Agriculture is alive and well in Bennington County. A recent tour organized by Northshire Grows highlighted what’s happening on the ground in Bennington County. Learning and listening to community members from every corner of the state is important to growing Vermont’s agricultural economy.
The day started with a student led tour at the Village School of North Bennington. The independent school is comprised of pre-K through sixth grade students. The Hiland Gardens Program allows students to plant a community garden in the spring and harvest it in the fall. Students get outside the classroom and into the greenhouse, or “Glassroom” to learn and engage with the community. Students were proud to show off their hard work to Secretary Tebbetts. They shared written journals documenting the planting process and how the food was sold at market.
Just down the road from the school, a thriving local cheese company is bringing a taste of Vermont to new markets. Maplebrook Farm produces award winning artisanal cheeses made from high quality Vermont milk.
The cheese company is in the midst of transitioning into a larger facility. Already employing over 60 local workers, Maplebrook Farm is looking for more ways to expand. The 40,000 pounds of handmade cheese produced weekly provides skilled jobs for the local workforce.
After touring the new production, warehouse and distribution facilities, the Secretary sampled everything from smoked mozzarella to cheddar bites. Owners Johann Englert and Mike Scheps discussed the new possibilities that could come with the new facility. The Secretary spoke about the Agency’s Trade Show Assistance grant opportunities which can help Vermont businesses market their products at out-of-state trade shows.
Another agriculture business successfully selling high quality Vermont products out of state is Studio Hill Farm. The Shaftsbury farm has turned to regenerative agronomic practices to enhance the soil on their land. Co-owner Jesse McDougal explained how rotating livestock has brought their farm fields back to life. While discussing how practices like this can help improve water quality, Secretary Tebbetts suggested joining the Vermont Environmental Stewardship Program which honors farmers who have embraced a high level of land stewardship. The program is working on providing more incentive for farmers who have developed plans for water quality improvements.
What’s for lunch? it was off to Burr and Burton Academy in Manchester to check out the school’s new local food cafeteria program. School officials explained with new programs like classes at the Dene Farm at Hildene, students are becoming more interested about where their food comes from. Culinary courses and flexible feeding schedules have also helped enhance the school’s food program. The school is now serving on average about 100 more meals a day.
A big part of the BBA Educational Program are the hands-on classes at Hildene. At the Dene Farm, students helped Secretary Tebbetts freshen up on his plant science skills.
A literal connection between the greenhouse and classroom is helping students learn about Vermont agriculture year-round
Thanks to Liz Ruffa and Northshire Grows Inc. for putting together a tour of some of the food producers, businesses and community members connected to Southwestern Vermont’s local food economy.