I’ve come to Vergennes Laundry in search of a tart, that exquisite strawberry verbena tart expertly captured on the cover of this magazine, but it is not to be. For the second time in two days, I’ve missed the Laundry’s celebrated creation, its availability on a given day dependent on the quality of strawberries from a limited number of local sources that morning.
Yet instead of the tart, here are the best croissants in Vermont, rich, flaky, crusty as anything from the Boul Mich or Saint-Cirq Lapopie, great rich loaves of pain au levain, cardamom buns, fresh radishes with chive butter, and fresh rhubarb popsicles. The effect is entirely deliberate and evocative of a country bakery in an old-time suburb in the Île de France. And here is the basis of all art—the mapping of one thing onto another and saying they are “like” each other. Vermont, in every way culinary and agricultural, has come to resemble Dordogne, Burgundy, Tuscany, and other celebrated regions like them in Italy, California, Mexico.
To even call Vermont’s local-food tradition a “movement” anymore is to deny its thriving presence for more than a generation, growing and deepening every minute. It’s so pervasive that it represents something almost Platonic about northern New England in its evocation of homegrown husbandry, thrift, work, and the poetry they give rise to. That’s probably because it overlaps with the previous hardscrabble era, when the only way to farm was organically and permaculturally.
As Wyatt Orme’s story (“The Art of Perfection”) and the rest of the food pieces in this issue demonstrate, Vergennes Laundry and its owner Julianne Jones ’07 epitomize everything about the College’s longtime commitment to fostering Vermont’s tradition of sustainable farming and food distribution. In the production, purchasing, and preparation of food, and in the study of local and sustainable agriculture, the College’s faculty, administration, and student body are united.
Every semester my nonfiction-writing students propose and write stories on local and regional food programs, including our own. Middlebury’s Organic Farm provides some of the seasonal produce served in the dining halls. The seven students of Middlebury Foods are making it easier for low-income Vermonters to pay the premiums that come with all this bounty, and Middlebury FoodWorks fosters internships for students in farming and food production in two locales: Louisville, Kentucky, and here in Vermont, including at Vergennes Laundry.
Other alums are digging in to the tradition at its earthiest level. A former student of mine, Geordie Lynd ’08, came from a family of organic dairy farmers in New Hampshire and as an undergraduate worked every semester at a farm on Munger Street. Now he operates his own organic dairy in Cabot, Vermont. Other alums are raising goats and cheese; grass-fed meats; or, like Suzanne Calhoun ’14, from Jericho, Vermont, value-added products like Suzanne’s Sweet Savories sauces.
It makes you imagine Middlebury and Vermont as existing in a cornucopian ideal of foison and plenty. Though obstacles still exist to growing regional markets, a way ahead seems clear. In Vermont and beyond, we can eat and live well and deliberately at the same time, as these students’ and alumni efforts attest.