Vermont Liquors from Vermont Grains

One distiller I didn’t mention in this week’s Times-Argus story about local liquors is WhistlePig, based in Shoreham, Vermont.

WhistlePig Straight Rye Whiskey is a 100 percent rye, 100 proof whiskey. It’s currently made of Canadian whiskey and bottled in Shoreham, but WhistlePig is in the process of growing rye so that, eventually, the 10-year-aged whiskey will be able to call itself a Vermont rye whiskey.

Jay Bothwell, the Montpelier bartender who made nights at the old Black Door memorable, describes WhistlePig as “really smooth” and admires WhistlePig’s founder Raj Peter Bhakta for his approach to using the land in Shoreham.

“He’s taken over a farm and is seeding rye,” Bothwell notes. “He’s dedicated to continuity [of agriculture] in the use of the land.”

Caldonia Spirits* founder Todd Hardie, too, is looking to use Vermont grains–specifically, corn from Westfield’s Butterworks Farm–in future batches of whiskey. It will be interesting to see how Vermont distilling affects farmland use. Will large patches of land be preserved from development, to grow grains for mash? Time will tell.

*Caledonia Spirits will be offering tastings of its distilled beverages at the Montpelier Farmers Market on Saturday, January 7 (10am-2pm in the VCFA gym).

Happy new year, everyone!

Farmer Exchange: Wellspring’s Mimi Arnstein visits Cuba

For this week’s Bridge, I was fortunate to speak with Mimi Arnstein about her recent trip to Cuba to attend Third International Agroecology Conference, sponsored by the National Association of Small Farmers, a Cuban farming organization, and La Via Campesina, an international peasant movement. There wasn’t room in the paper to run all the great stories she shared with me, so here’s more:

Arnstein visited over 20 farms in Cuba, meeting farmers whose access to the world beyond the island is incredibly limited, including this tobacco farmer in Pinar del Rio, Cuba:

“The people of Cuba possess much warmth, and are very interested about the world outside,” Arnstein wrote in personal correspondence. “The culture of Cuba is a unique mix – poor in their economy put very rich in much more: community, connection, beauty, open minds, history and pride.”

In our interview, Arnstein noted how the people of Cuba worked around their situation to provide for themselves: “Time and again we’d see these adverse conditions — rocky, sandy soil — and very little supplies because of the economy, yet people were building something out of nothing using anything that they had — stones, concrete — in order to be able to create raised beds in the city,” she said. “Then they would put in their compost, put in their vermiculture, and start growing. Necessity is driving creative productivity.”

On farms, she noted how common intercropping is. Here, plantains and lettuce are growing together:

The shade of the larger plants provides great ground cover for the shorter plants, she noted, and has “beautiful benefits for the soil.” When asked how her visit to Cuba might influence her farming at Wellspring this upcoming season, Arnstein said, “I want to mimic some of the farming systems I saw in Cuba, and take more of a whole system approach. I will definitely think more closely about intercropping and permaculture.”

I was struck by two comments Arnstein made on topics that are near and dear to my heart: Compost and cooperatives.

Here’s a solid waste system I would love to see in Vermont: “In a number of instances, in particular in the urban areas,” Arnstein said, “the community brought all of their organic waste — grass, leaves, food scraps — to the urban farms in order for them to make compost out of that organic matter.”

A strong cooperative structure supports Cuban farmers’ efforts, Arnstein noted: “Of course, the economic structure is so different in Cuba, but most farmers work with a cooperative that helps farmers get access to credit and supplies; distributes the product; and provides payment to the growers. The first place that food gets provided to is schools and hospitals, and they call this “social consumption.” The idea is that the first place that is provided for is the common good. So the food grown in a community is going to that school, that hospital, and the co-op is distributing it. Once that contract is met, whatever surplus farmers grow, they can sell. But first and foremost they have to provide for the common good.”

In terms of connecting with Cubans, Arnstein says, “I asked what is the best thing we can do is. ‘Visit,’ the people say. ‘Come, speak with the people and share.'” She described her visit as incredibly powerful. “The greatest act of connection,” she says, “was simply to have a conversation with somebody else.”

Why I’m running for the Hunger Mountain Coop Council

I’ve served on the Council of the Hunger Mountain Coop since January 2011, when I was appointed to fill an open seat. I want to continue to serve on the Council because I believe in the vital role the Coop plays in our food system and local economy. As a Council member, I commit to focus on three things:

1. Improving communication. Everyone in the Coop community deserves to have their voice respectfully heard–Member-Owners, staff, management, vendors, and Council members. This year’s contract negotiations pointed out that we can improve in this area to increase understanding for and of all parties.

2. Maintaining continuity. With the current Council member turnover (due mostly to expiring terms), the Council will lose over 20 years of experience. I believe it is important to maintain continuity of passion and purpose so that the Council’s past good work is sustained for the benefit of the Coop.

3. Expand the Coop’s purpose in this community. The Coop is a strong organization with the capacity to lead. I believe Member-Owners should be able to answer the question “Why shop at the Coop?” with a tangible example of a community initiative or program the Coop supports.

In 2012, the world will celebrate the International Year of Co-operatives, and Hunger Mountain will celebrate its 40th anniversary. I believe this provides the Hunger Mountain community with a unique opportunity to reflect thoughtfully on our past as we plan for our future.

Ballots are arriving in the mail this week. To vote, complete the ballot, seal and sign the enclosed envelope, and return the ballot to the Coop in person or by mail by 8pm on Friday, November 4. Or, bring the ballot to the Coop annual meeting on Sunday, November 6 (before noon).

In this election, there are 13 candidates for 7 open Council seats. There will be a “Meet the Candidates” event at the Coop on Monday, October 24 from 6-7 pm. Please attend if you would like to learn more about the candidates.

Supporting our Vermont Food System post-Irene

Vermont farms have suffered devastating losses due to flood waters from Hurricane Irene; losses to vegetable farms alone are currently reported at $1.5 million (source: NOFA). Sadly, any fruits or vegetables that have been inundated by flood waters are considered contaminated and can’t be sold (according to the FDA).

Many farmers spent the weekend before the storm harvesting everything they could, but it’s peak harvest season and all those tomatoes, squash, greens and other vegetables still in the fields are lost for the year. Add the cost of damaged or destroyed equipment and labor costs for clean up, and you’ve got a lot of farmers looking at a dire balance sheet.

What can I do to support my local food system in this time of need?

Purchase directly from farmers and producers at your local farmers market or farmstand. Producers receive a higher percentage of sales at farmers markets than through wholesale accounts, so more of your dollar goes straight to the farm. While you’re there, offer your support and ask what you can do to help.

Donate to an assistance fund, like NOFA’s Farmer Emergency Fund or the Vermont Farm Fund established by the Center for an Agricultural Economy.

Advocate at the local, state, and national level for regulations and funding to support a robust local food system. The more that there is small-scale food production in every town and neighborhood, the less vulnerable we are to floods and other natural disasters.

Did I miss anything? Leave a comment below with other suggestions for supporting farmers and food producers at this time…

Don’t live in Vermont? A robust food system in every state, town, and neighborhood is vital to the long-term security of every community. Use this map from Local Harvest to find farmers markets and family farms in your area.

Capital Kitchen Supports Young Cooks

Invariably, something gets left out of every story; there’s only enough space to tell one tale well. My story in today’s Times-Argus, Montpelier Center Satisfies Teen Appetites, explains how the Basement Teen Center purchased a CSA from Tangletown Farm to expose young people to local, healthy food.

What could be an entirely separate story is the support the Center has received from Capital Kitchen, the cookware store on State Street. Capital Kitchen owner Jess Turner has provided the Center with “extreme” discounts as well as generous gift cards, according to Center program director Nick Conner.

“It’s fun to go into the store with the kids,” Conner says. “I’ll say, ‘this pan is pretty banged up,'” and we’ll go in there and learn about different equipment, and check out all the pans, and the kids will decide which one to buy.”

After replacing some pots and pans, the young people also picked out a Kitchen Aid mixer — red, to match the Center’s walls.

The Center, or “The Teen” as it’s known to the young people who frequent it, serves a hot, healthy meal every Friday night. As gourmands around the world know, a little treat is a healthy part of healthy eating. “We try to have dessert, cookies or cake, every Friday,” Conner says. The Kitchen Aid mixer comes in handy for cookie dough and cake batter and, of course, pizza dough.

The Teen receives food resources through the Kids Cafe program of the Vermont Foodbank, which serves as many as 86,000 Vermonters in need of emergency food assistance each year. Make a donation now.

You have to run with it

What a pleasure to meet Judith Jones, Julia Child’s editor, and hear stories of her work with the woman who made great cooking greatly accessible to American cooks.

Hardly a sidenote: If it weren’t for Judith Jones, “The Diary of Anne Frank” might never have been published.

Global Bites catering did an amazing job scaling up many recipes from ‘Mastering the Art’ for the crowd of about 90. Here’s the first plate, including celery root remoulade and terrine of pork, veal and ham. If it needs saying: it was fantastic.

Citing a conversation with Julia Child, Ms. Jones recalls Child telling Jones, “You and I were born at the right time.” Maybe so, Jones noted, but, “You have to run with it.” Indeed!

Celebrating Mastering the Art

Tonight I am feeling super fortunate to be joining many illustrious food folks at the Lakeview Inn in Greensboro to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the publication of Julia Child’s ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking.’

I confess: Seeing Julia’s kitchen at the Smithsonian brought me to tears. I hope to hear some good stories tonight!