For two weeks, I’ve been shopping at the perfect farmstand. Yes, that’s a strong statement. Farmstands are as varied as farms, farmers, farmers markets and the countryside where we find them. So many interesting ones; so many that are just right the way they are. Even so, I’m convinced this one is the perfect one.
In the end, it’s about the produce and products a farmstand sells. A farmstand is nothing without quality and, ideally, a little variety. But, there’s so much more.
Farmstands run the gamut from a simple table in the yard, to the farm/marketplace/destination gourmet shopping meccas that pop up here and there in urban and suburban areas, usually with the word “farm” in the name. Some of these are great community resources, offering beautifully presented, locally grown food. Others … well, let’s just say pineapples and bananas don’t belong at a New England farmstand, in my opinion. Dressing these items up in the word “farm” doesn’t make them local.
Call me a curmudgeon, or maybe a purist, but I want local food at my farmstand.
Here in Craftsbury, Vermont, there’s a farmstand I believe is perfect in every way. I’ve known about this farmstand, Pete’s Greens, for a couple of years. In fact, it’s somewhat famous, in a farmstand kind of way. Even so, it retains its integrity and charm. No bananas here.
Pete Johnson, the farmer and owner of Pete’s Greens, is one of the agripreneurs responsible for the Hardwick, Vermont area’s agricultural resurgence. He’s a founder of Hardwick’s Center for an Agricultural Economy and a visionary when it comes to agriculture in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Not only does he run the best farmstand I’ve ever shopped at, but an innovative year-round CSA.
Pete is growing things in February and March in Craftsbury using methods that farmers to our south in New Hampshire are clamoring to emulate. Pete and his vegetables, especially his greens, have been written about in Eating Well magazine and he’s well-represented in Ben Hewitt’s recent book about the area, The Town That Food Saved. One of our local CSA farmers at home in Concord, New Hampshire, made a trek north to visit Pete last winter for a close-up look at his micro-green production and harvesting process. I’m looking forward to enjoying the benefits of that lesson in my winter CSA this year.
What makes the Pete’s Greens farmstand perfect? Let me count the ways:
- It has the most beautiful green roof. Last year, the roof was planted completely with tall yellow sunflowers; this year, mixed flowers and sunflowers, including nasturtiums draping from the edges. Don’t underestimate the importance of this roof; it’s so impressive, that’s why it landed first on this list. It creates a jaunty, memorable and uber-green image, and it’s beautiful!
- A colorfully painted wooden sign, with hanging painted shingles to tell shoppers from the road what vegetables are currently available. Handy, for those of us waiting for local sweet corn to come in during our stay.
- A full assortment of locally raised meats: pork, lamb, bacon, beef, chicken, sausages—you name it. I’m not much of a meat eater, but I picked up a beautiful roasting chicken to cook for some company joining me for the last couple of days of my stay. (A friendly farm worker, stocking herbs destined for the inside of my chicken, proudly told me that he’d slaughtered the bird himself.)
- Several organic, locally produced farmstead and artisan cheeses, including my favorite, Bonnieview Farm’s Coomersdale. It was quite easy to put together a richly varied cheese board, using the best cheeses available in the Northeast Kingdom. Handmade spelt crackers from Pete’s Greens as well.
- Everything’s organic and without imperfections. The herbs, vegetables and fruit are fresh, organic and picture-perfect, every day. I bumped into Pete this morning, culling very slightly bruised veggies to take away to their next stop in the food production process, either the compost heap, the stock pot or some other dish. (Fresh stock and other prepared foods are offered in the Pete’s Greens “Good Eats” CSA.)
- The farm workers who stop in occasionally to stock up or straighten up are really nice and always ready to chat it up over vegetable selection. And, they’re happy workers. I get the feeling that Pete’s Greens is a good place to work.
- Two funny dogs hang out at the place. Although this drives my dogs crazy, and there’s a lot of barking every time I pull in, I still appreciate their presence. A little girl told me one of them, who looks like a limping, strange mutation of a sled dog mix, is called something like “Fluffy Noodles.”
- So many other products are available, it’s too many to list. A few of my favorites include: raw honey and elderberry syrup (medicinal), both from Honey Gardens; locally milled flours; locally produced popcorn; locally made vinegars, syrups (including apple cider syrup), apple butter and crackers; more other items than I can recall, all from local farms.
- Daily fresh bread deliveries from Elmore Mountain Bread, a wood-fired “microbakery.” I believe Pete’s Greens also carries bread from other local bakers, but I can’t recall their names to list them here.
- It’s all run on the honor system! I know this isn’t unheard of for rural farmstands, but there are some valuable products here. It’s entirely possible to run up a pretty large bill at Pete’s Greens, especially if meats and cheeses are on the shopping list. The scale, calculator, a pad and pen to record purchases, are all there alongside an open drawer of cash. And, a little box labeled “credit.”
I’m not sure farmstands in New Hampshire are allowed to carry such a variety of products from other local farms and still be considered farmstands. My understanding is that farmstand and farmers markets are regulated on a town by town basis, so regulations may vary. In any case, I haven’t found one in New Hampshire that comes close to Pete’s Greens.
It’s also possible that Pete’s Greens is considered something other than a farmstand by the Town of Craftsbury. To me, it’s a farmstand, and it’s one that I would give my best tomato to have nearby at home. For now, I’ll enjoy it on my periodic escapades to Craftsbury.
It’s a joy to shop daily at Pete’s Greens. I’d even say the quality of my vacation would have been dramatically different without it. It’s just three or four miles away, traveling on dirt roads that take me over a high, breathtakingly beautiful hill, past too many cows to count, and down to a rushing creek, before popping out onto Craftsbury’s main (paved) road.
I could live this way. I guess I am, for now.