by Emily R. V. Ballard
I was greeted through the screened door, as supper smells carried toward me despite the heavy, late-summer air.
Paul Harlow welcomed me into his kitchen with a wave, then turned his back in order to stir a sizzling something on his restaurant-quality stove. We got straight to business, an easy smile quickly breaking across his face in time with his speedy, sure answers in response to my questions. It was immediately clear that Paul Harlow knows of what he speaks; the farm that bears his name has been in his family for nearly 100 years, and he’s been at the helm since 1975.
When I asked about damage from Hurricane Irene, his response was matter-of-fact. “No structural damage, no land loss. We lost a quarter-million-dollars’ worth of produce. We’re also seeing new weeds popping up, things that came down with the water.” He isn't bothered, really. “We just pull them up, like the others.”
To a non-farmer, the scope and scale of Harlow Farm can seem daunting: 150 acres of worked farmland; 1,000 laying hens and meat birds per year; pigs and cows slaughtered annually at Westminster Meats; a line of jams, pickles, salsas, pestos, and baked goods; a year-round CSA; a large, bountiful farm stand; and the hip Café Loco.
But instead of talking about profits or yields, instead of wanting to discuss just how much work really goes into all of this, Harlow wanted to talk about his local food bank, and about getting more of his produce into the schools near his farm. “That’s a real focus right now. At the beginning, we sold to some bigger retailers to grow the business, and now we’re looking to bring things back around to our community.” More than 50,000 pounds of produce were donated to the Vermont Foodbank last year, and Harlow works closely with the Windham Farm and Food Network (WFFN) to continue bringing his produce into local schools.
In addition to all of the food annually donated by Harlow, a great deal is sold directly to local retailers like the Brattleboro Food Co-op. For more than 15 years, kale, carrots, potatoes, pumpkins, winter squash, and onions have graced the fall shelves of the Co-op’s produce section. This year will be no different. “Kale’s really become a big seller,” said Harlow. And in keeping with the tradition of an intergenerational farming organization, Paul’s son, Evan, is beginning to lighten his father’s workload a bit, happily becoming a part of the fourth generation to farm his family’s land.
As we prepared to leave, more delicious dinner smells emerged. Some of the farm workers — Jamaican men who have been coming to Vermont for as many as 12 years with the federal H-2A program, which temporarily partners workers with farms—were cooking. A tiny white cat followed us loudly, out to a field of freshly sown kale for some photos. As we got into our car to go, Paul emerged from his kitchen, this time holding a knife. “I forgot to get the chard for dinner,” he said as he sauntered a few paces toward a nearby greenhouse. “It doesn’t get much fresher than this.”