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March Producer of the Month

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Producer of the Month: Deep Meadow Farm PDF Print E-mail

By Jon Megas-Russell
September 2016

Have you ever really pondered the work, effort, and time it takes to bring you all that kale you have in smoothies and salads? Or the zucchini you sauté with sweet onions and fresh herbs for dinner? They are such delightful products of such hard work. Agriculture dates back thousands and thousands of years, and it’s always been a difficult job. Tilling fields, planting seeds, weeding, cultivating, and harvesting the precious crops are labor intensive activities, without which we at the Brattleboro Food Co-op wouldn’t be able to stock all the delicious and beautiful produce we provide in the store. For this hard work we are thankful to our farmers, and as we crunch into that delightful cucumber or juicy tomato, we hope we can all remember to be grateful for their labors!

On a sweltering hot Monday morning in July I visited with John and Kyle Cohen of Deep Meadow Farm.  John owns the 70 acre farm and its 40 acres of deep river bottom soil, which sits on the banks of the Connecticut River and in the shadows on Mt. Ascutney. He has been practicing organic gardening since 1986, first in New Hampshire, and now Vermont. Originally from the West Village in Manhattan and Westchester, NY, he came to New England after high school to pursue an undergraduate degree and masters in psychology. He began farming in the mid
'80s with the primary goal of growing his own food. This venture became a passion that evolved into a livelihood.

Over time John has enlarged his scope and his acreage.  Initially, and for many years, he farmed 10 acres in Westminster, VT. In 2011 he purchased his current 70 acres with the help of the VT Land Trust. John uses the land for a diverse array of crops including beets, kale, chard, green beans, cabbage, broccoli, tomatoes, zucchini, pumpkins, and more. John and his crew grow three full acres of potatoes, and almost 25% of their total crop growth is winter squash. And as if that wasn’t enough, they also raise 200 laying hens, approximately 50 chickens, and 40 turkeys.

Deep Meadows’ products are sold in multiple ways: from their farm stand, through their 70+ CSA participants, and at markets around the region.  In fact, they attend multiple markets every week: in Woodstock, Ludlow, and Londonderry, as well as the Brattleboro Winter Farmer’s market (which, incidentally, John helped get off the ground many years ago).  

John employs over 10 people during the spring, summer and fall seasons.  He prides himself on creating local jobs and paying fair wages.  His son Kyle handles much of the field management – he loves his work, putting in many long, hot days to ensure that the fields are producing the best possible organic vegetables. Another key member of his team is Stacy, who handles the pack house and much of the seed management. John deeply appreciates the work of his team at the farm, and is always seeking more long term staff that can help manage the many tasks he deals with each day. He told me he has a hand in almost every aspect of the farm, from ordering seeds and planning his crops, to managing his team, making
deliveries, cultivating the fields, handling orders and so much more.

While it’s clear that farming is not getting any easier, I could see how the process is changing and streamlining with the help of various technologies during my visit. Every season John says they get a bit more efficient at the farm. When I asked him how and why he is able to do this he looked at me with a big smile and stated, “You want to know what makes me excited? The ingenuity of good equipment.” From there he started sharing all of the tools and trator parts that have helped his whole team go from spending long days to mere hours on jobs like planting, weeding, and cultivating.  One of the best examples of this amazing farm technology is “The Dibbler” (created, built and sold by Two Cats Farm in Rutland): this tool is hooked to the back of a tractor, where it both pokes holes in plastic and sets the rows up for planting. John also shared that the farm is using digital technology to further optimize their farming: they use a program called Crop Planner, which helps them strategize their labor, record activities, and work towards a robust food traceability system.They’re able to track their crops from seed to greenhouse to field, and all the way to the store. By implementing this programming, Deep Meadows’ organic certification with VOF (Vermont Organic Farmers) has become easier to obtain, and the farm is now approaching GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) certification. GAP entails voluntary audits that verify fruits and vegetables are produced, packed, handled, and stored as safely as possible to minimize risks of microbial food safety hazards.  Both of these official stamps of approval make John quite proud. They allow him to be prepared for any future changes in the industry, and to continue to make his farm a premier producer in Vermont.

Looking ahead John is excited about the future of his farm, specifically his “gift of feeding people good food.” He also loves to collaborate with other farms such as Harlow Farm, and credits Paul Harlow for much help and friendship over the years. He is determined to continue to grow his business - he always harvests more produce than he sells each year.  He predicts this growth will likely come largely from wholesale business, for instance selling to food cooperatives such as our Brattleboro Food Co-op, or to Deep Root Organics, which aggregates and sells his produce
all over the state and beyond.

When I asked why he has always grown organic vegetables, John said that “it just makes sense,” and that he wants to be steward for the land and grow great food for people with minimal environmental impact. We are proud to support a local producer with such integrity and devotion to growing food that’s good for people and good for the environment.

Look for the veggies grown by John, Kyle, Stacy and the whole Deep Meadow crew in the Produce department here at your Brattleboro Food Co-op!

Come visit the team from Deep Meadow Farm on Tuesday, September 20th from 1-3 pm at the Co-op!