A walk through the market

Farmers from the region connect with buyers for winter food and other goods

The Commons spoke with several farmers who participate in the Brattleboro Winter Farmers' Market to find out more about their farms and offerings.

Coming to the Brattleboro Winter Farmers' Market from Westminster, Peter Dixon and Rachael Schall of Parish Hill Creamery say that the enterprise is where they've been able to put their experience and passions into full play, making "cheese that is the ultimate expression of this place" from milk that comes from the Elm Lea Farm at the Putney School.

Dixon made his first cheese in 1983 at Guilford Cheese Co., which operated in Dummerston until 1990. Schaal is new to the game, getting started when she and Dixon opened Parish Hill Creamery in 2013.

Dixon has consulted and taught classes with makers from well over 100 cheese businesses "from Albania to Shanghai, mostly here in the U.S.," he says.

Schall was an English teacher, worked at a winery, and spent years writing grants and coordinating education for farmers, dairy farmers, and cheese makers.

"We make cheese from May to November when the cows are on pasture, with raw milk, autochthonous fermenting cultures, animal rennet, and Maine sea salt," she says.

They now make 13 varieties, selling "as much as possible in our local community and in New England," but the Parish Hill Cheeses are also available "as far away as Los Angeles," she says.

The small cheese operation received huge honors in 2023, when four varieties were honored in the World Cheese Awards in Norway, the largest cheese competition in the world.

Out of more than 4,500 cheeses from 48 countries entered, Parish Hill received bronze medals for its Vermont Herdsman and Jack's Blue varieties and top honors - the Super Gold medal - for another two varieties, Humble (its longest-aged cheese) and Idyll (its shortest-aged offering).

"Out of the 100 Super Golds awarded, seven came to U.S. producers, so we are delighted that two came to our cheeses," Schall says. "We hope that our win encourages other small scale producers, so that they might feel empowered to make cheese using natural methods and traditional techniques."

Howard Prussack, proprietor of High Meadows Farm in Westminster, was with Imelda Reilly, who he described as "our public face for the farm and [who] always has a radiant smile for everyone."

Prussack got started farming in Westminster West on Kim Hubbard's Nature Farms in 1971, and he "just fell in love with the soil and growing organic vegetables."

"Eight years later, I was able to buy my own 50-acre farm just down the road a bit and since 1979 have built nine greenhouses and rebuilt the barns and established one of the premier produce farms in the county," says Prussack, who co-founded the original Brattleboro Farmers' Market on Route 9 and still loves being there.

"Now the winter market extends our season for our customers," he says. "We specialize in some unique items such as our famous black garlic, along with CBD hemp and storage vegetables."

With his son, Kyle, Jon Cohen brings produce to the market from his farm in Ascutney. But he has agricultural roots in Westminster, where he farmed before being able to obtain a conserved farm, Deep Meadow Farm, through the Vermont Land Trust.

"We started farming on the seacoast of New Hampshire in 1986," he says. "It was more of a homesteading effort which turned into small farmers markets and [community supported agriculture farms]."

Cohen says he returned to farming in 2001 in Westminister, and about 13 years ago, moved to Ascutney to farm about 48 acres.

"We do year-round, diversified vegetable production with some berries," he says. "All certified organic."

The farm sells greens, root crops, potatoes, beets, carrots, onions, cabbage, "and lots more," says Cohen, who calls the Winter Farmers Market "an integral part of our year-round income."

"Winter production and winter storage have dramatically increased including supplying the Winter Farmers' Market," he says. "We have really benefited from the market."

Justin Bramhall and Vanessa Rose of Leaping Bear Farm in Putney are self-described "first-generation farmers with a passion for healing and the environment."

Bramhall has a background in permaculture design and education, and Rose is a graphic designer and marketer.

"We use our past experiences daily to grow our farm, and to help refine our customers' understanding of regenerative agriculture, organic growing practices, and how they can positively contribute to healing our food systems," Rose says.

"We deeply value our community, which makes our work rewarding, but we know food producers are facing some serious challenges [because of ongoing climate change] and we want to help face those issues head on," she added.

She pointed out that "how our food is farmed can either add to the destruction of our planet or it can do the opposite - creating abundance and resiliency across our communities."

"In five seasons, we have produced over 5,000 pasture raised chickens for the local community, as well as fresh eggs, micro-greens, homemade broth, and pet food topper," she says. "We are focused on making a positive impact on our land, in our management of animals, and in your health and diet."

Dwight Miller Orchards in Dummerston has participated in the Winter Farmers Market since the beginning.

Malah Miller, who operates the orchard with her husband, Read, calls the 2023 season "a very challenging one for growing successful crops, starting with a mid-May freeze, flooding in June/July, and an overabundance of rain all summer."

Consequently, "our apple offerings at this time are slim but we work hard to provide a variety of products," she says. "As always, organic apple cider vinegar, farmmade fruit jams, honey, sweet cider, farmhouse doughnuts, and - drumroll, please! - this year's crop of maple syrup."

"In the past, both of our daughters Ruth and Martha, have helped us at Farmers Markets," says Malah, who notes that she and Read have celebrated their 42nd wedding anniversary. "Now they are pursuing their careers."

But the legacy will continue.

"Read is generation seven on our farm and our son Will, number 8," Malah says.

This News item by Victoria Chertok was written for The Commons.

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