BRATTLEBORO—Ron Krupp, a former Saxtons River farmer, recently published his latest book, “The Woodchuck Returns to Gardening,” the “sister-companion” to his 2005 title, “The Woodchuck’s Guide to Gardening.” The latter book, now in its ninth printing with more than 18,000 copies sold, received the Christian Science Monitor Garden Book of the Year Award for New England.
According to Krupp, we’ve lost our rural character, even here in Vermont, which many consider among the nation’s more agricultural states.
He’s directed much of his life’s work toward retaining a connection to the cycles of growth and harvest, and has encouraged others in that endeavor.
In “The Woodchuck Returns,” Krupp demonstrates through a two-year journal of his gardens at home and at a community garden space in Burlington that it is not only possible to successfully grow one’s own food in a challenging climate with long winters, it is also enjoyable — and necessary, if we want to retain our connection to the source of our food.
The book extends beyond a rote gardening instruction manual. It combines journal entries, instructions, clear definitions of agricultural terms, illustrations, and personal anecdotes to keep the reader engaged.
“My humor and cynicism are there,” Krupp says. “It’s very biographical. I go off on tangents.”
One noteworthy example is introduced in the book’s preface, where Krupp introduces his “garden muse.”
As you turn the pages of “The Woodchuck Returns,” he writes, you’ll be followed by a garden jester called the Chuckster.
“The Chuckster is like the Coyote, who’ll jump in now and then to play tricks on me as I encounter the challenges of growing vegetables and planting fruit trees in a northern climate,” he explains.
Krupp’s use of a comic foil allows an ongoing dialogue between the diehard gardener and the needling skeptic to answer frequently asked questions about gardening while poking gentle fun at those who choose to remove themselves from the source of their food.
For example, in the section where Krupp explains how to build hot beds and cold frames for winter-weather gardening, and why these are necessary, the Chuckster chimes in: “Why do you go to so much trouble opening and closing the sashes and putting bamboo window blinds over the cold frame? To me, it’s a lot easier to go to the supermarket and buy a head of lettuce.”
This allows Krupp a teachable moment without resorting to pedantry.
Although Krupp lives and gardens in South Burlington, his farming roots run deep in Windham County soil.
“Brattleboro has always been one of my favorite places,” Krupp says. “I have lots of close friends there, and I really had a lot of opportunities there.”
“The Woodchuck Returns,” although self-published, was released under Brattleboro performer and playwright Peter Gould’s Whetstone Books imprint.
State Rep. Mollie S. Burke, P/D-Brattleboro, contributed “Endangered Season: Winter in Vermont,” a painting Krupp describes as “beautiful,” to the book.
Krupp left his home in Kentucky’s Clay County for the Brattleboro area in the mid-1960s for graduate school. Here, he promptly immersed himself in local farming.
During that time, small-scale agriculture was in flux, with (mostly) younger people coming up to Vermont from cities and suburbs to establish communes and farms.
“When I got out of the service, where I was a conscientious objector, in the spring of 1969, I returned to the area and started working at Hillendale Farm up on Putney Mountain,” Krupp recounts. “It was an organic and biodynamic beef, vegetable, and apple farm long before ‘organic’ was a household word, or subject to licensure and regulation.”
After working with local growers such as Green Mountain Orchard, Alice Holloway, and Howard Prussack, and after becoming friendly with iconic homesteaders Helen and Scott Nearing, Krupp bought his own parcel — five or six acres — in Saxtons River.
On that land Krupp launched his own farm and immersed himself in the local and rapidly disappearing centuries-old farming culture.
“I met all these old farmers who were no longer farming,” he says. “They’d tell stories and sing songs. They influenced me.”
Getting to know these folks, Krupp says, fostered his desire to “raise the persona, and honor” the woodchuck, a much-maligned stereotype of the old-fashioned Vermonter.
“They were older people who remembered local farming, putting food by,” Krupp explains, “and you don’t see many like that any more.”
Combining these “woodchuck” traditions with the nascent communal philosophy of good food for all “with a little marketing thrown in,” Krupp, with a handful of friends, established two of the town’s most beloved food-related endeavors: the now-defunct Common Ground restaurant and the still-thriving Brattleboro Area Farmers’ Market.
It’s a time Krupp recalls fondly, with evident warmth.
“I still remember that night. Richard Foye, Christine Weissinger, Norm Kuebler, and I went to the movies in Keene, and we came up with this idea: Let’s start a natural food store. It was all counterculture: idealistic — and frustrating, at times. It was an exciting time,” Krupp says.
The Common Ground, he says, “started out with people involved in the Socialist movement. Free Vermont! Free everything!”
Krupp sold his produce to the Common Ground but needed an additional market for his farm’s wares. In the early 1970s he started the Brattleboro Area Farmers’ Market.
Multiple sources list Ron Krupp as the founder of that market, but he modestly declines credit.
“Well, I sort of led the way,” he sheepishly recalls during a recent interview. He is quicker to praise the hard work of the residents of the Packer Corners commune in Guilford and of local farmer and orchardist Dwight Miller in making the Farmers’ Market a reality.
“Nobody could beat Dwight,” Krupp says. “He was a great person and very supportive.”
These days, Krupp teaches biodynamic farming to interns at Heartbeet Lifesharing (heartbeet.org), a therapeutic residence for adults with developmental disabilities in Hardwick. At home, he continues working on his next book. The working title is “The Woodchuck Returns, Part II.” The project will include landscape plants and ornamentals.
“I also do a lot of talks at libraries and other places,” Krupp says.
For the past 12 years he’s been a regular commentator on Vermont Public Radio, talking about gardening and farming. “I sneak other topics in when I can,” Krupp says, adding that it was his essays for VPR, and for the now-defunct Vermont Times, that was the impetus for his books.
And what provided the impetus for those essays?
“I injured myself and I needed to do something. I needed the work. Then once I got started, I thought, Why stop?”