Dutchess Farm keeps its products fresh and local
By YVONNE DALEY
CASTLETON – Students at Castleton’s elementary and middle schools were munching on vegetables that Stephen Chamberlain had harvested just that morning while Chamberlain was at his greenhouses located not far away, busily distributing a few hundred ladybugs.
Chamberlain was hoping that the ladybugs, which had been flown in from California just that morning, might be hungry enough to make their lunch of any insect pests munching on his spinach crop.
It’s all part of Chamberlain’s carefully orchestrated effort to grow healthy organic food that’s eaten locally — not just by neighboring children, but also by 100 area families with weekly food subscriptions; customers at the Downtown Rutland Farmers Market and the Rutland Food Co-op; patrons at the Iron Lantern, a Castleton restaurant; and residents at Forty Seven Main, a mental health treatment center located just a few blocks from the home Chamberlain shares with his wife Julia and their three children.
Michelle Powers, food service manager for Castleton-Hubbardton schools, buys bushels of tomatoes and peppers in season from Chamberlain’s Dutchess Farm and processes what isn’t eaten immediately into sauce for spaghetti and pizza. She works for the Abbey Group, a food supplier that incorporates locally grown produce in its school offerings.
About 250 of Castleton’s 374 elementary and middle school students eat school lunch regularly; Powers is committed to cooking with fresh food free of sodium and unhealthy additives while also reducing the schools’ carbon footprint by decreasing the amount of food trucked in from far away.
Along with tomatoes, peppers and salad mix, Powers uses garlic, potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash and cucumbers grown by Chamberlain and works with him at seed-ordering time in her effort to introduce students to food they might not be familiar with; this year it was watermelon radishes and husk cherries.
Powers also purchases leftover vegetables after the weekend farmers’ market at a greatly reduced cost – a benefit to both the school district and Chamberlain and a mutual effort to avoid waste. But while she enjoys saving the school system a bit of money,
Powers says it’s the quality that keeps her committed to buying local.
“There is no comparison to the stuff we have shipped in from elsewhere,” she says. “Steve’s food is always an excellent value.”
His Dutchess Farm actually incorporates several locations from greenhouses and fields located behind his home near downtown Castleton to land leased from Ed Lewis, a seventh-generation farmer whose Tidy Hill Farm in North Poultney was the longest running dairy farm in Vermont until Lewis retired in 1999.
That property has beautiful soil, good drainage and sun exposure not to mention a postcard setting surrounded by deciduous trees just now taking on their fall colors.
For the complete story, see Tuesday’s Rutland Herald.