It's a spring morning, and Ellen Terie of Shepherd's Hill Farm serves fresh lamb sausage and omelets made from just-laid eggs to her lodgers. While they discuss eco-friendly farm practices, Jason Tostrup, executive chef of the Inn at Weathersfield, comes to pick up lamb chops for his sustainable restaurant. He chats awhile about seasonal ramps and micro greens, then leaves to prepare his daily menu. Ellen then heads to the barn, with guests in tow, to attend her herd, nourishing it with all-natural feed.
This is a typical day in Vermont, where food is often attended to and distributed personally, building a community web between the producer, the cook, and the consumer. While many producers progressively aim to restore local farming, utilizing the latest organic methods, many family farmers have just always done it this way. Regardless, the appropriately nicknamed "Green Mountain State" remains well ahead as an agricultural destination, and is more than willing to share its yield with visitors.
What to do
Visiting a family-run working farm is one of the best ways to learn about Vermont food firsthand. Primarily known for its cheddar, the state also turns out different varieties of cow, goat, and even sheep milk farmstead cheeses. Many artisans welcome guests to observe the cheese-making process at no charge, while others charge a nominal fee. At Thistle Hill Farm, John Putnam carefully raises Jersey cows with organic methods, and makes an award-winning French Alps-inspired Tarentaise cheese from their milk. Sugarbush Farm and Neighborly Farms, both notable for maple syrup and unique cheddars like sage and onion, provide a host of visitor activities and a farm store. The Vermont Cheese Council outlines dozens of cheese makers along with an organized cheese trail.
Other Vermont farms focus on vegetables, berries, meats, and various dairy products. Most farms are free and offer tasting samples. Note that farmers are often busy working so don't expect constant attention during your visit. It's also a good idea to call in advance to make sure the farm is in production on a given day.
For a more formalized tour, Shelburne Farms and Billings Farm & Museum are nonprofit working farms presented as educational centers. Both are committed to promoting conservation with visitor-ready programs, and charge a nominal admission fee.
Farmers' markets can be a fun way to find the freshest produce, and nearly every town has its own, usually on Saturday mornings. Some, like the Norwich Farmers Market, go all out with food demonstrations and live music. The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets offers a complete list of farmers' markets online.
Where to stay
Many local farms open their doors to overnight guests. Liberty Hill Farm in Rochester, a Holstein dairy farm complete with iconic red barn and silo, hosts visitors for $85 per night (less for children) in its traditional country-style B&B. Guests are welcome to participate in farm chores, like bottle-feeding newborn calves, or to just hang out and play with hayloft kittens. Beth Kennett prepares a family-style dinner and breakfast made with ingredients from her own farm or bartered from her neighbors'.
In an idyllic setting overlooking Taftsville's rolling green hills, a babbling brook, and even a covered bridge, Shepherd's Hill lamb farm runs a B&B through its modern farmhouse with rooms starting at $135 per night. Guests can pitch in or spend their time swimming in the pond or relaxing on the property.
What to eat
Thanks to the Vermont Fresh Network, an organization that brings farmers and chefs together, it's easy to pick out restaurants serving local. American Flatbread (the same company as in Santa Barbara), for example, makes organic pizzas baked in an earthenware oven. The original bakery location in Waitsfield grows its own produce and turns into a restaurant on Friday and Saturday nights. Recently, it has teamed up with the historic Inn at Lareau Farm, which offers affordable country stays starting at $80 per night.
Some other restaurants are a little more citified, but remain affordable with entrees under $20. pane e salute, an osteria (a small eatery) and wine bar in Woodstock, serves local items with an Italian flair, and Bistro Sauce in Shelburne, has an urban farmhouse feel and menu that highlights foraged "wild Vermont edibles."
Find more information
The Vermont Farms Association and VermontVacation.com outline information on farm visits and stays. For a list of farms broken down by specialty, farmers' markets, grocers, and restaurants, pick up a free copy of Valley Food & Farm Locally Grown Guide, which is also available online.
When to go: Cheese makers and livestock farms are active year-round, but fresh produce and farmers' markets are available May through October. Maple sugaring begins in March and runs through mid-April (depending on the year). Production timing on every farm is different, so be sure to check in advance, particularly during the winter months. April is the "mud season" and is often considered the least pleasant time to go.
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