On a recent hot summer evening, a group gathered on the grass along the driveway leading to Ananda Gardens, an organic farm with a focus on community wellness. The property is about as local as you can get to downtown Montpelier and still find that much open land, located on Horn of the Moon Road, just off Route 12, so close that one of the event participants literally ran there from State Street in Montpelier (he did catch a ride home, though).
They gathered for the Co-op’s farm tour of a local, family-run farm that has become a big part of the local food system. The group, some of them Co-op member-owners and others not, were not just there to tour the farm; they were also there to learn all about gleaning. Leading them in that discussion was Allison Levin, Executive Director of Community Harvest of Central Vermont (CHCV), who joined Patrick Sullivan, farm manager of Ananda Gardens, in planning and presenting the workshop.
Ananda Gardens grows organic produce which they distribute in a number of ways, including their CSA and farm stand, along with supplying local restaurants, caterers, and wholesalers. Workshop participants got an in-depth look into everything that goes into making that happen, including an extensive tour of what Patrick had growing in his fields and greenhouses. Along the way, there were many questions, which Patrick was happy to answer, regarding best-growing practices, till vs. no-till, cover crops, what to plant when, ensuring the longevity and sustainability of a farm or garden, hemp growing, cucumber beetles, and much more.
“Eating fresh and healthy is a real gift, and everyone deserves access to local food,” Patrick says. “Farming involves so many variables, and in order to produce food to fulfill our commitments, we often have surplus left over to share at the end of the week. This is where CHCV steps in and has the connections to donate local food where it is most needed.”
Along with the wealth of agricultural knowledge shared by Patrick, the group had the opportunity to learn how and why gleaning happens at farms like Ananda Gardens, which donates over a thousand pounds of vegetables per season to CHCV. That’s a modest portion of the surplus food recovered every year by organizations like CHCV and then delivered to those who lack access to healthy, fresh, local food. The gleaning is achieved largely through the kind of collaboration highlighted by the workshop, with Allison developing relationships and partnerships with many local farmers and then with the organizations who receive the gleaned produce.
“We can only do what we do because farmers like Patrick are generous and also increasingly aware of how much we can work together,” Allison says. “Surplus happens at farms for all sorts of reasons, let’s combine our efforts to put it to good use!”
Collaborating with our community partners is a vital part of what we do at the Co-op, and we were excited to offer this kind of educational farm tour to our community. We were also glad to continue to highlight two organizations we are proud to support, whether through the Hunger Mountain Cooperative Community Fund grant received by Ananda Gardens last year or through the Give Change program, which again this July allows our community to collectively support the work of CHCV.
At the end of the tour, Patrick’s wife Melisa provided the group with some snacks, made from produce she had pulled from the ground just an hour or so before. Snap peas, cucumbers, and zucchini carpaccio. It certainly fulfilled Ananda Gardens’ mission to “create wellness on earth through farming, inspiring happiness and awareness of our interconnection with the natural world,” and led some to linger on the farm, enjoying the food, community and camaraderie, as the sun set behind the nearby mountains and long after the workshop was supposed to have ended.