Visitors Welcome During Vermont’s Open Farm Week

  • Margaret Loftus, left, weeds a bed of cabbage, broccoli and pumpkins with her sons Keelan Durham, 15, middle, and Wendell Durham, 9, at Crossmolina Farm in Corinth, Vt., Sunday, August 6, 2017. Crossmolina offers summer and winter CSA shares, raises Icelandic Sheep, pigs, chickens and rabbits, and bakes pizza and bread on Fridays in a wood fired oven. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Margaret Loftus gives instruction to her son Wendell Durham while hoeing weeds at Crossmolina Farm in Corinth, Vt., Sunday, August 6, 2017. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Jonathan Durham, left, and Margaret Loftus, right, take a moment to enjoy their Icelandic sheep with their sons Wendell, 9, left, Tobin, 13, middle, and Keelan, 15, right, and dog Emmett, after moving the fence to give the sheep access to new grass at Crossmolina Farm in Corinth, Vt., Sunday, August 6, 2017. Crossmolina Farm, named after a town in Ireland where both Durham's and Loftus's ancesters came from, is one of several Upper Valley Farms participating in Vermont Open Farm Week from August 14 to 20. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • After moving their chicken and sheep enclosures to new ground, Margaret Loftus walks with her son Tobin Durham, 13, to continue weeding in the gardens at Crossmolina Farm in Corinth, Vt., Sunday, August, 6, 2017. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Outside his family’s farmhouse in West Corinth, 9-year-old Wendell Durham reached into a hutch, and gently pulled a baby bunny out from a twitchy mass of whiskers and fur. The one he’d selected was white, with pink eyes and warm, velvety ears. He held it against his chest, cupping it in his hands.

“Taking that one out for some cuddles?” asked his mom, Margaret Loftus, who co-runs Crossmolina Farm with her husband, Jonathan Durham. She sighed. The rabbits are a new addition to the Crossmolina menagerie, she said, and they’re theoretically for meat. They are awfully cute, though.

“It’s an experiment,” she said. “We’ll see how it goes.”

As it turns out, a love for experimentation is how Crossmolina Farm became “diversified with a capital D,” Loftus said. Over the past decade or so, Loftus and Durham have grown from a small-scale subsistence farm to one that offers a two-season CSA, with 30 customers each season. In addition to growing a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, they also raise chicken, pigs, Icelandic sheep — and now rabbits.

Such agricultural diversity, not just at Crossmolina Farm but statewide, is the basis for the third annual Vermont Open Farm Week, which this year will take place Monday through Aug. 20. Over the course of the week, participating Upper Valley farms will offer special tours, workshops and other farm-related activities to the public.

The event series is organized by the Vermont Agriculture and Culinary Tourism Council, a group of representatives from agricultural and tourism organizations around the state, as part of the Council’s first collaborative project, the agritourism website DigInVt.com.

The goal of Open Farm Week is to reinforce the relationship between farms and their surrounding communities, said Grace Meyer, who runs communications for the Vermont Fresh Network, the Richmond, Vt.-based nonprofit that manages DigInVt.com.

“The most beautiful thing about farmers in Vermont,” said Meyer, “is that they don’t always realize how interesting they are to non-farmers. I’ve had farmers be like, ‘Why would anyone want to see what I do in a dirty field all day?’ But it’s actually kind of mind-boggling if you work inside all day.”

Though many Vermonters care about supporting local farms, they don’t always have the opportunity to “go out and visit these places,” Meyer added. She hopes that Open Farm Week will inspire people to explore their local farms, and in doing so, contribute to Vermont’s agritourism industry.

A visit to Crossmolina Farm, for example, would entail a poetry-themed farm tour at 6 p.m. next Tuesday; a pizza night with live music from Burlington-based indie rock group, The Fifth Business, starting at 5 p.m. next Friday; or a workshop on how to make and preserve pickles, next Saturday at 1 p.m.

This lineup was intentionally “all over the place,” said Loftus. She hopes it will demonstrate that a farm is not just about farming; it can also be a “community center” of sorts, a place for people to learn, reflect and connect with each other.

“It can even be romantic,” she said.

The poetry tour, for example, arose from Loftus and Durham’s fondness for such writers as Donald Hall and Wendell Berry, who, the farmers said, put words to the wonders of bucolic life in such a way that reinforces its value. Loftus and Durham will stop at various scenic points on Crossmolina Farm’s 32 acres — such as their sparkling little pond, “where the light is just fantastic in the evening, especially this time of year,” Loftus said — and read poems inspired by similarly pastoral surroundings. Participants are encouraged to bring along their favorite farm-themed poems to share.

The pickle-making workshop is Loftus and Durham’s response to frequently asked questions from their customers: ” ‘How do you make this? How do you make that?’ And of course part of that was ‘How do you make pickles?’ ” Loftus said. And the pizza night, a recurring Friday event, is meant to showcase the farm as an “aspiring community center,” Loftus said. There will be farm-grown toppings and ingredients, as well as cheese from nearby Blythedale Farm.

In addition to highlighting diversified farms like Crossmolina Farm, Open Farm Week is also meant to shine a light on more niche operations, like Free Verse Farm and Apothecary in Chelsea, which specializes in harvesting herbs for teas, medicinal purposes and cooking. As part of Open Farm Week, owners Taylor Katz and Misha Johnson will on Friday offer a tour of their farm — which includes cultivated farm beds as well as the meadows from which Katz and Johnson harvest wild-growing herbs — and a tea tasting, from 5 to 8 p.m.

Participants will have the opportunity to see up close Free Verse Farm’s wooden herb dryer, which Katz and Johnson built by hand, and to sample the smells and flavors of fresh-from-the-field looseleaf teas, which Katz said are more colorful than the “brown stuff” inside most store-bought tea bags, and yield a “brighter, richer, deeper” sensory experience.

Johnson, who grew up in Norwich and describes himself as the “in-house herbalist” of Free Verse Farm, said one goal of the tour and tasting is to educate people about the abundance of herbs that flourish all around them, in plain sight. One of the things that attracted the duo to their particular parcel of land was this herbal smorgasbord, which he said includes species that are far more common than many Vermonters might assume: Red clover blossoms, for example, have been used traditionally to benefit the liver, and St. John’s Wort to improve mood.

“(Wild herbs) tend to grow in these scraggly, scrappy places, like in roadside ditches or a dry hillside or a shady patch in a forest or in the disturbed soil at the edge of a field,” he said. “A lot of tea drinkers and herb-lovers don’t know that you don’t need fertile land. I actually often find that herbs best express themselves when growing in these difficult conditions. ... Struggling to grow can actually enhance and concentrate their medicinal properties.”

Other farms on the Vermont side of the Upper Valley will offer tours and tasting events throughout the week. Silloway Maple, in Randolph Center, will serve up a pancake supper Aug. 18, with pancakes being merely the vehicle for the farm’s award-winning syrup. A maple candy-making demonstration will start at 4:30 p.m., followed by the sit-down meal with the farm’s sugarmakers from 5 to 7. Tickets ($8 per adult plate, $3 per child plate) available at the door.

In a similarly syrupy vein, Sugarbush Maple and Cheese Farm in Woodstock invites visitors of all ages to explore the farm’s sugarhouse and maple trails, and will offer a junior “sugarmaking certificate” to those who complete an interactive quiz. Visit any weekday next week between the hours of 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. to participate.

If you prefer savory over sweet, take note: Vermont Farmstead Cheese Company in South Woodstock will offer farm tours every weekday next week from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Come for the tour; stay for the free artisanal cheese and Castleton crackers.

Parris Hill Farm Alpacas in Brownsville will hold “Alpaca 101” classes Aug. 19 and 20, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days. The lessons will cover things you never knew you never knew about where your sweater comes from, with topics including alpaca “Anatomy/Husbandry,” “Evolution/Migration/History” and “Fleece/End Products.”

Meanwhile, Root 5 Farm in Fairlee, a certified-organic vegetable farm, will close Open Farm Week with tours on Aug. 20 between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.

EmmaJean Holley can be reached at eholley@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.