hayden, co-owner of The Farm Between. You might have seen John and his wife Nancy at the Burlington Farmers’ Market selling snow cones with delicious organic fruit syrup made from berries grown on their farm! It was an ideal summer day, not too hot and not too chilly. To start, John gave a quick overview and explained how the farm has evolved over the years. Long before John and Nancy were on the farm it had been a long-time dairy operation. They bought the farm in 1992 where they started with livestock and diversified vegetable farming but over the years have transitioned away from veggies and livestock and now specialize in cold hardy organic fruits, running a fruit nursery, and maintaining a 14-acre pollinator sanctuary.
We walked around the property and John pointed out a number of native trees and shrubs that help to maintain and strengthen the natural ecology of the land. Over the years, John and Nancy have cultivated over 30 types of fruit! We tasted some honeyberries which look like stretched out blueberries and are not overly sweet, but still very tasty. John also pointed out aronia berries, which contain the highest amount of antioxidants of any berry. Very quickly you realize their land is not the clean cut, romanticized Vermont farm you see on postcards. There are weeds growing around the fruit trees and rhubarb plants growing next to black currant bushes. But, this “wild horticulture” as John described it, is exactly the way he believes in growing food. Due to the wide variety of trees and shrubs, this is the perfect habitat for pollinators. Every fruit tree or shrub has its place and was planted with the intention of supporting the other plants around it.
After the farm tour, we went up to Nancy’s gallery. Nancy is incredibly talented and creates art out of fiber, natural dyes and recycled materials to form unique and visually complex pieces. One example that stood out was a mask made out of a squash gourd!
We finished our time at The Farm Between with organic fruit sodas using fruit syrups that John and Nancy make on the farm. The refreshing flavors of the strawberry/rhubarb and aronia cider hit the spot and were the perfect end to our time there.
Happy and refreshed we got back in the van and headed towards Starksboro where our second stop was located. Lewis Creek Farm is owned by Hank Bissell. Hank bought the farm in 1981 and the land has evolved quite a bit over the 40 years he has been managing it, but today it is a booming diversified fruit and vegetable farm. Hank spoke about the importance of developing and maintaining relationships with restaurants, retailors like City Market, and with one on one customers through weekly farmers markets. Strong relationships with folks who care about where their food comes from is how he described building his business to what it is today.
After introductions, Hank took us on a walk down to one of the vegetable fields. We walked through Lewis Creek, which is where the farm gets its name from. The creek runs through different parts of the farm land and is the water source they use to irrigate the fields when needed. We had the option to take off our shoes and wade through the crystal clear, refreshing water or use the stepping stones to make our way across. It was absolutely delightful!
While looking out at the vast field, Hank explained that while his crops are not certified organic, he considers them ecologically grown. This means that most of their food is not sprayed but when they do use sprays, they are approved as organic by the USDA. If you want to learn more, check out the Vermont Ecologically Grown set of Standards.
After questions had been answered, we made our way back across the creek and to a greenhouse to do some strawberry picking! Hank grows his strawberries in a greenhouse and swears that he will never do it any other way. The minute you stepped under the plastic covering and felt a wave of humid heat rush over you, you knew this was the perfect strawberry growing climate. Each participant had a chance to pick their very own strawberries to take home. Once each person had a full quart size container, we headed back to the van. We thanked Hank, said our goodbyes and headed back towards Burlington.
On the way back, the group had a chance to reflect on what they learned and/or enjoyed about the day. The responses ranged from the delicious fruit sodas to appreciating the chance to learn about a “new meaning to biodiversity”, and for others it was simply nice to get out Burlington and see the working landscape. Participants left inspired, satisfied, and excited about their handpicked local strawberries!
Farm tours are a great way to get to know the person growing your food, ask questions and dive deeper into the local food system. Be on the lookout for more farm tours, visits, and workshops by checking out our calendar here and save the date for a farm tour on August 17th during Open Farm Week!