Organic Farming from Cover to Cover

Lush greens in the gardens of Cedar Circle Farm

June 10 was a mixed bag for the Summer Study Tour. The group visited an organic farm devoted to farm and food education, met with an educator who had been key in developing certified organic standards at the state and federal level, and talked to management and staff at an independent publishing house committed to fostering social change.

Our early morning was spent at Cedar Circle Farm in East Thetford. Farm operations manager Luke Jonas and the educational program manager Eric Tadlock showed us around. Luke informed us that the farm has been certified organic for the past 12 years. In that time, it has grown to where it now operates a CSA with 180 shares, a commercial kitchen, a small café, and a farm stand featuring both home-grown produce and value-added products that has been very popular with folk from both sides of the river in this Vermont/New Hampshire “Upper Valley” border village. We toured the farm’s flower and vegetable plant greenhouses, walked past 19 acres in cultivation of carrots, onions, lettuce, chard, kale, strawberries, tomato plants, blackberries, and other crops, down to the Connecticut River from which the farm draws its water.

On the porch of the guest house by the river, Eric talked about ongoing efforts to leverage the farm as an educational asset and as a resource for social change. Its 30 seasonal employees are able to attend various workshops to expand their skills while contributing physically to the economic success of the farm through their work. The farm also conducts tours for schoolchildren, hosts cooking classes, and leads wild food foraging expeditions into the surrounding woods. Research and development is a significant part of the mission of Cedar Circle as well. Current projects include: carbon sequestration through use of charcoal as a soil amendment (called “biochar”); sunflower production for on-site oil pressing; and interplanting of cover crops, such as clover or fescue, with sunflowers and beans to be field-dried for winter storage.

Grace Gershuny of the Institute for Social Ecology

During lunch in the farm’s picnic area while sharing food purchases from the farm store, we talked organic certification with Grace Gershuny, faculty member and current Board member of the Institute for Social Ecology, who has also taught at various schools in Vermont including Green Mountain College. Grace took time out from her schedule to talk with us about her significant role in the organic foods movement, beginning in the 1970s when she developed standards for NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association) and subsequently for the USDA. Her vast experience in this area and way of presenting this information engaged the students’ rapt attention. Grace is currently is working on her memoir, tentatively titled Reclaiming the “O” Word.

The final stop of the day was at Chelsea Green Publishing in White River Junction. While we sat around the long table in the conference room, communications director Shay Totten and co-founder and publisher Margo Baldwin talked about the many successes of the independent publishing house. The walls of the room are covered with framed certificates of achievement and major book awards, including from: The James Beard Foundation; The Garden Writers Association; International Association of Culinary Professionals; et al. Among award-winning titles are: The End of America, by Naomi Wolf; Cows Save the Planet, by Judith D. Schwartz; The Art of Fermentation, by Sandor Ellix Katz; and Don’t Think of an Elephant; Know Your Values and Frame the Debate, by George Lakoff.

Award-winning titles for social change at employee-owned Chelsea Green Publishing