Monday, August 17, 2015

Yankee Directors, Guests and Staff Participate in Northeast Kingdom Farm & Food Tour

Directors, guests and staff of Yankee Farm Credit recently toured an array of farms and food-related organizations in the Notheast Kingdom. As part of an annual tour, Yankee's Derby office organized a day chock full of agriculture and local food-related establishments. Find below a few highlights from the day:

The first stop of the day was to Eureka Satellite, LLC, a project owned and operated by brothers Mateo and Andy Kehler of Jasper Hill Creamery. The project we visited is a hay drying facility and solar array system (still under construction). The Kehlers' main product is artisan cheese, which is their key focus. Mateo explained to the group why they prefer to feed their cattle dry hay versus grass silage and why it makes a difference in their cheese. The hay dryer is quite an innovation and depending upon the moisture content of the hay when it is harvested, takes anywhere between five and 12 hours for drying. It's the first of its kind in the U.S. and was imported from Germany. You can read about the Kehler's installation here.

Mateo Kehler addressing the group.
Yankee director Brad Maxwell checking out the equipment.
Group shot, L-R, Yankee director Rocky Giroux, Mateo Kehler, Derby branch manager Loren Petzoldt, Andy Kehler, Yankee CEO George Putnam. 

Group waiting outside the hay drying facility.
The next stop was Pete's Greens, Inc., a four season organic vegetable farm growing a vast array of specialty crops with emphasis on baby greens, heirloom tomatoes and root crops. Starting in 1995, Pete Johnson cleared land owned by his parents and grew mostly greens. He has added crop land since and now operates 375 tillable acres. Pete also has an extensive year-long CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program which includes other products such as cheese, meat, eggs and apples from neighboring farms. Additionally, a wholesale unit and retail operation round out the business.

A cheery mural on one of the main walls in the main building.
The group toured several acres of production and is heading back toward a building currently being installed with solar panels on the roof.

Tim Fishburne from Pete's Greens led the tour through the operation.
We stopped for lunch at Sterling College where we learned about Sterling's Sustainable Agriculture and Sustainable Food Systems programs. Our hosts were Topher Bordeau, director of Advancement and Alumni Relations, faculty members Charlotte Rosendahl and Allison Van Akkeren, executive chef Simeon Bittman and Katie Lavin from the president's office. We were treated to a delicious meal of food from Sterling's farm and other local farms. Yankee Farm Credit recently partnered with Sterling College for it's Veteran College-to-Farm program. You can read about it here.

A bulletin board announcing the day's lunch at the entrance to dining hall.
We made our way to the Center for an Agricultural Economy's Food Venture Center next and were greeted by Sarah Waring, executive director of the Center, Connor Gorham, facilities manager and professional production assistant and Daniel Keeney, farm and food business advisor. Launched in 2004, CAE's mission is to engage the public to build a regenerative, locally based, healthy food system through collaboration opportunities, food access and hunger relief, educational outreach and providing infrastructure.

The Food Venture Center is a multi-use processing facility. The center is an incubation space for food businesses. Over 60% of the rents paid to the facility comes from farmers. Jasper Hill is a core tenant producing cheese at the facility. The center offers support services to clients as well as recipe development, co-packing services and process development. The Food Venture Center also has food chemists available for users if needed to develop their product. Currently over 30 businesses are using the facilities for production.

Connor Gorham (third from left) and Sarah Waring giving an overview of the Center when we arrive.
Connor using a mural as a prop to explain.
A display of products from some of the Center's clients.

Our last stop of the day was Kingdom Creamery of Vermont, LLC. Located in East Hardwick, Vt., Kingdom Creamery is a family business owned by the Michaud family - Denis and Claire along with sons Jeremy, Travis and Daniel and their families. The creamery produces premium ice cream, soft serve mix, frozen yogurt and yogurt made from milk purchased from the family's dairy farm, Claire-a-Den Farm. Their own maple syrup is also featured in many of their products. Products are marketed under their own and private labels for other companies. Their product can be found in grocery stores and scoop shops all over New England and New York. Quite often they attend local events and festivals where a family member - maybe even a grandchild - will scoop your cone for you.

Leslie Michaud, Jeremy's wife, and Claire Michaud happily scoop ice cream for some anxious onlookers.
A pint ready to be filled in the assembly line.

Jeremy Michaud (right, in royal blue) explaining a process to a few tour goers.

We have a lot of wonderful agriculture and farm and food businesses to be proud of in the Northeast Kingdom. Our group learned a lot and enjoyed the trip.