Posts Tagged ‘youth’

Young Blood in the NEK

This article was written for The Hardwick Gazette of Hardwick, Vermont.  An edited version was published in the paper on April 13, 2011.  The headline read “Young Returners and Newcomers Drawn to Opportunities and Lifestyle.”

Kids who were raised in the small towns of Vermont have not always been able to pursue their goals and make a living in the state they call home.  But to hear the stories of the young people who have recently returned or moved to the Northeast Kingdom is to realize that this is becoming a place for young people to do just that.  The strength of the community here, and an increasing number of steady jobs, is not only drawing Vermonters back home, but also convincing young people from around the country to consider life in the Northeast Kingdom.

“Some are idealistic, some are cynical, and some are naïve,” says Craftsbury resident Tim Patterson of the young people who have moved to the Hardwick area in the last few years.  “But all of them are ready to roll up their sleeves and work.”  Patterson, 28, was raised in Craftsbury and lived in Connecticut, Colorado, and in Southeast Asia, before returning home in 2009 to work as the Director of Advancement at Sterling College.

Another Vermont native, Anna Schulz, moved to Craftsbury two years ago to work with local schools and institutions as an Americorps VISTA through VT Campus Compact.  “I knew that I wanted to come back to Vermont,” says Schulz, 23, whose return followed her graduation from Harvard University.  Schulz lives in a house with a dozen other people under 25.  “We joke that we’ve lowered the mean age of Craftsbury by a few years,” she says.  “But we are attracted to the community.  The people here are generous, kind, hard-working, and humble.”

The community that drew Schulz and Patterson back home is strong enough to attract outsiders as well.

Born in the suburbs of Chicago, Vince Razionale lived in Boston and New York City before moving to Vermont this past January.  Razionale, 25, lives in Hardwick with his wife, Katrina Vahedi, and works in Sales and Marketing for the Cellars at Jasper Hill.  Vahedi, 29, is a native of California, lived in New York briefly, and is now working on a beekeeping project for Jasper Hill Farm.  Razionale believes strongly in the mission of the Cellars, and both he and Vahedi were attracted to the sense of community among agricultural businesses in this area.  The couple is expecting a baby in May, and their unborn child also played a large part in their move to the Northeast Kingdom.  “The quality of health care here, and ease of acquiring it, couldn’t be more different from what we would have suffered through in New York,” Vahedi says.  “Not to mention, this is one of the most beautiful places on earth.  I love knowing that our kids will be able to call this kind of beauty ‘home.’”

While Razionale works in the Cellars, Ivy Pagliari milks the cows next door, in the barn at Jasper Hill Farm.  Pagliari, 29, grew up in Ohio and was living in China when she first came to Vermont, six years ago.  She needed to return to the states for a summer to renew her Chinese visa.  “I wanted to work on a farm that summer, and it was already April” Pagliari remembers. “So I found a place where the growing season hadn’t started yet.”  She worked on several farms before moving to Hardwick and starting work as a Milker at Jasper Hill Farm last Fall.  “Eventually, I’d like to have a dairy of my own,” says Pagliari.  “For now, this is a great place to work and learn and save money.”

Just down the road in Greensboro, Hill Farmstead Brewery recently hired Daniel Suarez, who moved from Brooklyn to Vermont in January with his girlfriend, Taylor Cocalis.  Cocalis, 27, is self-employed as the Co-Founder of Good Food Jobs, an online search tool for food-related work opportunities.  The nature of her website exposes Cocalis to the increasing number of jobs available in this area.  “If I didn’t already have a job, I would be interested in so many of the opportunities available in Vermont,” says Cocalis.  “Most of the time I have to hold myself back from the positions I see.”

As a young person myself, I moved to Craftsbury last November to work in the field and the washhouse at Pete’s Greens.  I couldn’t help but want to live within an agricultural community that seemed so supportive of small, local businesses.  The first time I came to Vermont, I met Blair Marvin and Andrew Heyn at Elmore Mountain Bread, Shaun Hill at Hill Farmstead Brewery, and Marisa Mauro at Ploughgate Creamery.  Their success and collaboration in their own ventures made me want to live near them, learn from them, and maybe (one day) start a business of my own here.  As Mauro puts it, “There’s so much collaboration between producers here.  We can bounce ideas off each other, and help each other out when we need it.  There’s no community, even in Vermont, quite like this one.”

The reality of young people moving to the Hardwick area hints at a shift in the trend of rural-urban migration.  “Alternative agriculture and alternative energy are attracting young people to rural areas,” says High Mowing Seeds owner Tom Stearns.  “Some young people are coming here to stay, and some are coming to gain skills to bring back to their home communities.  Both are hopeful trends.”  High Mowing Seeds has nearly forty employees, several of whom are young people who returned or moved to Vermont to work there.  “Sterling College has brought in interesting people for decades, and many of them have stayed,” says Stearns.  “Now there’s a new generation of young people.  It’s not so much the educational institutions that are attracting them, but the businesses here.”

Elena Gustavson of the Center for an Agricultural Economy shares Stearns’ hopeful sentiments.  “We want to attract people here whose experiences elsewhere will contribute to this place,” she says, “and at the same time prepare people growing up here to stay and grow into the sort of careers that are becoming available in this area.”

Considering the appeal of this community, the young people who have returned or moved here, and the work they have chosen to pursue, it is clear that this effort is well underway.

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June After April

This is the first of what I hope will be many essays written at Eckerton Hill Farm in Eastern Pennsylvania.  I have left the Forager position at The Spotted Pig and The Breslin, and am now living and working at Eckerton Hill.  We primarily grow heirloom tomatoes and chili peppers, and sell our produce at the farmers market in Union Square.

As I move, both physically and mentally, out of The Spotted Pig and into Eckerton Hill, my writing will probably encourage (or shamelessly draw) general conclusions about New York restaurants and small farms in the Northeast.  I’d like to acknowledge now that not all restaurants are run by petite British women who once aspired to the police force, serve 380 people every night in a space that seats 100, and pump out over one thousand fancy burgers in a week.  Not all farm owners struggle with the thought of a writing career they haven’t quite left behind, cultivate more than fifteen thousand tomato plants each summer, and sell at a market 113 miles away, two (sometimes three) days a week.  The stories I tell, in short, will be unique to the specific places and people in them.  And the more appropriate (and strikingly easy to make) comparisons may in fact be between Eckerton Hill and the Bloomfield restaurants themselves.

When I was training the replacement Forager, she told me how everything about the Forager job seemed simple on the surface, how she felt capable of each task she had to complete, but that all the details she’d have to remember, all the small notes and facts that I kept filed in my head, would take time for her to absorb: tastes, of course, and personalities, tricycle capacities, bus tub quantities, and dollars per pound per piece per yield per quart per recipe depending on the cook.  Where did we get fava beans last Friday, how many dozen eggs do we order per week, how many portions are we getting per whole fish of a particular size.  Could she cost out immediately – from cost per flat of berries, per box of fruit, per pound of sugar, per bottle of liquor – a two-quart container of macerated mixed fruit.  Can we get a better price on beef tongue, are we getting the faxes from Guy Jones, have we ordered from Upstate in time for their delivery on Monday, and in the meantime could she please find white escarole SOMEWHERE and could she track down red chili peppers in Chinatown.  Also could she at some point put together a seasonal seafood chart, and an excel sheet of the change in food cost if we were to stop working with Dairyland.  That was the Forager job. A miriad of little things, a few larger projects.  Seven different chefs were each tossing me sets of modest but plentiful tasks to juggle, each of them often unaware of the others’ demands.

The pace on the farm is not necessarily drastically different.  All the pretty flats of seedlings teased me with a certain daintiness until I saw what blazing rows of tomato vines they become.  Every step of the way, we have to worry: are they getting enough sun, are they getting enough water, has it rained, is it too dry.  Meanwhile, Spring hits.  How many boxes of lettuce did we pick and what’s bolting and what’s still small, what size did the chefs want?  Who ordered mixed baby heads this week?  Did we milk the goat and does she have enough water and where is that other hen laying her egg, and is the electric fence working?  How much are we charging for the broccoli, what should we charge for those fava leaves, is anyone going to buy romaine this size?  What did we pick.  Haricot vert, heirloom carrots, heirloom beets, scallions, new potatoes, snap peas, English peas, tuscan kale, red russian kale, scottish kale, swiss chard, black raspberries.  Meanwhile, we put the tomatoes in the ground:  Have we watered the plants in this heat, did we close the well, how’s the pressure in the well, did you notice the level of the spring, was the soil wet?  How many rows of tomatoes are left without stakes or string?  Do not drive over that irrigation line.  How many more rows still need straw beneath them?  Be sure to tie the string from the bales on the stakes, or they’ll get caught in the tiller.  Do we have enough boxes for the squash and do we bring them to the field or pack them in the shed and did we get the squash blossoms in the walk-in right away.  Where are the scissors for the basil?  We’ll be back at 9pm to load the truck.  If we keep the berries in the walk-in until the morning will we remember to stick them in the truck at 3:30am when we leave for market.  Do we have everything? Extra baskets for the table, three tables plus two, the white tent, the supply box with the scale, receipts, tablecloths, market aprons, and pens.  Corn will soon be the mortar between the boxes.  Tomatoes will be easier than all of this.  So says Tim.

In step with the switch from restaurant to farm, my vocabulary has expanded from the kitchen to the field, from charolas and basquetas, limones, papas and amburgesas, to piscar and limpiar, manguera, hojas, avas, chicaros, lechuga.  Tomates.  A moderate ability to understand Spanish allows me in on both sides of the conversations between a good boss and non-English speaking workers, the language they have developed over the years, the hand gestures and exaggerated voices, and the understanding of each others’ facial expressions, temperament, and mood.  The prep manager communicates with the head chef at The Pig, outside the restaurant entrance door, up from the stairs in the basement, much like the farmhand manager speaks with Tim, outside the packing shed or in the field.  They are each used to the stress, the details, the tempers that blow, the fact that every day has its last straw: the yellow squash should have been picked smaller, all the tomato rows should have been checked, we only wanted three boxes of kale today, blossom stems should be cut with a scissors, why did you waste time harvesting so few favas?  One can’t help but wonder if the rhythm of misunderstandings is the one that drives us crazy or the one that keeps us sane.

Heat is not so much a characteristic of the climate as it is the medium of our work and production.  Much like the restaurant.  The kitchen rises to the temperature created by the act of cooking, and the farm plays to the temperature required for the act of growing.  And the people had better well adjust.  I put up nails in my room to hang my soiled clothes at night, to dry.  And where I am not scratched by squash leaves or puckered with poison ivy, my skin is getting smoother from the sweat.

Even certain details of my personal lifestyle here remain the same: we need to go to bed early and often fail; we could do something adventurous on the weekends but often just want to rest or write; we manage to spend money on a regular basis, though our only real expenses are beer and transportation.

I have found a certain comfort in the unpredicted parallels between one good food job and another, though gradually the differences have begun to win my attention.

We on the farm crew break, and sit down in the kitchen, to eat our lunch.  The early morning, and twilight, can be periods of calm.  Work and rest revolve around physical strains and satisfactions.  The days can be long stretches, of conversations and silences, in the field.  To work here is to submit, to choose, to live in and on and through the farm.  And in that sense we who work together have chosen to be here living together, and unlike many friends or even most lovers, we work and talk side by side throughout the day, about our random ideas, the books we’ve read, the people we’ve met, and the projects we have in our heads.  We may not have much time to ourselves, but we do have the mental space, the field, in which to think.  And with that…..I will try to be writing all season.

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This article is cross-posted on the Slow Food USA Blog.  According to Slow Food USA, “Slow Food is an idea, a way of living and a way of eating. It is a global, grassroots movement with thousands of members around the world that links the pleasure of food with a commitment to community and the environment.”

Some projects are inspired by enthusiasm, some by curiosity, or morality, ambition, passion, friendship, or obligation.  The inspiration forRadishes and Rubbish was born out of such a combination of these emotions that Carla and I never doubted our ability to draw others into our work.  We are both novices and experts, both endlessly enthusiastic and quite stunningly naive.  We had no idea what times were in store.

2969234487_0f91296dd32Radishes and Rubbish is (in elevator speak) a series of field trips to food production and processing sites and waste management locations within the New York City region.   The Green Grant program of NYU’s Sustainability Task Force provides the funding for these trips, during which my friend Carla Fernandez and I offer participants an adventure, education, transportation, and a meal, all for free.  The transportation may be by foot, by subway, or by boat, by the occasional rented van, or the rare and appreciated large comfy bus.  The meal is always made with ingredients sourced as locally as can be, grown organically if possible, and always made or sold by people or shops that we know and support.  The participants are ideally freshmen in college, though they have ranged from librarians to chemistry professors, from film students to food distributors to the curious and unemployed.  The destinations are up to us.

radishes4Carla and I came at the idea of our trips from slightly different perspectives.  I study regional food systems; she studies socially responsible supply chains.  She wanted to learn about the large-scale waste management centers where our trash so misleadingly seems to disappear; I wanted to share my friendship with and knowledge of several innovative and small food producers and processors in the region.  As students at NYU’s Gallatin School, we both proposed parallel “field trip” projects in April 2008, without knowing of each other’s propositions.  The Green Grant committee told us we would receive funding if we combined forces.  And thus Radishes and Rubbish was born.



We have led our fellow students (and students at heart) to one recycling center, one artisan baker, two urban farms, two slaughterhouses, three cheese shops, three farms upstate (of which one composts NYU’s organic matter), one importer’s warehouse, and the second largest wholesale fish market in the world.  We’ve just finished up the school year with two trips in one weekend: to a commercial rooftop greenhouse on the Upper East Side, and to the Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island.


The trips have been glorious fun for us two.  We keep it simple.  No classrooms, no preaching.  We invite anyone to join us, ask no one for money, and let our destinations work their magic.  We’ve led city girls in kitty heels to meet the weeds of an urban farm.  College boys have shown up late night to see the wholesale source of the fish that’s sold throughout the city where they live.  A journalist for the Washington Square News noticed the piles of the school newspaper on the conveyer belt of the recycling facility where NYU sends its paper waste.  Two film students imagined a documentary staged in the compost heaps of Vassar’s composting facility.  One of our students has begun writing a book proposal about the meat industry, and suddenly some of our adventurers are having dinner 


parties where their cheese shop is a topic of conversation, and they can name the farm where the cheese was made.  One of our participants took the recipe for egg salad posted on our site and made her first meal from scratch in years.  This weekend, one of the students on our upstate trip, standing in the kill-room of a small-scale slaughterhouse, asked (clarified, really) that “this was the sort of place where the meat in the supermarket comes from?”  In response, Jake Dickson, the meat purveyor who’d accompanied us on the trip, explained the big differences between a local slaughterhouse and a factory operation, the price differential of the resulting meat, and the ways in which local vs. factory meat products are distributed.  I can’t measure the enthusiasm with which that girl scrawled her notes, but it is that sort of learning that makes our trips worth the work.  It is that pen on paper that means “field trips” are worth every penny. 


Carla and I hope Radishes and Rubbish might continue, of course, and that we might continue to have the privilege of introducing students (and ourselves!) to the small places where we produce good food, and the huge places where we send all our leftovers.  We are working on a funding arrangement for the coming year.  We are open to funding suggestions.  If all goes well, we promise another year of trips, and very much hope you will join us!!

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