Hardwick and Agrarian Economies

But wait, there’s more! Not only was the Slow Money Gathering at Shelburne Farms a real sock-knocker, it was just the beginning. I had considered spending another day in Vermont hiking, maybe visiting Yestermorrow. Well, the plan changed a bit.
With incredible good fortune, I found a field trip was to occur on Saturday in Hardwick Vermont. Well, it was announced to everyone at the conference by the President of the Center for an Agricultural Economy, and founder/owner of High Mowing Organic Seeds Company, Tom Stearns. He had great things to say at the conf, and I had the luck to ride in his car on the field trip through the Hardwick region to visit about 7 different small-scale ag enterprises there.
We visited the Center, right there on Main Street in Hardwick – a nice new facility of a one-room lecture hall and great resources for all things related to the new food system in the area. Then, off to High Mowing where we saw the entire operation from seed fields to the sorting and packing facility. We visited Pete’s Greens – an enormous four-season greenhouse-supported veggie CSA and farm stand operation. They also have chickens I saw. Eliot Coleman deemed Pete the “most innovative organic grower in the country” and I think that’s accurate. He has a lot of great stuff going on. We need to see more like that!
We visited the Cellars at Jasper Hill – a cheese aging operation – and got a full tour into the bowels of the caves and the thousands of patient cheese wheels. Great story from Andy Kehler about the evolution of his farm from milking to cheesemaking to cheese aging services in partnership with dozens of other producers and the creation of the Cellars. There were a couple other stops including the Honey Gardens Meadery where we sampled a variety of the “nectar” including one with local blackcurrant. We also stopped at High Meadows Center – a compost science foundation looking at how to close the loop on organic waste materials in Vermont.
The last stop before re-assembling at the Center was at Vermont Soy – where a fellow UVMer, Andew Meyer, is cooking up tofu and tempeh from beans from Vermont. He and his partners have fluid soy milk processing as well. However, this guy is also involved with what I see as a really amazing opportunity – the Vermont Natural Coatings Company. He has licensed a whey-based protein patent from UVM to produce a urethane-like water-based wood sealant which can compete directly with MinWax. He needs $250k to expand marketing and sales capacity, which he solicited at the Conference, and I am confident, with the whole green building and eco-home thing taking off, he is going to have a good ride.
Eventually we made it back to the Center for an Ag Econ and heard from Mike Bosia a co-owner of Claire’s, the community-supported all-local restaurant next door. He explained at length how the restaurant is involved with the local food system and the innovations in selling subscriptions to future meals and other financing which got it off the ground. It has been much more successful than they anticipated. Twelve of us from the tour went over and started with drinks and then a great meal. I actually tried Vermont White – a vodka made of distilled milk. “Just on the rocks, aren’t milk beverages better that way?” I asked the bartender. It was amazing. Everyone had great food. I had the pickled ramps and fiddlehead tempura to start. My plate was a pork loin chop with mashed potatoes, excellent steamed beet greens and an apple-rhubarb chutney. Just fabulous. A couple of pints of good VT beer as well. The crowd was great. There was a foursome from Missoula investigating local food systems here on behalf of their Garden City in Montana. They knew Keegan Eisenstadt who I know from DC who was at Garth and Ona’s wedding Mem Day weekend (Keegan runs Clearskyclimatesolutions.com a carbon offset business). Also a crew from Orlando – a food desert surrounded by possibilities. John Rife there is a commercial strip developer who has found a new interest in supporting the local food system there with a couple of others – one gal who runs a small cafe and a fella who is starting a multi-producer cooperative CSA. Then there was a guy who teaches at Yestermorrow, a 22-y-o starting a farm in Charlotte, and everyone else very interesting. Tom and Andrew stayed for drinks and continued to talk about the critical mass there in Hardwick and how to involve more communities in an exchange system for producers/entrepreneurs to learn from other regional food phenomenae. It was a great meal at the end of a really great day of seeing great stuff on the ground.
I did ask and Tom did say that I can find a 100-ac farm with 25 tillable for about $250k, including the fixer-upper house and barn. He and his comrades have a list of components of the local food system that are still needing entrepreneurs to step into and launch. It’s a beautiful area.
So at this point, I just might go there to find something like that and do it. One thing that came to me is starting Civekos up there in Hardwick – create the first network of nomadic sustainability monks living in community studying and working in revolving roles. A base lodge would be right in Hardwick and have a community kitchen and arts space or gym, and then the dascha’s would be on some partner farms who need the labor at particular times. Then more of the lodges can follow and re-populate old grange halls and motels for sale throughout the rural new ag production frontier. Well, we’ll also be looking for farms or other operations which could be worker collectives. Apprentices, students, and anti-establishment communitarians can divest and pledge loyalty to Civekos and the Renunciate Green Order will have begun. I can start by getting a couple of slow money exploitation guilt philanthropists to donate $250k to buy and renovate the first lodge there along the Lamoille. The lodges in AIDG-project zones will also have to come along. And we’ll have to build the Airships to float the seasonals back and forth. It’s all burros, bikes and balloons, carbon neutral living, of course!
This does need a little more work, of course. But it’s a fresh take on an idea I’ve long been considering. One of my dinner mates mentioned that the best things for us to do are look back at what we wanted to do or loved doing when we were twelve, before we got tangled up in intellectualizing all the possibilities of our life. I was building an Ewok Village in my back yard. So clearly, I need to be creating crunchie co-ops, eco villages, seva retreat centers, and the Civekos Archipelago.

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