Are hops making a comeback in Vermont?


Local hops cones growing at Parker Pie in West Glover.  Photos by Aaron Dentel-Post

Local hops cones growing at Parker Pie in West Glover. Photos by Aaron Dentel-Post

copyright the Chronicle October 22, 2014

by Aaron Dentel-Post

In 1850, Vermont grew 8.2 percent of the nation’s hops, with Orleans County accounting for 77,605 pounds of the crop a year. The crop was so important that children were taken out of school at harvest time, and men took time off from their regular jobs.

But it was the women, according to Kurt Staudter, executive director of the Vermont Brewers Association and author of Vermont Beer, who were paid the most because they were gentler when picking the easily bruised cones of the plant.

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Beer book serves up history, profiles, tales


web beer bookcopyright the Chronicle July 30, 2014

by Bethany M. Dunbar

Vermont Beer; History of a Brewing Revolution; by Kurt Staudter and Adam Krakowski, published by the History Press, Charleston, South Carolina, 2014, paperback, 190 pages, $19.99.

Since 1991, Vermont has had more breweries per capita than any state in the nation. But for 100 years, until the Vermont Pub and Brewery and Catamount Brewing Company went into business in 1989, the state had no legal breweries.

The state’s earlier past was quite spirited, with an estimated 125 to 200 active distilleries in 1810.

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Hill Farmstead’s expansion is open to the public

Shaun Hill takes a break to enjoy a beer while looking around at his new space.  The retail part of the business is in this space for now.  Photos by Bethany M. Dunbar

Shaun Hill takes a break to enjoy a beer while looking around at his new space. The retail part of the business is in this space for now. Photos by Bethany M. Dunbar

copyright the Chronicle January 8, 2014

by Bethany M. Dunbar

GREENSBORO — Hill Farmstead Brewery’s expanded space is open to the public for retail sales.

The expansion is not completed, but the space allows customers to wait inside for tastes of beer, to buy bottled beer, and to buy or fill up growlers, which are big, reusable beer bottles.  Waiting lines will probably be just as long as before because the new space has the same number of taps as before, six.

An ell off the new space is so far just a foundation, but eventually it will hold a new brewery with a mezzanine area and windows so people can see production.  Once the expansion is finished, which is expected to be in October, retail space will exist in the end of the ell.  It will include a rest room for the public.

“The plan is to serve bread and cheese,” Mr. Hill said.

Meanwhile, a portable toilet is available outside. Continue reading


In Greensboro: Hill Farmstead Brewery expansion wins approval


Hill Farmstead Brewery in Greensboro.  Photos by Bethany M. Dunbar

Hill Farmstead Brewery in Greensboro. Photos by Bethany M. Dunbar

by Bethany M. Dunbar

copyright the Chronicle 1-23-2013

GREENSBORO — Hill Farmstead Brewery was approved for a planning and zoning conditional use permit after a hearing on Wednesday, January 16.

The application is to add some room for storage, to bring equipment and supplies that are currently outside or stored in Hardwick under a roof at the brewery, and to open a separate retail area.  Currently there is a small bar and retail area in part of the brewery — essentially a garage.

The hearing was run by Zoning Board Chairman Jane Woodruff, who asked brewery owner Shaun Hill to present some background and outline his plans.

Inside the brewery is a small retail area where people can buy small tastes of beer, fill up growlers, and buy glasses and T-shirts and some bottled varieties.  Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Inside the brewery is a small retail area where people can buy small tastes of beer, fill up growlers, and buy glasses and T-shirts and some bottled varieties. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Mr. Hill plans to add on to the existing brewery in two phases, probably over two years.

Hill Farmstead Brewery has been in business for three years and has attracted attention from beer lovers all around the country and internationally.  It is rated as one of the top five microbreweries in the world by a website called Rate Beer.

The room was packed with people at Wednesday’s hearing, almost all of whom had come to support the application.

One set of neighbors said they did not like the traffic on the back road where the brewery is situated, and wish the business did not include selling beer directly to the public.

Mary McGrath said she and her husband worked with Mr. Hill and some of the other neighbors to put conservation easements on their land and create a wildlife corridor between the Barr Hill Nature Preserve and Long Pond.  She said the brewery with retail traffic seems out of character.

“We now feel somewhat ambushed by Shaun’s proposal,” she said.  She said she likes and respects Mr. Hill, but doesn’t like the plan.

“This is not a farming nor a forest enterprise,” she said.

Clive Gray asked how many acres of the property had been conserved.  Mr. Hill said 95 acres out of 99 acres were conserved, but he kept five acres out because he had always planned to build a brewery.  He said the Vermont Land Trust has approved his expansion plan.

He told the members of the zoning board and planning commission he wanted to start a brewery as a way to make a life and a business for himself in the town where he grew up.  He is the eighth generation of Hills to live on his farm.

“I had a sense of place.  I knew I wanted to spend my life in Greensboro,” he said.  He added that the retail side of the business is critical to be able to make a living and employ people.  He employs three people, and expects to add one more.

Phil Young deals with cold beer apparatus as the kegs were stored outside.  In the background is Dan Surarez. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Phil Young deals with cold beer apparatus as the kegs were stored outside. In the background is Dan Surarez. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

“Right now all of our glass and all of our kegs are kept outside in the snow and in the rain,” he said.

He said a better retail space, storage, and packing area will make the whole process more efficient.  He and his staff currently make about 60,000 gallons of beer a year, and 100,000 gallons a year would be a comfortable number.  His plans are not to grow a lot more than that.

“I’m not interested in running 30 or 40 or 50 employees.  It’s not within the scope of what I’m trying to do,” he said.  “I live where all of this is going on.”

He said the brewery is right beside his house and sometimes people wander into the house looking for a bathroom.

He added that there are a couple of reasons the traffic might ease up.  One is that there are lots of new breweries opening, all around the country and locally.  He is also hoping to get a change in Vermont law that would allow him to mail beer directly to customers.  Currently wine makers can mail wine, but beer makers cannot mail beer to out-of-state customers.

“We’re not purposely trying to bring people to us,” he said.  He said he doesn’t advertise and the retail side of the business is only open from noon to 5 p.m., Wednesdays through Saturdays.  The brewery is also starting to sell limited numbers of tickets to three special events each year to keep numbers under control.

He wondered how people would feel if Rocking Rock in Greensboro became known as an important geological formation and people started driving into town to see it by the droves.  If that happened, would local people be upset with the town government, upset with the rock, or would they develop a special appreciation for it themselves?

Most in the room supported the project and said the brewery has helped the town.

“Right now I’m in my slow period,” said Rob Hurst of the Willey’s Store.  He said this time of year he suffers when he loses one regular customer, which happened recently when someone had to go into a nursing home.

He said it’s clear that Hill Farmstead Brewery and the Jasper Hill Farm and cheese making business are drawing new business to Greensboro.  People come to town to try to find those two places, he said.

“They’re always stopping and asking for directions,” Mr. Hurst said.

To try to help people — and to draw some of their business — he has put a map up beside his gas tank showing people how to find Hill Farmstead and Jasper Hill.  He hopes that the tourists will fill up.

Rod Kerr, a neighbor of Mr. Hill’s who has a second home he rents out to tourists, said people who want to go to the brewery have been giving him lots of business.  Some were renting the place that night.

“The amount of money that trickles out of that brewery is unbelievable,” he said.  “We have no problems with it.  It’s tremendous.  Let’s put Greensboro on the map instead of trying to hide it.”

Mateo Kehler, one of the owners of Jasper Hill Farm, said Shaun Hill is to be congratulated.  He said he doesn’t know of many people who start from scratch that makes a mark on the wider world the way his has done.

He said these kinds of businesses are creating excitement among a new generation of business people in Greensboro.  It will encourage younger people to move here instead of leaving, he said.

“At the end of the day, you can take the pulse of the community in the school yard, and I think we’re doing okay,” Mr. Kehler said.

At right is Bob Montgomery, getting ready to pull down the overhead door.  At left is Phil Young.  Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

At right is Bob Montgomery, getting ready to pull down the overhead door. At left is Phil Young. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Jackie Tolman, another neighbor, said she has children and animals, and Mr. Hill always lets her know if there is an event coming up.  He has spoken to her often about the traffic situation to ask if it’s bothering her.

“Shaun is a most conscientious neighbor and an excellent communicator,” she said.  “I have complete faith that his vision is what he says it is.”

Mr. Hill was asked by the planning commission and zoning board members if he had done any traffic studies.

It has doubled very year, he said.  “We could never make enough beer to satisfy demand.”  He said 95 percent of the beer is sold within 60 miles of the brewery.

Asked about landscaping plans, Mr. Hill said he is working with the Elmore Roots nursery and intends to plant apple trees and fruit plants, including some of what might have been Lewis Hill’s original cultivars, to use in the beer making process.

Asked about energy plans, Mr. Hill said he currently has a permit to spread some of the waste from the beermaking process on the fields.  Some day, he said, he would like to work with Peter Gebbie, who has a methane digester.  He is also interested in adding wind or solar power at some point.

At this point the brewery has 16 parking spaces and the plans are for 36, so cars won’t have to park on the side of the road.

The permit was approved with conditions.  No signs will be larger than six feet square or lit internally, and they will comply with all setback requirements.  If the present sign by the side of the road is moved, it should comply with setback requirements and be moved back to 50 feet from the center of the road.

contact Bethany M. Dunbar at [email protected]

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Even in winter, local food economy is growing

by Bethany M. Dunbar
copyright the Chronicle January 19, 2011
Even in the middle of January, in the middle of an essentially stagnant economy, the local food movement in northern Vermont is showing signs of not only life, but growth as well.
Barb Judd at the Mountain View Stand in Newport is operating a winter market for the first time.
“The more stuff that goes bad in the big world, it pushes people back — back to their roots,” she said. She said more and more, people want to know who grew their food and where it came from.
“People are sick and tired of not knowing.”
She decided to try a winter market and see how it went. She opened up the week before Thanksgiving in the same space where Cinta’s bakery is located just outside of Derby Village. Not all of her food is from Vermont — especially this time of year — but she buys as much local produce as she can find, Vermont chicken and other meats, and she gets wild seafood directly from Massachusetts.
She didn’t have sales statistics on hand during a recent impromptu interview at the store, but she said the response has made her know the timing was right. It took her usual summer customers a while to find her — up Route 5 a bit from her summer location — and she said they sometimes come bursting through the door expressing enthusiasm to have found her again.
“Five years ago, I remember thinking, I am on the edge of something.”
Based on the response, she is considering making renovations to her summer farm stand to make it into a year-round business.
Alicia Knoll, one of the owners of Montgomery’s Café and Newport Natural Foods, said they have seen enough growth in the past five years to hire about three more employees than the businesses used to have.
“I think that people are cooking more,” she said. “We don’t really have prepared foods in our store, we have ingredients.”
She said Steve Crevoshay and Madeleine Winfield built up the store for years. The core base of customers is still coming back, plus more.
“We like to think we haven’t lost that many,” Ms. Knoll said.
“There’s a certain number of people who will always go to Price Chopper.”
On a recent Friday, Gerard Croizet of Berry Creek Farm in Westfield stopped in at Mountain View, and Ms. Judd discussed getting some spinach from him.
Mr. Croizet and his wife, Rosemary, sell organic vegetables, honey, beeswax candles, and strawberries in the summer. They have a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group with 60 members.
People who want to buy directly from the farm join the CSA and are guaranteed a weekly box of food for 20 weeks. Mr. Croizet said their CSA group has grown by ten people each year (which is more than 10 percent). He has had to turn people away because he wanted to make sure he could grow enough food for all the members, plus continue to supply the Berry Creek farm stand, Newport Natural Foods and Mountain View.
On a freezing cold Sunday afternoon, spinach was growing inside one of his unheated greenhouses. The greenhouse has double plastic walls, and the spinach growing inside is covered by a white light cloth row cover. Underneath the cloth, spinach is green and growing.
Mr. Croizet said sometimes it freezes and looks pretty bad, but after a day or two of sunshine it perks up and grows again. By March there will be enough heat from the sun inside the greenhouse to start more vegetables.
He agreed with Ms. Judd that there is growing demand for local food.
“There’s a consciousness — people are more conscious about what they eat,” he said.
Dairy farming has for years been the driving force in agriculture in Vermont, but in recent years dairy farms have struggled to survive. According to a report recently released by the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, the Farm to Plate Stategic Plan, the number of dairy farms in Vermont has decreased by nearly 91 percent over the last 60 years. The value of milk and other dairy products in Vermont is $493,926,000, according to the report, and the total value of Vermont agricultural products is $673,713,000.
Dairying is not gone but it’s changing. Large farms have bought up smaller ones or leased their land. Some have installed methane digesters as a way of making their own electricity.
The fact that dairy is still a big part of the economy is evidenced by the recently-released list of the top 100 businesses in Vermont, compiled by Vermont Business Magazine.
St. Albans Cooperative Creamery is number ten on the list with revenues of $320-million. Poulin Grain is number 41 with $68-million.
Green Mountain Coffee, which has recently bought a coffee company on the west coast and one in Canada, is the second largest business in Vermont and the second one to have more than a billion dollars in revenues at $1.3-billion. The largest company listed in Vermont is National Life Group with $1.5-billion.
Alternative dairying and artisanal cheese making is a growing area of the dairy economy in Vermont.
The Northeastern Vermont Development Association (NVDA) is running an advertisement looking for someone to “provide outreach to farmers in the Northeast Kingdom region about the benefits of a fluid goat milk producers’ association.”
The position is half-time, for two years, funded by a Rural Business Opportunity Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture “working closely with the Vermont Butter and Cheese Creamery.”
Vermont Butter and Cheese is also looking for a quality control and lab worker, and two other small cheese and yogurt makers in Vermont are hiring as well. Bob-White Systems in South Royalton just announced a new line of equipment and supplies for farmstead cheese makers.
The potential for growth in Vermont’s food economy is good, according to the Farm to Plate Strategic Plan just released by the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund. After a series of meetings and research into Vermont’s agriculture and food systems, the report was created.
“Vermont’s food system is a significant part of the state’s economy, with total economic output of $2.7-billion annually, employing over 55,500 people at nearly 11,000 private sector businesses across the state. And the state can expect 1,500 new private sector jobs over the next ten years if Vermonters double their consumption of locally produced food from just 5 percent to 10 percent of their total food purchases,” according to the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund’s web site, where the full report is available.
Brothers Mateo and Andy Kehler of Jasper Hill Farm in Greensboro — and their families — are part of the changing face of dairying.
“If we want things to remain the same, then something’s going to have to change,” says Mateo Kehler.
Dairy farmers who ship to the commercial market — not organic — are getting a better milk price than they did in 2008, but the basic price paid under the antiquated federal system is still just under the average cost of making milk in Vermont.
Organic dairy farmers get about $31 for a hundred pounds of milk (about $2.66 a gallon). That is about $13 a hundredweight ($1.12 a gallon) more than the conventional price.
Meanwhile the Cellars at Jasper Hill — a system of cheese caves where the Kehlers age their own cheese, along with Ploughgate, Cabot, and others — is a business that has seen dramatic growth. Jasper Hill makes 80,000 pounds of cheese a year.
In 2010, Mr. Kehler said, the company grew 50 percent from the year before. By the end of the first quarter the company will have 29 employees. Four years earlier it had four.
Jasper Hill cheeses do not all sell locally. But the word “local” could include Vermont to consumers from Boston or New York.
Mr. Kehler said the cellars are about 40 percent full, and they could fill them right now with cheeses from all over the U.S. and Europe. But their mission is to fill them with Vermont cheeses and help more local farms add value to their milk in hopes of keeping more working farms on the land.
In a region in France called Comté, 3,000 dairy farms are producing a type of cheese named after that region. Their price is based on a team of experts who taste the product of each farm and decide on pay based on quality. Mr. Kehler would love to see something like that happening in Vermont.
Jasper Hill has agreed to lease a section of the new Food Venture Center under construction in Hardwick. Jasper Hill has already hired five employees to work there because they had to be trained. Mr. Kehler said Jasper Hill made a commitment to this project when people were first discussing it, and he is excited to see it coming together.
Louise Calderwood is the interim director of the venture center. It will have five production cells and a warehouse. The meat and cheese cells will each be leased for five years, and there will be cells for people packing wet products such as salsas and jam, a cell for vegetables, a bakery, and possibly dry mixes.
Before construction is complete, demand is exceeding space available.
“I recognize that neither the meat cell nor the dairy cell are going to meet the needs of everybody,” said Ms. Calderwood, who will step down once the facility is up and running. “We already see that the needs are broader than the existing facility.”
The venture center is advertising to find a permanent manager and an operations manager.
More information about the venture center will be available at a meeting at the North Country Union High School Career Center on Saturday, January 22, at 10 a.m.
Another local food project in the planning stages is a Northeast Kingdom Tasting Center, which would offer retail spaces for local farmers and food producers and be a tourist destination. This project, led by Eleanor Leger of Eden Ice Cider in Charleston and Gloria Bruce of the Northeast Kingdom Travel and Tourism Association, is currently under study for its economic feasibility.
The power of the Vermont brand is well known by Bill Stenger at Jay Peak. He said consumers expect Vermont products to be “clean, healthy, safe and authentic.”
The new restaurants at the mountain, Alice’s Table and the Tower Bar, feature Vermont apple cider, Cabot cheddar, Vermont bacon and burgers, and a beer made especially for Jay Peak by Long Trail called Jay Peak Tram Ale.
The chefs have started a garden just outside the new restaurant, and plan to expand it.
He said Jay Peak has always supported the area’s farmers, recently through the Green Mountain Farm to School program, and Jay Peak will continue to look for more ways to do so.
“The relationship with the farm community is pretty indelible, and it goes deep.”
Pete’s Greens in Craftsbury has seen steady growth. The barn fire at his farm on Wednesday, January 19, was a huge setback. But it’s clear that Mr. Johnson will rebuild and his customers will see him through this difficult time.
Mr. Johnson has more than 350 CSA members. His business has seen 15 to 20 percent growth in gross sales in recent years, he said in an interview last fall. Earlier the growth was faster. That’s plenty of growth per year. He doesn’t want it to grow so fast he loses control over quality.
“It’s not like you’re just making widgets,” he said. He has seven full-time employees and 13 in the growing season. He raises 40,000 pounds of beets, 70,000 pounds of potatoes, and 50,000 to 60,000 pounds of greens.
Andrew Meyer has seen growth in both of the agriculture-related businesses he’s got in Hardwick. Vermont Soy sells its products to local independent stores and around New England and New York City. He also sells to food services, including the University of Vermont and Middlebury College.
“We’re starting to introduce products with a longer shelf life,” he said. The company grew 50 percent in 2010 and employs six people.
Vermont Natural Coatings, which makes paints and stains of whey, doubled its sales in 2010.
Mr. Meyer, who is one of the people who started the Center for an Agricultural Economy in Hardwick, sees potential for more growth in the agriculture-related economy if and when more infrastructure can be added.
For example, he would like to see a system for farmers who sell at farmers markets and who have extra produce. A distribution system could be established to sell the rest of their produce in a larger market by getting some farmers together, he suggested.
He’d also like to see a central facility where soy beans and other Vermont-grown grains could be stored, milled, cleaned, and distributed. That way each farm would not have to buy the expensive equipment needed for those tasks.
Curtis Sjolander, who raises vegetables and trout at his farm in Wheelock, is one of the managers of the Caledonia Farmers Market group.
Mr. Sjolander said despite the fact there are more farmers’ markets around than there were in the past, the Caledonia market (St. Johnsbury and Danville) has 50 vendors and is approaching a gross annual sales figure of $350,000. It has been increasing by 10 percent a year.
“Each one of us does better than we ever would alone,” Mr. Sjolander said.

contact Bethany M. Dunbar at [email protected]