State celebrates Open Farm Week
Pine Island Community Farm in Colchester invites visitors
By Colin Flanders
The Essex Reporter
More than 80 Vermont farms will take part in the state’s first Open Farm Week, which runs from Aug. 3 to Aug. 9 and is hosted by the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont.
The goal of the event, made possible in part by funding from Vermont Speciality Crop Block Grant and the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service Farmers Market Promotion Program, is to connect people with farmers and promote direct buying through farmers markets.
“This weeklong event is really a celebration of our farmer and our agricultural landscape,” said NOFA Vermont’s Erin Buckwalter in a press release. “We want to organize a fun and successful statewide event, and have it grow every year, as a tradition for Vermonters and visitors to Vermont to be able to enjoy the ‘inside scoop’ and get to know more about our farms.”
Karen Freudenberger, the project manager at Colchester’s Pine Island Community Farm, which represents a partnership between the Vermont Land Trust and the Association of Africans Living in Vermont, said the week is a great opportunity to “connect better to our food system and where it comes from.”
“We plan to have some of our younger goats right up here where people can go in and pet them, feed them and frolic with them. And then if people are interested, they can go down and visit the gardens and talk to some of the new Americans who are farming or growing crops that will be a little different than what people are used to,” Freudenberger said.
Freudenberger highlighted one specific venture the farm has undertaken, which she called “eat your weeds.”
“We have noticed that many of the new Americans have really great recipes using what we consider to be the weeds in the garden,” Freudenberger said.
Originally, the weeds would be pulled and spinach would be planted in their place. After doing some research, however, Freudenberger said they realized this practice was a “really crazy thing to do,” as the weeds have much more nutrition than the spinach does, “and it tastes really yummy.”
“So we’re collecting up some of those recipes and we hope to have some of those people can taste, and show them what some of those useful weeds are — even people in the city have these weeds in their garden — so you don’t have to take care of them or even water them,” Freudenberger said.
Other offerings at Pine Island Farm will include rides around the property as well as a Saturday afternoon potluck goat roast where people can bring a dish they wish to share. An up-to-date listing of participating farms, their offerings, and their Open Farm Week hours can be found at www.DigInVT.com. Participants are encouraged to join the conversation on social media by using #VTOpenFarm.
“Everyone needs to remember to connect back to the land, because it just makes you happy,” Freudenberger said. “What more can I say?”
Pine Island Community Farm is located at 1029 Pine Island Road in Colchester, and will be hosting visitors from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the weekend of Aug. 8 and Aug. 9.
USDA proposes ways to help low-income, homebound seniors and people with disabilities
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced earlier this month that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is proposing to improve access to groceries for homebound seniors and people with disabilities who participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
USDA is proposing for the first time to permit grocery purchasing and delivery services run by government and non-profit organizations to accept SNAP benefits as payment, allowing for home delivery to those unable to shop for food. Vilsack announced the proposal July 13 during the 2015 White House Conference on Aging. Nationally, only 42 percent of eligible elderly individuals participate in SNAP, compared to 83 percent for all people who are eligible.
“Home delivery of groceries is an important step forward in serving the needs of these vulnerable populations. Allowing homebound seniors and people with disabilities to use their SNAP benefits through government and non-profit home delivery services will help ensure they have access to healthy foods,” Secretary Vilsack said, noting that one in five SNAP participants is either elderly or disabled. “This issue has a particular importance for seniors living in rural areas, as America’s rural population is older than the nation overall and rural seniors experience higher poverty than seniors nationwide.”
Authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill, the proposed rule outlines eligibility and participation criteria for purchasing and delivery services serving the homebound elderly and disabled, and seeks comment from stakeholders.
In addition, USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service will soon begin seeking up to 20 food purchasing and delivery services to participate in a one-year pilot program. Lessons learned during the pilot will used to help shape the final rule.
As the nation’s first line of defense against hunger, SNAP helps put food on the table for millions of low-income families and individuals every month and has never been more critical to the fight against hunger. SNAP is a vital supplement to the monthly food budget of more than 46 million low-income individuals. Nearly half of SNAP participants are children, nine percent are over 60 and more than 40 percent of recipients live in households with earnings.
— Staff report