Harvest Abundance and the Changing Nature of Vermont Farmstands

We love buying local produce. It’s fresher and healthier than store-bought produce, and it isn’t as travel-worn. Some heirloom vegetables like Brandywine tomatoes and Lemon cucumbers are never found in supermarkets despite their superior flavor, simply because they are too tender to transport. If you want them, you’ll have to find them locally.

We have a CSA subscription at a local farm that provides us with a weekly helping of asparagus and greens in the spring, root vegetables and Brussels sprouts in the fall. But the best time is right now when the harvest is at the peak of abundance. There’s summer squash, hot peppers, sweet peppers, radishes, celery root, green beans, peas, herbs, and tomatoes galore.

If that’s not abundance enough, we also stop at roadside stands and farmers markets for “extras” like sweet corn, watermelon, cantaloupe, and clover honey. And that’s not all; nowadays Vermont farmers are growing an amazing variety of unexpected foods. On a busy Saturday, our local farmers market offers Hen-of-the-Woods mushrooms, spicy dilly beans, apple butter, long braids of garlic, fresh bread, chili pepper paste, and a hundred varieties of cheese. Not to mention ready-to-eat foods like barbecued chicken, paninis, empanadas, lentil salads, and chocolate pastries.

This trend from commodity produce to specialty foods makes good sense. Why sell your tomatoes in bulk to a wholesaler where they will get mashed up and mixed with the tomatoes from fifty other farms? Why sell your milk in bulk to a dairy that is paying the same price it did twenty years ago? Instead, those tomatoes and that milk can be made into a lovely grilled cheddar and tomato sandwich. A head of cabbage might fetch a $1; an equal amount of kimchee is $20.

Of course, these products cost a little more, but they are well worth the extra money—and every penny goes to the farmers. That means they can make a decent living instead of barely scraping by, and they don’t have to overwork the land. This is innovation we are happy to see, taste, and support.

Gardner, Cabot, Eliot and Lyman Orton
Proprietors of The Vermont Country Store