Pick Your Own is OPEN ♥

Yes…Local as Usual, Safer than Ever.  

Pick Your Own strawberry farms opened this past weekend. Get out there and pick the delish! There is nothing like ripe berries. So good. Each berry that comes into season is better than the last. And Pick Your Own keeps the farms that feed us in business. If you are healthy, have cash flow, and are okay with the guidelines, you can impact local business success by picking strawberries and/or future PYO crops. A win-win. 

Here are the details on new guidelines for Pick Your Own, and remember, always call ahead before you go to be sure the farm’s PYO is open that day, as well as to familiarize yourself with the farm’s COVID-19 adaptations.

Pick Your Own is allowed in both New Hampshire and Vermont, and you can search for PYO farms in the Vital Communities Guide. New Hampshire farms have best practices from the state and Vermont farms have Guidance from the state, so you can be sure farm PYO guidelines are based on the known science and rules.

What is different this year: 

  • Kids under 13 may not be allowed to pick. As Edgewater Farm says, it’s the saddest rule ever. It’s the rule in Vermont and some New Hampshire PYO will be adopting the rule. It’s just hard for kids to stay in place, and not eat …
  • You may not be able to eat on site, including during picking. A rule in Vermont, possibly adopted at New Hampshire farms.
  • To create social distance, Vermont PYO must have no more than one person per 200 square feet of picking area, and people must maintain six feet of distance. Again, New Hampshire farms are largely following this rule. You may need to wait for space to open up before you can go into the fields, so get your patience ready.
  • Wear face coverings! It’s suggested, and farms are allowed to require it.
  • Picking containers will either be your clean ones from home, disposable ones provided by the farm for you to take home, and/or farm containers that stay on-farm and are disinfected after you use them. 

Upper Valley PYO includes currants, summer raspberries and fall raspberries, blueberries, pumpkins, apples, elderberries, flowers, and more. You can be sure we will announce each crop on Instagram as it comes in. 

To read the Guidance in Vermont, click here. To read the New Hampshire best practices, click here.

Berries: Delicious, versatile and in season now!

The Upper Valley berry season typically ranges from late June to early October. In our short, but fruitful season, we can enjoy raspberries and strawberries (although neither are technically real berries), then move into summer with black raspberries (aka black caps), currants, gooseberries, elderberries, blueberries, blackberries, and fall raspberries.

black raspberries to pick

At our place, at least one person exclaims “I ate more than I put in the bucket!”, a testimonial to the irresistible allure of the ripe, sun-sweetened fruits. With so many farms in the area cultivating these fruits and the luck of coming across wild or long-forgotten patches, harvesting enough berries for cooking and preserving isn’t usually too difficult to accomplish if you have the time and an empty container. Spending a morning at a pick your own farm is also a wonderful way to gather excess fruit for the winter, for those who can afford to do so. Fruit is also an allowable SNAP/3 Squares VT purchase, and most Upper Valley farmers markets will double SNAP dollars up to $10. That is, withdraw $10 of SNAP from your EBT card at the market tent, and the market will give you an additional $10 to spend on fruits and vegetables.

 Storing, washing, freezing and using berries is simple. Canning is another matter and your Extension website should have detailed information about safe canning methods.

 Storing and Washing Berries:

  1. Refrigerate right away. Chilling the berries for an hour or so before you wash them, helps keep these fragile, sun warmed fruits from falling apart under the water.
  2. Store on a shelf and NOT in the crisper or a drawer. Allowing air to circulate around the berries helps keep them fresher, longer.
  3. DO NOT rinse berries until you are ready to eat them.
  4. Rinse and drain in a colander. Do not soak or let them sit in water.

currants

Freezing Berries:

  1. Best Practice: Spread washed and dried berries on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper, in one layer, and freeze for several hours. Transfer frozen berries to a freezer-safe bag or container, removing air if possible, and keep frozen for several months.
  2. My Reality: Loosely pack into quart size freezer bags, remove air with a straw and seal tightly. Lay on side in freezer. Leave there for six months in the way back, under freezer-burned vanilla ice cream, before discovering during a frantic search for sugar one late night.

 

Tips for Use:

  • Eat fresh on everything.
  • Simmer a pint of berries, with sugar to taste, until the berries break down. Eat this sauce on everything.
  • Simmer a pint of berries, with sugar to taste, until the berries break down. Squeeze a bit of lemon or lime juice in there, strain out the solids and store in the refrigerator. Use this berry syrup in everything.
  • Use frozen berries in smoothies, pancakes, waffles, muffins, pie, cake, parfaits and fools.

A Letter To Our Upper Valley Schools

I hope this note finds you all healthy and adjusting to the routines of remote learning and teaching. I know my family and I are starting to feel a rhythm in our days and finding ourselves to be so grateful to be living in the Upper Valley. I wanted to reach out today with some resources for your schools around school meals and an opportunity to celebrate the amazing work that our school food service professionals are doing.

Friday, May 1 is National School Lunch Hero Day! Our school food service staff, as well as many others, have jumped to the rescue during the COVID-19 pandemic to provide students with delicious, nutritious, and thoughtful meals. This has been no easy task, and one that should be recognized and applauded. Join us in showing gratitude and appreciation to our lunch heroes. Look at the link provided above for creative ideas on how to celebrate them!

Believe it or not summer is just a couple of months away. I urge all our schools to start planning for their summer meal programs now. Unfortunately the USDA has not extended the waiver on the requirement that summer meals be congregant meals nor the waiver on the 50% free/reduced rate threshold to offer summer meals. These waivers are due to expire at the end of the school year. Both New Hampshire and Vermont have requests into the USDA to extend these waivers through the summer. I urge schools to start making plans to continue their feeding programs through the summer. Every day thousands of meals are going out to children across our region. If these meals were to stop, it would be an overwhelming burden on the already stressed food shelves in our region. Please reach out to us if you need assistance around these possible programmatic changes.

I wanted to connect you with some helpful resources from Hunger Free Vermont. One is a School Meal Stakeholder Tipsheet. This tipsheet is great to share with your educators to help them understand the role schools are currently playing and the other food access resources they could be sharing with their families. Hunger Free also has a School Meal Application Flyer that could be shared to encourage families to enroll in school meals and help your schools receive more funding and get you over the 50% mark in case the waivers are not extended. UNH Extension put together a Food Access Map. This is a fantastic tool to pass along to families so they can find food shelves in their area and volunteer opportunities.

We know these are difficult and stressful times. We are here to help. Please reach out and let us know if you need help with making these seasonal program shifts, want to connect to some local suppliers, or just need copies of the linked flyers.

I tip my hat to all of you and the important and courageous work you are doing everyday.

Beth Roy
Food & Farm Program Manager
Farm to School Coordinator

beth@vitalcommunities.org

802-291-9100x 105

Climate and Community Resilience: Lessons from the Soil

Climate and Community Resilience: Lessons from the Soil
Spring Community Webinar Series to Unpack What Creating Our Future Looks Like

What is good for the soil is good for our communities. Deep healthy soil governs flood resilience, clean water, strong local economies, and a myriad of ecological functions. Lessons from the soil–such as interdependence, biodiversity, and resource cycling–can help us to understand the past and create the future for the Upper Valley. In these times of great ecological, social,  and economic transformation, this series of six programs will unpack the science of whole systems landscape function, explore how land and society change together, and offer practical ways to engage with the land around you for community resilience and social justice. This series aims to expand the base of active “doers” who work together to build a more livable, resilient region and planet.

Find detailed information about content at Vermont Healthy Soils Coalition!

FREE and open to all. Registration encouraged.

REGISTER HERE

As a precaution to limit the spread of the Coronavirus and to safeguard the health and well-being of everyone, the series will be modified to a webinar format.

Strengthening community and providing space for people to connect and learn together has suddenly become a more urgent need. We need each other now more than ever. To increase accessibility and safety we will plan to host the entire series in webinar format using Zoom. When it becomes safe again to commune together publicly we will switch back to in-person gatherings. We will keep everyone informed to changes as the uncertain future unfolds. Please register to receive updates.

The Zoom web browser client will download automatically when anyone joins their first Zoom meeting. It is also available for manual download here: https://zoom.us/download

Earth’s Cycles: Foundations of Energy and Matter
Sunday, March 22, 3:30-6 pm

Framing the entire series, this event introduces cycles of energy and matter that create a livable planet. The soil health principles provide a lens to understand how systems work together and to identify points of intervention where changes have been – and can be – made to influence climate and ecology. 

Click here March 22 at 3:15 or after to join this webinar.


Historical Landscape: Learning from the Past
Sunday, April 5, 3:30-6 pm

Take a deep dive into the history of the Upper Valley to understand its watersheds, landscapes, climates, and inhabitants – and how they affect each other. Use the lessons of the past to envision a just future. 

Click here April 5 at 3:15 or after to join this webinar.


Here and Now: Human Impacts
Monday, April 13, 5:30-8 pm

The world today has been shaped by human decisions to rearrange Earth’s systems. Learn about how and why the world exists in its current unstable state and explore possibilities to make better decisions in the future.

Click here April 13 at 5:15 or after to join this webinar.


Systems Collapse: Climate and Ecological Crisis
Sunday, April 26, 3:30-6 pm

The environment is destabilizing, along with societies, economies, and cultures. Understand the collapse through various lenses to explore adaptation and avoid false solutions. 

Click here April 26 at 3:15 or after to joim this webinar.


Revolutionary Resilience: Creating a Different Future
Monday, May 4, 5:30-8 pm

With the understanding of the impacts of human decisions for the planet, explore the intersections of justice, land, and life. Work together to envision and create “what could be” in terms of a just future in the Upper Valley and beyond.

Click here May 4 at 5:15 or after to join this webinar.


Fertile Ground: Reclaiming Power and Possibility
TBD

This culminating event will bring us together on a local farm to reflect on the power of natural systems and community collaboration. Through discussion, activities and sharing with a team of change-makers and organizations from the region, explore what already exists and help realize next steps for the Upper Valley.

What is good for the soil is good for our communities. Deep healthy soil governs flood resilience, clean water, strong local economies, and a myriad of ecological functions. Lessons from the soil–such as interdependence, biodiversity, and resource cycling–can help us to understand the past and create the future for the Upper Valley. In these times of great ecological, social,  and economic transformation, this series of six programs will unpack the science of whole systems landscape function, explore how land and society change together, and offer practical ways to engage with the land around you for community resilience and social justice. 

This series will introduce the functions of Earth’s energy, water, carbon, and nutrient cycles. It will center lived experiences, sometimes difficult truths, and social and economic justice. Attendees will collaborate with various presenters and facilitators to explore information about the land and inhabitants in the Upper Valley at different periods throughout time – the past, present, and future. 

The format encourages an approach of thinking in whole systems rather than parts, of listening over speaking, of curiosity over knowing, and of participatory learning. A desired outcome is that people will take new ideas, new understandings, new questions, and new energies forward into the community to create positive change. This series aims to expand the base of active “doers” who work together toward a more livable, resilient region and planet.

 

Learn more at Vermont Healthy Soils Coalition!

Upper Valley Farm to School Forum: Trauma & Nutrition

Event Postponed

We will be rescheduling the forum

to the late spring or next fall

 

Upper Valley Farm to School Forum: Trauma & Nutrition

March 19 4:30-7pm

Sharon Elementary School

75 VT Route 132, Sharon, VT 05065

 

Join the Upper Valley Farm to School Network as we learn how past traumatic experiences experienced by students influence their relationship to food and the school nutrition programs they participate in.

The topic of trauma and nutrition is rich and multifaceted. In this session we will learn about what schools in Southeastern Vermont are doing to help their most vulnerable students be successful in the realm of food and nutrition. Listen to the voices of several VT youth with lived experience of trauma reflect on their experiences with school food, examine food access and universal meals as a method for reducing shame and stigma, and investigate cultural practices within schools that empower students and communities to come together in positive ways around food, such as school gardens and harvest dinners. Participants will leave with resources to support you in bringing concepts from this training back to your school community.

We are also very fortunate to be able to share a meal together during our training that will be prepared by Sharon Elementary’s Junior Iron Chef Team. Registration is free but required so we can make sure to make enough food.

 

 

Renewable Energy Funding for Farms and Small Businesses

Get the information you need to move forward with a renewable energy or energy efficiency project in Vermont or New Hampshire. Join Ken Yearman, Rural Development Energy Coordinator for Vermont and New Hampshire; a farmer who recently completed a REAP project; the solar company that completed that project; and Ana Mejia, Vital Communities Climate Projects Coordinator. Our workshop will be held in the Hanover Co-op Food Stores’ Co-op Learning Center which is inside the Co-op’s LEBANON location at 12 Centerra Parkway. Lunch included! Get all your questions answered and take action on your renewable energy or efficiency projects!

Join Vital Communities, Hanover Co-op Food Stores, and USDA Rural Development for a webinar and workshop series to learn about opportunities to fund renewable energy systems and energy efficiency projects with the REAP (Renewable Energy for America Program).

Attend both events or just one and learn how to use government grants and loans to reduce your energy cost and your carbon footprint.

  • Webinar: February 19, 11:30 am-12:30 pm. Get an overview of REAP grant and loan programs with Fred Petok and Ken Yearman from USDA Rural Development.
    View webinar presentation here
  • Workshop: February 24,  11:30 am-1:30 pm. Get the information you need to move forward with a renewable energy or energy efficiency project in Vermont or New Hampshire. Join Ken Yearman, Rural Development Energy Coordinator for Vermont and New Hampshire; a farmer who recently completed a REAP project; the solar company that completed that project; and Ana Mejia, Vital Communities Climate Projects Coordinator. Our workshop will be held in the Hanover Co-op Food Stores’ Co-op Learning Center which is inside the Co-op’s LEBANON location at 12 Centerra Parkway. Lunch included! Get all your questions answered and take action on your renewable energy or efficiency projects!  Workshop registration.

    This workshop is part of Vital Communities’ Farmer Climate Network. We can provide stipends to compensate Upper Valley farmers for their time to attend this workshop thanks to the Hanover Cooperative Community Fund. Contact nancy@vitalcommunities.org for details.

Canaan Keeps FarmRaisers Alive

Kale. Carrots. Beets. Potatoes. Powerkraut®!

These are just a few of the delightful local foods I’ve received from Root 5 Farm over the past few months as part of my fall FarmRaiser—a community-supported agriculture (CSA) fundraiser run by the Canaan Elementary School PTA that supports the school, the farm, and the idea of healthy, local eating in our community.

Vital Communities launched the FarmRaiser program in 2012 and coordinated it for several years before moving on to other projects. Canaan Elementary was among the first to adopt the program—and, according to Becka Warren at Vital Communities, who helped establish FarmRaisers in our region, it’s the very last school in the Upper Valley to keep the program going.

So why does Canaan bother?

It’s not a big fundraiser for the PTA—the school earned $600 for the 25 shares community members purchased this fall—but money isn’t the goal anyway, says PTA Secretary Hillary Gillies.

“The PTA loves it because it promotes local farms and foods and healthy eating,” says Canaan parent Kristen DeLeault, who for the past four years has coordinated the program. Kristen has worked hard to find partner farms—past partners Blue Ox Farm in Enfield and Autumn Harvest Farm in Grafton unfortunately went out of business. This year she coordinated a plan with Fairlee-based Root 5 Farm to personally pick up the FarmRaiser shares at their normal CSA pickup location in Lebanon and deliver them to Canaan Elementary. Her persistence and commitment have made the program possible.

“There aren’t many big farms nearby in New Hampshire that can sustain what we were hoping for,” Kristen says. “It’s not as local as we’d like, but it’s still in the Upper Valley.”

For Root 5 Farm, co-owner Danielle Allen says, the program just broke even financially. But it still made good business sense. “It was a great way to move product, especially in the fall when we have big harvests,” she said. “And we got exposure to a whole new set of customers without the farm having to do a lot of legwork.”

“It’s a lovely collaboration. It brings an awareness of farms and healthy food in our communities,” Danielle says. “It has all the good feels.”

“Canaan Elementary School continues to inspire us with its creative thinking about fundraising that is delicious, healthy, and local,” says Becka. “We love seeing the FarmRaiser continue all these years, and we hope other area schools consider whether it might work for their communities. It shows that eating local can take root at the earliest age (pun intended)!”

As a parent and FarmRaiser participant, I love that I can support my PTA and a local farm business all while getting something healthy and delicious for my family in exchange. My kids always look forward to FarmRaiser pickup day—and while they enjoy their fresh, local Kale Chips, I get to indulge in some delicious and simple Curried Carrot and Coconut Soup!

Want to start a FarmRaiser in your school? Get started with our online resources.

Celebrate Farm to School Month With Our Fall Farm to School Forum

Meet Your Local Farm to School Network!

The Upper Valley Farm to School Network invites you to gather in your region to build local connections with peers and Farm to School practitioners, and access resources. Find support for your efforts to strengthen the work in your area. The gathering is FREE but please register. Yummy local food will be served!

Wednesday October 30th
4:30-7:00 pm
Willing Hands, 198 Church St, Norwich, VT 05055

Join Vital Communities for other events in our Fall Food & Farm Event Series.

Find other Farm to School fall Gatherings in Vermont.

From the State House to the Farm House

Calling all Vermont Farmers!

You’re invited to the second annual From the State House to the Farmhouse event on

Sunday September 22nd from 1-4 pm

and talk one-on-one with your legislators and influence policy.

Across the state legislators are invited to tour 14 host farms to celebrate the innovation and dedication of Vermont farmers while hearing directly from you about the challenges you face and the opportunities you are excited about. We hope the day is for sharing and listening as we work together to support a thriving ag economy and maintain a bright future for farming in Vermont!

RSVPs really appreciated: nancy@vitalcommunities.org

 

Two Upper Valley farms are hosting events on September 22: Richardson Farm in Hartland and Howling Wolf Farm in Randolph. Take advantage of this opportunity to join other farmers and talk with your state legislators and let your voice be heard.

This is a private event only open to farmers and legislators. Please RSVP to nancy@vitalcommunities.org  so the host farm can prepare.

April Meet-Up Series for Beginning Farmers

We have an exciting project for new farmers in the White River valley portion of our region! The High Meadows Fund is supporting a series of free peer-to-peer gatherings for beginning farmers to build community and learn. We are specifically organizing the series for new farmers in the White River valley, where there is a high density of beginning farmers. The goal of the project is to create a social network of new farmers to connect and share experiences in ways that support the success of their farm businesses. Each meet-up will feature a local expert with a short, casual presentation on an important, relevant topic. Each session also includes free dinner.

Wondering if you qualify? If you are a new or aspiring farmer who meets both criteria below, please come on out! Partners and little ones welcome, too.

  • 0-3 years of production under your belt

AND

  • Live in Randolph, Bethel, Tunbridge, Strafford, Royalton, Sharon, Hartford, and surrounding towns. This series is meant to build community within a particular sub-region. **If you live outside of the White River valley but want to participate in a similar meet-up series, let us know and we’ll see what we can do later this year!**

Find details for each session below. If this is something that interests you or if you know of other new farmers in the White River valley who might like to attend, please email lauren@vitalcommunities.org or call 802-291-9100 x107.

We’ll be meeting upstairs at (the new! the hip!) Babe‘s Bar in Bethel, Vermont for the first 3 meet-ups. The 4th meet-up will be held at the Bethel Arnold Block at 245 Main St in Bethel, VT. The meet-ups are free and dinner (pizza and salad from Cockadoodle) is on us!

Here’s the line-up:

1)  Monday, March 25, 5-7 pm. Theme: Business planning with Vital Communities’ Nancy LaRowe, who owned and operated Hogwash Farm (pastured pork, beef, chicken, and lamb) in Norwich for 15 years. She now supports local farmers with technical assistance and coordinates Vital Communities’ Local First program. Plus, a visit from Steve Mortillo of the White River Junction NRCD office, who’s looking forward to sharing information about the resources, including cost-sharing opportunities and incentives, that our NRCD district has on offer for local farmers. Location: Babe‘s Bar, Bethel.

2)  Monday, April 1, 5-7 pm. Theme: Community Revitalization with Michael Sacca from the Alliance for Vermont Communities, Abbe Meiling and Dee Gish from BALE (Building a Local Economy), Kirk White and Lylee Rauch-Kacenski from the Bethel Revitalization Initiative, and Zac Freeman and Morgan Easton from RASTA (Randolph Rochester Area Sports Trails Alliance). Come learn from this panel about the opportunities that exist in the White River valley for community revitalization and what they see for the future. This is less agriculture-focused, and bent more towards supporting the human side of your new(ish) farm operations–happy, engaged farmers in thriving communities are more likely to stay farmers! Location: Babe‘s Bar, Bethel.

3)  Thursday, April 4th, 3-5 pm. Theme: Pasture Management with Kimberly Hagan. Kimberly has owned and operated Osprey Hill Farm (grass fed lamb) for 30 years, and now serves as UVM Extension’s Grazing Specialist at the Center for Sustainable Agriculture. Pick-up some know-how as Kimberly runs through the ins and outs of pasture management and answers alllll your questions. Location: Babe‘s Bar, Bethel.

Location for final session: The Arnold Block, 245 Main Street, Bethel, VT

4)  Thursday, April 11, 5-7 pm. Theme: Chat with Charlie, a longtime Chelsea farmer, about his experiences over the years and his perspective on the path of local agriculture. Location: Arnold Block, 245 Main St, Bethel Vt.

—  —  —

We look forward to chatting, learning, and dining on good pizza with you all. Please RSVP to lauren@vitalcommunities.org if you plan to attend.

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