Organic

Spotlight on Old Road Farm

As our Eat Local Challenge rolls on, we’re shining a bright Member Deals Spotlight on our friends at Old Road Farm! All of their glorious organic produce will be 20% off for member-owners from September 22nd – 28th! Read on to learn more about these young farmers, the diverse experience they bring to this challenging profession, and their commitment to real organic farming:

Meet the Farmers

A transplant from New York, Gabby Tuite came to Vermont to attend the University of Vermont where she received a bachelor’s in Community Development and Applied Economics. While studying at UVM, she took an internship at the Shelburne Farms’ Market Garden where she first got her hands dirty and fell in love with farming. After UVM, Gabby worked at River Berry Farm for two seasons. Here she learned how to grow on a larger scale, taking note of the efficiencies required to run a profitable farm. Between growing seasons, Gabby has worked at the City Market Onion River-Coop as a Produce Buyer and Team Leader giving her insight into marketing and merchandising, supervising employees as well as the local food chain from a buyer’s perspective.

Gabby Tuite and Henry Webb

Henry Webb grew up with large vegetable gardens and has fond early memories of visiting his father working at the UVM dairy barn. Starting in his teens he spent eight seasons working for Last Resort Farm, a Certified Organic vegetable, berry, and hay farm. He learned to maintain and work on the farm’s equipment and infrastructure as well as organic vegetable farming practices. Henry also spent two years at New Village Farm where he worked with a small herd of Normandie cattle producing raw milk and beef. At New Village, he was given the opportunity to manage and expand the farm’s market garden and gained experience producing for a small CSA, a farm stand, and the Shelburne Farmers Market.

About the Farm

Gabby and Henry shared a dream of owning their own farm and first began their adventure in the Fall of 2015 on a quarter-acre plot in the old field below Henry’s childhood home in Monkton, Vermont, mostly growing vegetables for a few area farmers markets. In the Fall of 2019, they were able to secure their dream “forever farm” with the help of the Vermont Land Trust. This gorgeous farm is nestled in the fertile river valley of Granville, Vermont, surrounded by National Forest land.

They specialize in growing fresh, high-quality salad greens and seasonal vegetables for local markets with a deep commitment to the highest standards of ecologically sound, regenerative, and innovative vegetable production. Their produce is Certified Organic by VOF and they are also certified by the Real Organic Project, a grassroots, farmer-led movement created to distinguish soil-grown and pasture-raised products under USDA organic. They were featured as the July Farmers of the Month by NOFA-VT and in their interview for this feature, Gabby shared that she and Henry prioritize real organic farming “because it offers some an alternative to our broken industrial food system by focusing on the health and sustainability of the environment.”

Weathering the Challenges

As with any new local business attempting to launch or scale up these past few years, Old Road Farm was not immune to the challenges presented by the pandemic. They had just begun farming their new piece of land in 2020 when they learned that their farmers market would be shutting down for the season. Providing yet another reminder of the incredible resilience of our local farming community, Gabby and Henry quickly shifted their business model to include a CSA. They are enjoying this opportunity to engage with their community in a new way and have continued to expand their CSA offerings each season. They also secured a NOFA-VT Resilience Grant, which they used to acquire a delivery van that you may spot rolling over the Middlebury Gap as they bring their glorious produce to the Co-op. 

Here at the Co-op, you can find an abundant array of Old Road Farm’s produce, including spinach, chard, salad mix, arugula, collards, radishes, patty pan squash, broccolini, and scallions, each in their respective seasons. If you find yourself traveling Vermont’s iconic Route 100 through Granville, be sure to stop for a visit at their farmstand, where you can find a colorful mix of all the produce grown at their farm, which includes the usual lineup of goodies you can find at the Co-op, along with eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, squash, celery, and more! 

Spotlight on Golden Russet Farm

As our Eat Local Challenge rolls on, we’re casting our Co-op Spotlight on a local, organic farm that has been part of our Co-op family for over 30 years – Golden Russet Farm! We acquire more produce from their farm than from any other farm in Vermont! Member-owners can enjoy 20% off of their abundant array of local, organic veggies and their glorious fresh-cut bouquets from September 15th – 21st! Read on to learn more about this wonderful farm and the fine folks who work tirelessly to make it such a special place:

Golden Russet Farm logo

Farming Organically Since 1981

Farm owners Will and Judy Stevens have been growing organic vegetables commercially since 1981, having started on a small plot of rented land in Monkton, VT. After growing their business and refining their techniques, all the while learning from other pioneers in the Vermont organic farming community, they determined it was time to expand their operation. In 1984 they purchased a former dairy farm with good soils in the agriculturally-rich town of Shoreham, VT, in the southwestern corner of Addison County—and this land has been home to Golden Russet Farm ever since! A few years ago, their daughter Pauline returned home to the farm and in 2022, Will and Judy began transitioning ownership of the farm to Pauline. 

Certified Organic in 1987

The Stevens have always used exclusively organic production practices in their vegetable and greenhouse operations and became certified organic by Vermont Organic Farmers in 1987. Among other things, this means they use crop rotation, cover crops, biological and naturally-derived pest controls, compost, animal manure, and naturally-derived fertilizers as standard management practices.

CSA, Farmstand, Greenhouse Sales & Cut Flowers for Events

Golden Russet Farm starts off the season with vegetable and flower plant sales in the greenhouses and the Farm-to-Kitchen Connection CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program. In addition to raising vegetables for market, Judy also grows flowers for cutting, which adds color to the fields and creates habitat for beneficial insects. You’ll find these beautiful bouquets for sale throughout the summer months at the Co-op.

 

 

A Hyper-Local Sales Focus

Since 2003, the farm’s focus has been on “hyper-local,” meaning that approximately 90% of their produce has been consumed within 20 miles of the farm. Their produce is available at the farm stand, their CSA, at food markets in Middlebury and Burlington, and at Addison County restaurants.

Solar Powered Since 2013

In April of 2013, the Stevens put up five free-standing solar panels which provide them with all of their farm and personal electrical energy needs.

About The Farmers

Judy is a fourth-generation Vermonter from southern Vermont. Her family ran a successful Christmas tree business in the Londonderry area for many years. This experience helped her and Will create a successful mail-order wreath business that they ran from the farm until about 2000. Will moved to Vermont from the Ticonderoga, NY area in 1977 to finish his college education at the University of Vermont, which is where he and Judy met. He graduated in 1980 with a BA in studio art, with a specialty in blacksmithing.

After spending the summer of 1980 at Shelburne Museum (Judy as a weaver, and Will in the Blacksmith’s Shop), they were serendipitously presented with the opportunity to ramp up their homestead gardening interest to a commercial scale, and in the first several years everything they grew was sold exclusively at the Burlington Farmers’ Market. From the beginning, their mission has been to provide good quality food to people at reasonable prices.

Shortly after they moved to an old dairy farm in Shoreham, VT, in November 1984, they began to raise a family–Freeman was born in 1986, Pauline in 1989, and Anna came along in 1991. The kids had a sand pile in front of the shed, which, as the greenhouse plant business grew over the years, became a magnet for customers’ children. At some point, the pile was moved to its present location at the corner of the flower garden, which makes it much easier for shopping parents to keep an eye on their children!

Will & Judy. Flashback.1991. cropped

Between 1989 and 1992, Will served as President of Vermont Organic Farmers, which then was NOFA-VT’s certification committee. This was an exciting time in the world of organic agriculture. The sudden interest in the link between food safety and production practices was inspired by Meryl Streep’s CBS appearance on 60 Minutes in the fall of 1989 when she railed against a particular spray used on apples. “Mothers and Others for Pesticide Limits” was formed, bringing public awareness to the benefits of organic agriculture. Suddenly, a fringe movement that had been based on back-to-the-land ideals found itself moving toward the mainstream. Some would say that this was the beginning of the localvore movement.

Judy served for 3 years on the board of the Vermont Fresh Network. VFN strives to foster meaningful, mutually profitable relationships between Vermont food producers and chefs and was one of the earliest formal “Farm to Table” initiatives in the nation.

Judy and Will have been actively involved in Town affairs through various organizations and boards. Judy served on the Rescue Squad through much of the eighties and has played an important role in the expansion and promotion of Shoreham’s Platt Memorial Library over the last twenty years. Will was elected to the Town Planning Commission in the mid-nineties and eventually chaired it for several years. He has since served on the Select and Zoning Boards and has been elected Town Moderator every year since 2004.

In November 2006 Will was elected to the Vermont Legislature (as an Independent, representing the Towns of Benson, Orwell, Shoreham, and Whiting) for the first of four two-year terms. He was on the House Agriculture and Forest Products Committee all eight years and served the last four as ranking member. He is especially proud of two programs that came out of his committee during that time: the Farm to Plate and Working Lands Initiatives. Will now serves as an Outreach Representative for Senator Bernie Sanders’ office. 

 

Be sure to visit the Golden Russet blog for great recipes, tips on using plants as natural dyes, and updates on farm happenings!

The Scoop on Vermont’s Organic Label

You’ve likely seen the logo on some of your favorite local products, but have you ever given much thought to the values behind Vermont’s organic certification label? Who is VOF? And what exactly does that label entail? We’re happy to peek behind that curtain and share what we’ve learned about the Vermont organic certification body known as VOF (Vermont Organic Farmers) and the standards that set their products apart. 

Your choices make a difference! Nearly 800 Vermont farmers and processors that makeup Vermont Organic Farmers (VOF) know that local and organic always count. VOF believes that organic production enhances soil, plant, animal, and human health to protect the environment for current and future generations. Organic certification is needed to verify these production practices and to ensure that organic products are produced with integrity and transparency. VOF provides consumers with a process and a label they can trust. Seeing their label takes the guesswork out of your shopping experience, allowing you to feel confident that the products you’re purchasing are healthier for you and your family, supportive of your community, better for the land, and grown without GMOs or harmful agrochemicals.

ORGANIC FARMERS ARE CLIMATE FARMERS!

In the fight against climate change, efforts that strengthen natural resources, bolster the self-sufficiency of local communities, and improve resilience to the extreme and the unexpected are key. Long associated with environmental protection, the practices used on Vermont organic farms do just that. They lean on the right side of the scale, they contribute to the vitality and resilience of natural systems, anchor local economies, and can even mitigate the impacts of extreme weather events.

While organic practices may be known best for what they don’t do: namely, pollute airways, waterways, and soils with toxic fertilizers and pesticides, there’s just as much to be celebrated for what organic practices are actively doing to strengthen natural systems. In other words, while organic practices abstain from the bad, they also contribute to the good. It’s a double whammy in the fight against climate change, and a model for the kind of systems society will need in order to combat it.

While organic practices contribute to the reduction of climate change in many, many ways, we’ll focus on five of the heavy hitters here–you’ll notice some aren’t just focused on reducing climate change, but on building resilience to it as well:

  1. Organic practices protect natural resources. The stronger our natural resources are, the more capable they are of preventing, absorbing, and reconfiguring the effects of climate change, like a system of checks and balances, re-attuning to Earth’s happy homeostasis. Because organic practices steer clear of environmentally hazardous petrochemicals, our airways, waterways, and soils are that much less polluted. Our local flora and fauna are that much stronger, too. But organic practices like cover cropping, crop rotation, and integrated pest management go a step further to actively support air, water, and soil quality, as well as biodiversity. And of course, it’s all connected–the healthier the soil, the stronger the waterways; the stronger the biodiversity, the better the air quality; and so on. For Vermont organic farmers, the goal is to fuel this virtuous cycle: to strengthen our natural resources through our practices. And we know that, in the fight against climate change, those healthy natural resources are some of our best allies.
  2. Organically farmed soils release fewer greenhouse gasses. A healthy, vibrant soil ecosystem teems with life and decay. This rich food web produces nutrients that are readily bioavailable for farm crops, reducing their need for external fertilizers–some of which are major greenhouse gas contributors, both in their production and their application. Because organic farms abstain from using petrochemical fertilizers, they rely on biological soil processes more than their conventional counterparts. And as such, organic farmers really invest in our soils–from minimizing soil compaction to applying green manures, incorporating livestock, and maximizing soil cover, much of their work revolves around giving our soils their very best. Not to mention the fact that the healthier the soil is, the more capacity it has to actually sequester greenhouse gasses, but more on that later.
  3. Organic farms are more resilient to extreme weather events. One of climate change’s forecasts for Vermont is an increase in both the frequency and intensity of heavy rain events. For our local food system, that means on-farm flood mitigation measures are more crucial than ever because the more resilient a farm is to flooding, the more consistently it will be able to provide food for its community when transportation and communication are impacted. That farm’s mitigation measures will also result in fewer incidents of run-off and erosion, aiding our waterways when they’re stressed. Organic farmers’ soil-boosting, biodiversity-encouraging, water-conscious organic practices ensure we’re better equipped to stay afloat when waters are high.
  4. Organically farmed soils store carbon. The organic practices listed above all serve to improve our soil’s chemical composition and structure, facilitating the kind of vibrant soil ecosystem that draws carbon and other greenhouse gasses out of the atmosphere. This process, called sequestration, transforms hazardous greenhouse gasses into soil nutrients that allow for even healthier soils, which can then sequester more greenhouse gasses. Soil sequestration is one of the most cost-effective ways we can reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, and thus decelerate climate change. 
  5. Organic farms are good for communities. In our globalized, industrial age, Vermont organic farms represent something different: a core component of localized food systems, localized communities, and localized economies. These more self-sufficient traits are key to climate resilience. The organic farming community is invested in community resilience, and also invested in providing healthy, toxin-free food for their communities–that’s what Vermont organic farmers do! They also support the notion that all Vermonters deserve nutritious, local, climate-friendly food, and are big proponents of NOFA-VT’s Community Food Access Programs, which subsidize CSA costs, facilitate SNAP-EBT sales at farmers’ markets and farm stands, and get Vermont organic food into senior housing facilities.

Environmental stewardship has always been baked into our Mission and ENDs at the Co-op, but now, in this era of climate change and consequences, we feel doubled down on this commitment. Supporting organic farmers is a way of fortifying a team of our best allies against accelerating greenhouse gas emissions, extreme weather events, and the destruction of natural resources. While human activity spurred this vicious cycle through the exploitation and abuse of natural resources, human activity can, and must, be responsible for spurring the corresponding virtuous cycles that will restore equilibrium and preserve this place we call home. Organic farming is one such virtuous cycle, and we’re proud to be fueling it here in Vermont.

 

How to Find VOF Certified Producers

VOF maintains a database of over 800 local organic producers to help you find certified organic farms/processors and their lists of products. You can search by product or by location. They also produce a Vermont Organic Farm and Food Guide annually, which can be accessed in print and digital versions. And when you’re shopping at the Co-op, just look for the VOF seal or pick up any local, organic produce, which is all certified by VOF!

Localvore Baguette

This sweet and savory combination of local ingredients makes an excellent localvore lunch or dinner, whether you’re dining in or enjoying a late summer picnic. You’ll find many of the ingredients featured in the Weekly Sale from September 1st – 7th, including Champlain Valley Creamery’s Organic Champlain Triple Cream cheese, Red Hen Baguettes, and Champlain Orchard’s apples, so it’s a perfect time to give this one a try!

Spotlight on Stonyfield

We’re shining our Co-op Spotlight on Stonyfield this week to highlight their commitment to organic dairy, the family farmers that make it possible, and the Earth that sustains us. Member-owners can enjoy 20% off their full line of organic dairy products from August 11th – 17th!  Read on to learn more about Stonyfield’s history and mission and their commitment to Vermont organic dairy farmers:

 

History:

While Stonyfield is best known for making yogurt, yogurt wasn’t the way the founders of Stonyfield thought they’d change the world. In 1983, Stonyfield co-founders Samuel Kaymen and Gary Hirshberg were simply trying to help family farms survive, protect the environment, and keep food and food production healthy through their nonprofit organic farming school.

Just to keep things running, the duo started putting their farm’s seven cows to work making yogurt. They knew they were making a healthy food grown with care; what they didn’t expect was how much people would love it.

People went crazy for the yogurt from Samuel and Gary’s little farm school, and the two knew they had found a way to make a real difference. With this yogurt business, the two organic farming teachers could show the whole world that a company could make healthy, delicious food without relying on toxic chemicals that harm the environment and public health.

So, the two went all-in on yogurt and, over 30 years later, the folks at Stonyfield continue to honor the example their founders set. They’re still located in New Hampshire, just 30 miles east of the old farm. And now, their organic ingredient purchases support a huge network of food producers made up of hundreds of organic family farms, thousands of organic cows, and over 200,000 organic acres!

They‘ve also pioneered planet-friendly business practices—from offsetting emissions at their production facility to making yogurt cups from plants instead of petroleum to making their own renewable energy, and much more.

The thought and passion that started Stonyfield Organic in the first place have only grown stronger, and they’ve never stopped working for healthy food, healthy people, and a healthy planet.

Commitment to Organic:

Stonyfield’s products are all 100% certified organic – made without the use of toxic persistent pesticides, artificial hormones, antibiotics, and GMOs.  Eating organic isn’t just good for you and your family, it’s straight up good for other people and the planet. One of the main goals of organic farming practices is to avoid contamination of our precious soil, rivers, drinking water, and air with toxic persistent chemicals. This also means that organic farmers, farmworkers, and their neighbors aren’t exposed to potentially carcinogenic herbicides. Organic agriculture not only means less dependence on fossil fuels, but it can also actually help reduce climate change. It’s estimated that converting all of America’s cropland to organic would have the same carbon-reducing effect as taking 217 million cars off the road!

There is also compelling evidence to support the notion that organic dairy is more nutritious than its conventional counterpart. Why? Because it comes from cows that are actively grazing on grass, as nature intended. Organically raised cows spend their days outside on pasture so the milk they produce is significantly higher in Omega-3 fatty acids and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), heart-healthy fats that can help lower bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol. There is a lot to be learned and said about organic farming, and Stonyfield hopes you will join them in the journey towards healthier, more resilient food systems.

Saving our Region’s Organic Dairy Farms:

Last summer, Danone, the parent company of Horizon Organic, announced it would stop buying milk from 28 farms in Vermont and a total of 61 in Maine, New Hampshire, and New York. The deadline was originally set for August of 2022, but it was later extended to February 2023. Shortly thereafter, 46 organic family farms in eastern New York received similar notices from their processor Maple Hill Creamery.  The 135 termination notices placed a large percentage of the region’s organic dairy farms in financial jeopardy and created an urgent wake-up call for our region. Unless we take swift action, our hard-working family farms – and the promise of a climate-positive, secure food system supported by their organic methods – will face dire consequences.

Stonyfield quickly sprang into action, launching an internal task force of senior company leaders to work alongside various state departments of agriculture, nonprofit organizations, retailers, and institutional food customers to find ways to keep more of these farms alive and in business. Stonyfield ultimately agreed to take on five of those contracts and was active in forming in the Northeast Organic Family Farm Partnership (NOFFP) to help increase commitments from both consumers and retailers to purchase locally-produced organic milk in an effort to maintain a viable market for these farmers. Organic Valley also stepped up in a big way, offering membership to 90 of the farms affected by the contract losses. Stonyfield accepts milk through Organic Valley and directly from farmers as part of its Direct Supply Program. The farmers dropped by Danone will be part of Stonyfield’s Direct Supply Program, and new farmers’ contracts will look the same as the company’s contracts with current farmers. 

We are grateful to Stonyfield and others who have stepped up in such a big way to support our region’s organic dairy farms! We’re also grateful to consumers who are committed to supporting our region’s organic dairy farms. Our friends at NOFA-VT said it best: “by purchasing certified organic milk and dairy products, you’re supporting farmers who feed Vermonters, steward our land, and provide a massive cultural and economic value to Vermont’s rural communities.”

Your Co-op is a proud Retail Partner of the NOFFP, of which Stonyfield is an active Brand Partner

Spotlight on New Leaf Organics

We’re shining our Member Deals Spotlight on New Leaf Organics! This local, organic farm not only keeps our produce shelves stocked with an array of fresh seasonal veggies but also supplies us with an abundant array of veggie and herb seedlings each Spring. Perhaps you have a few of them growing in your garden? All of New Leaf Organics products are 20% off for Co-op member-owners from August 4th – 10th, so it’s a great time to stock up on the flavors of summer in Vermont. Read on to learn more about this female-powered farm and all that they have to offer:

Nestled in the rolling hills near the Bristol-Monkton town line is a sweet little farm called New Leaf Organics. Now in her 22nd year in business, Farmer Jill Koppel leads her rockstar all-female crew to produce some of the most beautiful and delicious flowers, fruits, and veggies you’ll find anywhere in Vermont. Their farm has evolved quite a bit over the years, but their core mission remains the same; growing high-quality organic produce, flowers, and plants that improve soil health and strengthen the community.

Their Mission

  • to grow high-quality, deliciously fresh organic produce and flowers.
  • to maintain and build the health of our soil and water.
  • to keep this land open and in agricultural production.
  • to bring community together in appreciation of good food and eating with the seasons.
  • to help couples create a memorable wedding day brightened with our beautiful flowers
  • to be a healthy and joyous place for kids to roam and discover and help them learn where our food really comes from.
  • to provide a positive and meaningful place to work for our employees and ourselves.

New Leaf Organics grows 5 acres of vegetables, berries, and flowers which are all sold in Vermont. You can shop their online store and/or visit their farmstand. Their online store offers farmstand pickup and delivery options. Farmstand hours are Tuesday-Saturday from 12 pm – 6 pm. While visiting the farmstand, you’ll find  New Leaf’s fresh-picked veggies, berries, and flowers. You’ll also find a great selection of locally sourced products from around the Champlain Valley including fresh breads and granola from Bicycle Mill Bakery; sweet and savory hand pies and small pies from Humble Pie Baking; and take-out meals from Chomp Cookhouse.

New Leaf Organics Farmstand

You can also sign up for their Farm Stand Card Program. What’s a Farm Stand Card? Here’s how their website describes it:

“It’s like a gift card, but tastier. Farm Stand Cards give you pre-purchased credit to use at our Farm Stand. It’s an affordable and flexible way to enjoy the freshest, local organic produce and flowers and support our vibrant local food system. They come in increments of $225, with an additional 10% spending bonus. For example, when you pay $225, you’ll get a spending credit of $250. You can use your card any time you shop to buy anything we sell at our farm stand — from produce and baked goods to bedding plants and groceries. Pick your own flowers are included for Farm Stand Card holders.

​How Does This Compare to Your Traditional CSA Model? Farm Stand Card shares are similar to a CSA in that you receive fresh organic produce and flowers each week and a discount on your purchase while committing to and supporting our local farm. They’re even better than a traditional CSA, though. The Farm Stand Card allows you greater flexibility to shop anytime the Farm Stand is open, and to purchase anything we sell in the stand. It gives you the vegetables, flowers, and local goods you want, when you want them, at the best price. Win-win-win!”

 

Looking to send a local, organic bouquet to someone special? New Leaf Organics offers Home Sweet Blooms floral deliveries to homes and businesses in Hinesburg, Vergennes, Middlebury, & Bristol! They also offer a pick-your-own flowers option throughout the growing season or you can purchase a flower bouquet subscription. The flower fields are located across the street from the farm stand. 

Need flowers for an upcoming wedding or event? New Leaf Organics raises over 100 varieties of organic, specialty cut flowers and creates exquisite floral arrangements for weddings and events, from casual to formal. Their services, from full-service arrangements and delivery, to “pick-your-own,” to “weddings-in-a-bucket” are a great fit for all your events. Buying direct from the grower ensures the freshest, highest quality flowers at the best price. Buying organic ensures that agricultural chemicals aren’t endangering our environment or the farmworkers who handle the flowers. Click here to read more about why this matters.

According to Farmer Jill, “I’ve been lucky enough to find a dedicated crew of farming “geeks” who get equally as excited about discovering a great new variety to try or the thrill of our first seeds germinating in the Spring. Having a great crew keeps the farm dynamic and is better every season because of them. My kids, Ruby and Ada, and husband Skimmer make sure we don’t work the whole Summer away… Thanks for your interest in our farm! Supporting local farms like ours ensures that high-quality agricultural soils will be kept in farming for generations to come and proof that together we really can keep Vermont agriculture alive and thriving!”

For the latest info and insight into how the season is sprouting, blooming, and unfurling, follow them on Instagram @organicsnewleaf and Facebook @newleaforganics

Pâté Sandwich with Maple Caramelized Onions

Pâtés are the soul of French charcuterie and it’s tough to beat the rich combination of a well-made pâté and jammy maple caramelized onions on a fresh-baked baguette. These ingredients are featured in our Weekly Sale from August 4th – 10th, so it’s a perfect time to give this one a try! 

The Scoop on Vermont’s Organic Label

You’ve likely seen the logo on some of your favorite local products, but have you ever given much thought to the values behind Vermont’s organic certification label? Who is VOF? And what exactly does that label entail? We’re happy to peek behind that curtain and share what we’ve learned about the Vermont organic certification body known as VOF (Vermont Organic Farmers) and the standards that set their products apart. 

Your choices make a difference! Nearly 800 Vermont farmers and processors that makeup Vermont Organic Farmers (VOF) know that local and organic always count. VOF believes that organic production enhances soil, plant, animal, and human health to protect the environment for current and future generations. Organic certification is needed to verify these production practices and to ensure that organic products are produced with integrity and transparency. VOF provides consumers with a process and a label they can trust. Seeing their label takes the guesswork out of your shopping experience, allowing you to feel confident that the products you’re purchasing are healthier for you and your family, supportive of your community, better for the land, and grown without GMOs or harmful agrochemicals.

ORGANIC FARMERS ARE CLIMATE FARMERS!

In the fight against climate change, efforts that strengthen natural resources, bolster the self-sufficiency of local communities, and improve resilience to the extreme and the unexpected are key. Long associated with environmental protection, the practices used on Vermont organic farms do just that. They lean on the right side of the scale, they contribute to the vitality and resilience of natural systems, anchor local economies, and can even mitigate the impacts of extreme weather events.

While organic practices may be known best for what they don’t do: namely, pollute airways, waterways, and soils with toxic fertilizers and pesticides, there’s just as much to be celebrated for what organic practices are actively doing to strengthen natural systems. In other words, while organic practices abstain from the bad, they also contribute to the good. It’s a double whammy in the fight against climate change, and a model for the kind of systems society will need in order to combat it.

While organic practices contribute to the reduction of climate change in many, many ways, we’ll focus on five of the heavy hitters here–you’ll notice some aren’t just focused on reducing climate change, but on building resilience to it as well:

  1. Organic practices protect natural resources. The stronger our natural resources are, the more capable they are of preventing, absorbing, and reconfiguring the effects of climate change, like a system of checks and balances, re-attuning to Earth’s happy homeostasis. Because organic practices steer clear of environmentally hazardous petrochemicals, our airways, waterways, and soils are that much less polluted. Our local flora and fauna are that much stronger, too. But organic practices like cover cropping, crop rotation, and integrated pest management go a step further to actively support air, water, and soil quality, as well as biodiversity. And of course, it’s all connected–the healthier the soil, the stronger the waterways; the stronger the biodiversity, the better the air quality; and so on. For Vermont organic farmers, the goal is to fuel this virtuous cycle: to strengthen our natural resources through our practices. And we know that, in the fight against climate change, those healthy natural resources are some of our best allies.
  2. Organically farmed soils release fewer greenhouse gasses. A healthy, vibrant soil ecosystem teems with life and decay. This rich food web produces nutrients that are readily bioavailable for farm crops, reducing their need for external fertilizers–some of which are major greenhouse gas contributors, both in their production and their application. Because organic farms abstain from using petrochemical fertilizers, they rely on biological soil processes more than their conventional counterparts. And as such, organic farmers really invest in our soils–from minimizing soil compaction to applying green manures, incorporating livestock, and maximizing soil cover, much of their work revolves around giving our soils their very best. Not to mention the fact that the healthier the soil is, the more capacity it has to actually sequester greenhouse gasses, but more on that later.
  3. Organic farms are more resilient to extreme weather events. One of climate change’s forecasts for Vermont is an increase in both the frequency and intensity of heavy rain events. For our local food system, that means on-farm flood mitigation measures are more crucial than ever because the more resilient a farm is to flooding, the more consistently it will be able to provide food for its community when transportation and communication are impacted. That farm’s mitigation measures will also result in fewer incidents of run-off and erosion, aiding our waterways when they’re stressed. Organic farmers’ soil-boosting, biodiversity-encouraging, water-conscious organic practices ensure we’re better equipped to stay afloat when waters are high.
  4. Organically farmed soils store carbon. The organic practices listed above all serve to improve our soil’s chemical composition and structure, facilitating the kind of vibrant soil ecosystem that draws carbon and other greenhouse gasses out of the atmosphere. This process, called sequestration, transforms hazardous greenhouse gasses into soil nutrients that allow for even healthier soils, which can then sequester more greenhouse gasses. Soil sequestration is one of the most cost-effective ways we can reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, and thus decelerate climate change. 
  5. Organic farms are good for communities. In our globalized, industrial age, Vermont organic farms represent something different: a core component of localized food systems, localized communities, and localized economies. These more self-sufficient traits are key to climate resilience. The organic farming community is invested in community resilience, and also invested in providing healthy, toxin-free food for their communities–that’s what Vermont organic farmers do! They also support the notion that all Vermonters deserve nutritious, local, climate-friendly food, and are big proponents of NOFA-VT’s Community Food Access Programs, which subsidize CSA costs, facilitate SNAP-EBT sales at farmers’ markets and farm stands, and get Vermont organic food into senior housing facilities.

Environmental stewardship has always been baked into our Mission and ENDs at the Co-op, but now, in this era of climate change and consequences, we feel doubled down on this commitment. Supporting organic farmers is a way of fortifying a team of our best allies against accelerating greenhouse gas emissions, extreme weather events, and the destruction of natural resources. While human activity spurred this vicious cycle through the exploitation and abuse of natural resources, human activity can, and must, be responsible for spurring the corresponding virtuous cycles that will restore equilibrium and preserve this place we call home. Organic farming is one such virtuous cycle, and we’re proud to be fueling it here in Vermont.

 

How to Find VOF Certified Producers

VOF maintains a database of over 800 local organic producers to help you find certified organic farms/processors and their lists of products. You can search by product or by location. They also produce a Vermont Organic Farm and Food Guide annually, which can be accessed in print and digital versions. And when you’re shopping at the Co-op, just look for the VOF seal!

Spotlight on Aqua ViTea

This week’s  Member Deals Spotlight shines brightly on Aqua ViTea! All of their non-alcoholic Kombucha and Selzer are 20% off for member-owners from September 2nd – 8th! Read on to learn more about this unique local business with humble beginnings on a Salisbury Farm!

 

History

Aqua ViTea began in 2007 in the Salisbury, Vermont farmhouse of Jeff Weaber and Dr. Katina Martin, based on the naturopathic principle of “food as medicine.” Weaber and Martin had just relocated to Vermont after 9 years in Portland, Oregon, where Katina pursued medical degrees in Naturopathy, Midwifery, and Acupuncture and Jeff served as the brewer for The Lucky Labrador Brewing Company. Honing the craft of fermentation at work and learning about functional foods and the governing role of the digestive system from Katina at home led Weaber to discover the wonders of Kombucha.

Aqua ViTea founder Jeff Weaber with his wife Katina Martin at their Salisbury home where they first began brewing kombucha

By 2007, he was selling his Kombucha to the happy crowds at the Middlebury Farmers Market under the Aqua ViTea brand and in 2008, he began bottling his product and selling wholesale to our Co-op and a handful of other local markets. By 2014, demand began to outpace production capacity, and plans to move Aqua ViTea’s production off the farm began to ferment. They first moved to a state-of-the-art facility in Bristol, VT, followed by yet another upgrade in 2017 to an even more impressive facility — the former home of Woodchuck Cider just off of Exchange Street in Middlebury. Today, the rapidly growing company is the largest Kombucha producer on the east coast, employing a team of 30 full-time employees proudly brewing low sugar, alcohol-free, organic kombucha with naturally abundant probiotics, enzymes, and antioxidants, whose balanced blend of sparkling refreshment and bold flavor makes it the perfect substitute for juice or soda. 

Giant vats of kombucha brewing at Aqua ViTea’s state-of-the-art facility in Middlebury

As the business grew, Weaber called on Mike Kin, who was a close friend of Weaber’s in Oregon, and convinced him to move to Vermont with his family to become the company’s brewer. If you dig the artwork on Aqua ViTea’s packaging and materials as much as we do, you’ve got Mike to thank for these. He sketches each one by hand, creating the funky, colorful, amazing signature artwork that you see on all of AquaVitea’s products!

Mike Kin creates the signature Freshketch artwork for Aqua ViTea

 

Commitment to Authenticity

Many commercially available Kombucha brands have been found to contain significantly more sugar and alcohol than their labels disclose. Additionally, some large-scale Kombucha products are being manufactured in a lab setting, force carbonated, and even pasteurized, with the probiotic cultures added artificially as “ingredients” to the end product.

The Aqua ViTea family

Aqua ViTea, since day one, has shown a deep commitment to authenticity. This begins by sourcing the highest quality ingredients, including sustainably sourced organic tea from Middlebury’s Stone Leaf Teahouse and organic cane sugar to feed the ferment. Their Kombucha is the product of a live, active fermentation, which allows the live cultures and enzymes to develop naturally and delivers the tangy effervescence that Kombucha drinkers love. They are one of only two kombucha makers in the country who have invested in a spinning cone column, which allows for the extraction and recovery of volatile compounds, including alcohol, without the need for excessive heat. And since the alcohol is removed at the end of fermentation, the active cultures can grow at their own pace, which results in authentic, delicious, and non-alcoholic Kombucha. They even employ an in-house microbiologist to analyze the safety and purity of their products.

A tour group from Addison Central Teens visits Aqua ViTea and learns about the cone extractor, which removes the alcohol from Aqua ViTea’s kombucha

 

Aqua Seltzer

The newest addition to the Aqua ViTea lineup is Aqua Seltzer! Better than your average bubbles, Aqua Seltzers, infused with organic kombucha, are refreshing better-for-you offerings packed with probiotics for immune & gut health. Weaber shares that the idea for a seltzer line was born when he looked at the ingredients list on a can of the seltzer that his teenage kids love to drink and realized that there was nothing much to them. He wondered if there was a way to create a seltzer that also offered functional nutritional benefits aside from simply providing hydration. After months of research and development and countless hours of taste testing, a new, bubbly, better-for-you beverage was born. It’s infused with kombucha, providing 5 billion probiotics per serving, along with amino acids and antioxidants, with only one gram of sugar and 15 calories. They’re thirst-quenching refreshers filled with goodness for your gut!

 

After Glow

Another exciting addition to the Aqua ViTea lineup is AfterGlow Hard Kombucha. This is a smooth, tasty alternative to beer and cider and a more natural option than spiked seltzers. It’s organic, gluten-free, non-GMO, and made with only the finest sustainably sourced ingredients. While they do extract the alcohol from their traditional Kombucha, that alcohol is not used in creating AfterGlow. Instead, they let AfterGlow’s natural alcohol mature through fermentation and into the can – resulting in a mindfully made adult beverage.

 

 

 

 

Spotlight on Larson Farm & Creamery

Larson Farm and Creamery is basking in the glow of the Co-op Spotlight this week and all of their local, organic, grass-fed, A2A2 dairy products are 20% for member-owners from July 21st – 27th! Read on to learn more about the history of this family farm and their deep commitment to ecological stewardship:

 

History

Rich and Cynthia Larson first began dairy farming in 1976 on a 300-acre farm they purchased just south of the small town of Wells, VT. They began as conventional farmers with a grain-fed milking herd that peaked at 150 cows. Due to a combination of factors including falling milk prices and shrinking profit margins, their conventional dairy folded in 1993. Armed with a passion for environmental stewardship and a desire to do things differently, Rich and Cynthia regrouped and relaunched their dairy farm in 2007. This time around, they opted for a smaller herd, invested in soil improvement, became USDA-certified Organic, 100% Grass-fed certified, and focused on producing high-quality raw milk. 

In true family-farm fashion, Rich and Cynthia have a lot of help from family members to keep the farm running smoothly. Their daughter Mercy manages the dairy herd. Cynthia and niece Kristin manage the horse retirement boarding and pony breeding program, and sister-in-law Lee is the creamery manager.

Mercy Larson prepares for milking the family’s Jersey herd

Ecological Stewardship

According to their website, “At Larson Farm, we share a vision of healthy communities, healthy people, and a sustainable food system built on good stewardship of our natural resources. The land, cattle, and dairy products are certified organic. The cattle are certified 100% grass-fed, and our dairy cows are 100% A2A2. Healthy soils mean healthy cattle who produce nutrient-rich foods free of artificial chemicals and pesticides. Our vision is to provide fresh nutritious dairy products to local and regional markets while being good stewards of the land and caring for our sweet Jersey dairy cows.”

The Larsons built their new organic dairy farm on the firm belief that all life depends on the health of the soil since healthy soils high in organic matter resist drought and produce plants with high levels of nutrition. And this is just what their grazing Jersey cows need to stay healthy and produce nutrient-dense milk. They also built their new venture upon the understanding that cows are ruminants that did not evolve to eat grain. At Larson Farm, the cows are on fresh pasture from May 1 through early November, at which time they are fed a diet of dry hay or fermented hay (silage). They always have access to fresh water, salt, a vitamin/mineral supplement, kelp, and clay. Their grain-free diet results in milk with a high level of CLAs and Omega-3 fatty acids, both beneficial to human nutrition.

Raising cows on pasture in a manner that builds deep rich soil, retains water, reduces erosion, and sequesters carbon is a critical part of the farming practice at Larson Farm and Creamery. According to Rich and Cynthia, “the cows are given access to a small area (a paddock) where they stay for 3-6 hours. The paddocks are sized to allow the cows to eat the top half of the grass and clover, which is the high-energy portion of the plant. They are then moved to a fresh paddock. What we are doing, on a very small scale, is to mimic what happened on our great plains when the American Bison herds roamed while eating, depositing their thank-you plops, and moving on to clean fresh grass. In so doing, the large herds did not degrade the soil but rather built rich soil high in organic matter.

A2A2 Milk

The Larson’s herd of Jersey dairy cows has been tested to be homozygous (having identical pairs of genes for any given pair of hereditary characteristics) for A2A2 beta-casein. A cow’s genetics determine what kinds of proteins are present in her milk. Humans, goats, and sheep all produce milk that only has A2 protein; cows, on the other hand, experienced a genetic mutation thousands of years ago that made some cows produce an A1 protein in their milk. Studies conducted by the National Institutes of Health demonstrate that consumption of milk containing A1 proteins results in an increase in inflammation, gastrointestinal discomfort, and other signs of dairy intolerance in many individuals. These inflammatory markers and adverse gastrointestinal effects are no longer present when individuals consume milk containing A2A2 proteins, indicating that what many presume to be lactose intolerance might actually be the result of A1 protein in the milk. Additional studies have linked A1 milk protein to other health problems such as type 1 diabetes, heart disease, autism, and other serious non-communicable diseases. Click here to learn more.

Rich Larson pauses to give one of the Jersey’s a chin rub

Direct from their farm stand, Larson Farm and Creamery offers raw milk, with all its rich enzymes and natural beneficial bacteria, plus grass-fed beef. They also produce a line of pasteurized products, including certified organic and grass-fed A2A2 yogurt, cream-top milk, gelato, and cultured butter, which you can find at their farm stand or here at the Co-op!