The Lake Champlain Valley softens the eastern shores of the sixth largest lake in the United States. Human habitation dates back 7,500 years in the fertile valley spanning the 110-mile Lake Champlain in northwest Vermont.
Tucked below Canada’s Quebec Province and the northeastern corner of New York State, Lake Champlain earned its name after the first European settler, Samuel de Champlain, arrived in 1609. Serving as a military corridor in the 18th and early 19th centuries, the centrally located lumber port of Burlington is now Vermont’s largest and most diverse city.
Agriculture has historically played a prominent role throughout the Champlain Valley. Twenty years of urban farming at the Burlington Intervale on 700-acres of bottomland along the Winooski River, feeding into Lake Champlain, has been a staple in Vermont’s sustainable agriculture efforts.
The vast fields and farms spanning northwest beyond St. Albans are dominated by the state’s highest concentration of dairy farms. Vineyards, alpaca, poultry, and orchards are dotted across the Champlain Islands offering glimpses of the agricultural diversification steadily making its way into Vermont’s working landscape.
It is here where the marshes of northern Lake Champlain mingle with the open terrain of Vermont’s dairy country creating a bog environment perfect for juicy, bouncy cranberries. Vermont’s only commercial cranberry farm began its operation in the mid-1990s in East Fairfield, Vermont.
Vermont Cranberry Company sells fresh and dried cranberries online, at Vermont farmer’s markets, and at independent stores and co-ops throughout the state. Cranberry preserves, sauces, and vinegars are popular by-products and the cranberries are used to make Vermont’s Boyden Valley Winery Cranberry Wine.
Diversified farming continues south into the deeper pockets of the Champlain Valley. Most noted for its horse farms, Charlotte and Shelburne contain some of the most prized farmland in the state. When not being converted to excessive trophy homes, conservation efforts aid in keeping this rich landscape a working one. Aurora Farm in Charlotte, growing hay and grain for over 24 years, began cultivating organic red winter wheat in 2008 which makes the bread flour for Vermont’s Red Hen Baking Company’s Cyrus Pringle Loaf.
Named after a Vermont wheat grower from the late 19th century, Aurora Farm, partnered with UVM Extension and SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education), have reinvigorated grain growing in Vermont. Selling under the label of the Nitty Gritty Grain Company, Aurora Farm and neighboring farmland grow organic grains and sell cornmeal, mixes, flour, and wheat berries on their website and at select Vermont markets.
Just one town south in the small community of Ferrisburgh, Boundbrook Farm began operating in 2006 to grow grains for their bakery but found clay plain bottomland too soggy and the marshes too wet even for hay. The weakest link was seized as an opportunity and the farm now boasts six acres of rice paddies growing hayayuki short-grain japonica rice.
The introduction of rice paddies has not only generated Vermont’s first rice crop sold directly at Boundbrook Farm as Vermont Rice, but the paddies create a vibrant amphibian environment. This year, ducks will also be introduced to provide fertility and weed control as well as agricultural diversification for integrated duck and rice farming.
The Vermont Food Trail has grown from dairy, maple, cheese, beer, wine, and specialty products to include crops one thought would never grow in Vermont. Cranberries, wheat, and rice are a showcase of the commitment to a local and developing regional food system.
The local food and agricultural movement in Vermont is managed by a growing number of farmers, land stewards, food producers, and agriculture enthusiasts backed by government, corporations, and philanthropy working together for the sustainability of Vermont.