Today my friend Jack exclaimed to me that ‘some days you don’t remember, but today, I’ll remember this for the rest of my life.” It was only about 12 noon when he made this declaration, and we had a lot more activities to finish out our second day in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.
We were up early for oatmeal and pancakes at the Lyndonville Freighthouse, hard by the railroad tracks, where I asked our young waitress whether any passenger trains ever pass by these tracks. Nope, she said, only freight trains. We had an meeting in Danville, and raindrops fell outside as we finished our coffee. We were to meet Allan Manning, whose passion is climbing trees.
We spent some time with Allan as he prepped us for the morning’s climb, showing us how to put on a three piece harness and how to make sure the carrabiner is secure on the rope. A crash test dummy stood in front of us, all harnessed up, to demonstrate. Outside were two sturdy pine trees, shorn of their branches up about 30 feet. In minutes we were inching our way up the trees, taking in the sweeping views from higher and higher up.
Allan shared a lot of his political opinions with us, which we welcomed, since it was fun to learn about the Kingdom and about how he got into this business from a guy our age. He liked us too, sharing that he thinks there are too many welfare and aid recipients and that Canada’s health care system isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. “With 50% taxes up there,” he said, “I’d rather pay for my health care than have to wait in line when the government pays!”
After our successful ascent of the smaller pines, it was time to amble down to his big treehouse in a four-wheel ATV to find some bigger trees to climb. These were 60 feet high, and the treehouse proved to be kind of cool too. It has a fireman’s pole to get down quickly, comfortable living and sleeping areas and he rents it out for $100 a night.
There’s also a nice pond he had dug out to take a swim in, and a full bathroom on the ground nearby. We enjoyed Allan so much that we were happy to join him on the deck for a beer and some more talking politics.
Our next stop was to the Center for an Agricultural Economy, in the small town of Hardwick, pop. 3500. Monty Fischer, the director told us about the goal of his agency–to complete a whole circle starting with seeds, promoting farms, finding transport to market, processing and storage, retail CSA sales and finally, composting to create better soil in the Kingdom.
One of their endeavors is the Vermont Food Venture Center, where small scale food producers get professional help in a commercial kitchen and expert advice on marketing and innovation.
The first person we met was a young woman who was applying labels to bottles of a Vermont-made energy drink called Swichel, which is made of apple cider vinegar, honey, ginger and goes back to the olden days of farmers haying the fields who wanted a cooling energizing drink. The stuff is pretty darn good, and soon it will be sold in stores here, now, it’s only available at farmer’s markets.
Other products produced at the center include salsa kimchi and a new line of organic baby food. We were eager to meet some of the farmers who make this place such an agricultural mecca, and we followed Monte out to Craftsbury, where Pete’s Greens is located.
This big operation, with 80+ acres is famous for producing a huge array of organic vegetables and for their moving greenhouses, which can be shifted to extend growing seasons. Workers were stuffing bags full of a variety of produce including garlic scapes and spinach that were to be given to the members of the local CSA.
Atop the roof of the shed where the vegetables are grown was an impressive green grass and produce filled roof! Monte told us about how many young 20-somethings up here are getting into farming, and how exciting it is to be involved in agriculture here these days.
We’d get a chance to sample more of the local wares when we finished our day at Claire’s, a lovely and simply elegant restaurant in downtown Hardwick. Nearly everything on the menu was from the Kingdom, and our starter of beets, raspberries, chevre and walnuts paired perfectly with a mojito.
It was a day to remember, we both agreed, one so filled with action, smells, tastes and scenes that we both would never forget it.