Let's Go for a Walk in the Woods
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by Emily Alger

As the maple trees turned golden and the earth began to smell of pine needles and fallen leaves, I went for a walk in the woods. I chose one of my favorite spots in South Hero, Tracy Woods. And I invited Anne Tracy, one of the landowners, to come along with me. Meandering along the trails, it’s clear that this forest is a magical place for children and grown-ups alike. Anne and her older brother Charles (who passed away in 1989) had the run of the place while growing up. Anne says, “my grandfather was up in the woods every day. We would go up to find him, or just run around- the woods were my playground… where my imagination grew, where I learned to explore and love the natural world.” 

Anne and Charles Tracy go for a walk on an autumn day, 1971

Anne and Charles Tracy go for a walk on an autumn day, 1971

A Magical Place to Be a Child
Anne’s grandfather was an avid woodsman who invited hundreds of boy scouts from the Islands and farther afield to camp in the woods over the years, while her grandmother loved gardens. She describes walking in the woods with her grandparents, learning about the trees from her grandfather and wildflowers from her grandmother. She tagged along with her brother, who encouraged her to feel brave and independent outdoors. 

She explored the world of her imagination, playing in an area they called the Enchanted Forest, where small trees grew in an old gravel pit. “I would play Alice in Wonderland- and pretend to eat the cake that makes you big. And then walk out into it and all the trees are dwarfed, so suddenly I was towering over them. And then I would pretend to drink the potion that makes you small and go back into the rest of the woods.”

Outdoor spaces, from the edge of a stream to a wooded hillside, are important places for children. There are plenty of fallen branches, pine cones, leaves, and other materials to collect. There are hidden worlds to discover as they get a little older. Anne remembers building fairy houses in a mossy grove, just feet away from her grandfather, but feeling independent and brave. Those same branches become building materials later, and the tadpoles in the stream become science projects. There is no better way to encourage children to grow up to be naturalists and scientists (whether it’s a profession or a passion) than to let them explore and learn about the natural world in their own backyard. And time spent with a mentor- like Anne’s grandparents were for her- can be equally valuable.

The Call of the Woods- Finding Peace and Renewal
Adults need wild places too. We all face challenges, worries, and fears in our lives. The woods can help us find a sense of calm. I know that when things seem to be moving too fast in my own life, a wander through the woods help me slow down. And while the trees don’t actually speak to me, I often find solutions to my worries while walking or running along a wooded path. 

As Anne grew up, her relationship with the woods changed. Her place of exploration and imagination became a peaceful refuge. For Anne, the woods is a healing place, and she says “as soon as I step into the woods, no matter what is going on in my life, I feel like I remember how to breathe, I become re-centered. I’m so grateful for that. All I have to do is come home.”

Anne Tracy in the “Grandmother Tree,” a place she’d go as a child in the woods

Anne Tracy in the “Grandmother Tree,” a place she’d go as a child in the woods

The Call of the Woods- Finding Peace and Renewal
It’s these feelings the Tracy family wants to share with the South Hero community, today and into the future. Anne says the Woods were a “magical place to grow up, to be a child and explore. And that’s what I want other children to be able to do. To have these woods as a place to come with their parents and go on walks, or come with their school group. To get up into the woods and explore. To learn to love, appreciate, and protect the natural world.” And for adults? She says that to be someplace where we can set aside the worries of the world, “and just be still and breathe and listen,” is something that helps bring a sense of peace and well-being back to our everyday lives. 

Neighborhood children already play in these woods, building forts and fairy houses, visiting the giant hemlock trees, and looking for frogs and birds’ nests. Adults walk here, seeking peace and renewal. So when Anne, along with her father Hobart Tracy and his wife Naomi King, came to South Hero Land Trust, wanting to explore the path of land conservation, I was eager to protect this special place. For the family, this is a way to protect a place they love. As Hobart told me, “this has always been our family homestead, and it’s important to keep it that way. Conserving the land makes that possible.” It has become clear that our community feels a connection to this land too, and I am so grateful to the many community members who gave gifts to make this project possible.

We completed our fundraising campaign (with our partners at the Lake Champlain Land Trust) this fall. Thank you for being part of this special project. When the Woods are conserved and the new trails open, the whole community will be able to enjoy this beautiful place. 
I hope you’ll join me next summer, for a walk in the woods. 


 

Emily Alger
Local Students Take Over for a Day in South Hero

“Community Service Means Helping the Community Become a Better Place”

What is community service? It’s “getting your hands dirty and doing things to help other people,” “helping people who don’t have as much as you or helping fix things that are broken,” and “helping the environment.” It is a “chance to give back to your community.”  These are just a few of the responses that students at Folsom Education & Community Center gave after their fall Day of Service. 

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Busy classroom schedules make it difficult for kids to spend time out in the world, whether exploring nature or working in their community. The middle school teachers at Folsom School at are committed to changing that in South Hero. They are using community service to help students gain skills in problem solving and collaboration, while being stewards of their environment, and building deeper connections to the land and their community. 

50 students, in grades 5-8, wrapped up a celebration of the new school year with an afternoon of projects that will help make their community a better place for all. From building a new bridge at Round Pond Natural Area, to gleaning watermelon and other vegetables at Pomykala Farm, the students were living examples of Folsom’s three expectations: take care of yourself, take care of others, and take care of your community.

Their teachers were awed by the students’ accomplishments. As Julie Pidgeon wrote, “it was amazing to see so many of them take ownership of their jobs.... the kids came away feeling like they had contributed in a meaningful way.”

Feeding the Hungry with the Help of Pomykala Farm

Several of the students headed up to Pomykala Farm to glean with the Healthy Roots Collaborative. They harvested over 1,000 lbs of watermelon, lettuce, and parsley that was not up to market quality, but was perfectly fresh and healthy to eat. The produce was donated to the Champlain Islands Food Shelf, the CIDER senior meals program, and three charitable food sites in Franklin County (continued on page 23).


Jane Pomykala, who farms at Pomykala Farm with her husband Bob and son Ben, says that, “gleaning is an ideal way for us to give back, because it helps people who are going hungry get some food, and it doesn’t hurt our business. It can even help a little. We love seeing the kids getting to work with their hands and connecting with the dirt... we love having kids come out and experience what it’s like to work with their hands, know where their food comes from, and provide food for their community.”

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Trail Building Helps Our Whole Community Get Outside

Two groups of students spent the afternoon on the trail. At Round Pond Natural Area students replaced a foot bridge that had begun to rot. As community volunteer Peter Zamore said, “it’s great to see Folsom students working together outside of the classroom, and learning hand-on basics about carpentry skills, trail maintenance, and maintaining the natural surroundings.” Students measured, cut, drilled, and assembled a new foot bridge near where the trail ends on the shore of Lake Champlain.

The rest of the trail building students headed to the Water Wigglers Trail behind Folsom School, and cleared a overgrown sections of the boardwalk and nature trail, opening it up for students and families to use this year. 

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Putting the Garden to Bed Before Winter

The final group of students worked in the Folsom Community Garden. They weeded, topped off beds with compost donated by Canamak Farms, and planted a few fall crops: carrots, kale, radishes, and turnips. South Hero Land Trust Director Emily Alger reported great teamwork. “I was so impressed to see students who garden at home helping teach the others how to shake soil off of the roots of plants being weeded and how to cover strawberries with straw to protect from winter chills. Everyone worked hard to get the garden ready for fall.” 

The students walked away with a clear sense of civic participation and pride, knowing that they can help create the community that they want to live in. South Hero Land Trust can’t wait to work with them on more projects in the future!

Many thanks to Rob Swanson for taking these and many other great photographs of the students during the community service day this fall.

Emily Alger
Have You Met South Hero’s Newest Farmers?

The Landon Farm has a new vibe these days, and we are so excited about it! Farmers Phelan O’Connor and Kelsey Chandler have just moved to South Hero and are buying the Landon Farm. We hope that you’ll enjoy getting to know them as much as we have, and give them a big welcome to our community.

After being introduced to farming at Warren Wilson College, and several years of farming with Fairfield farmers Tyler & Melanie Webb at Stony Pond Farm, an organic dairy and beef operation, Kelsey and Phelan are bringing their operation, Pigasus Meats to South Hero.

Phelan, Kelsey, and their dog Jenny will be living full time at the farm, and look forward to being South Hero community members.

Phelan, Kelsey, and their dog Jenny will be living full time at the farm, and look forward to being South Hero community members.

"We fell in love with farming during our time together at the Warren Wilson College Farm.
Through our experiences there and working since then with other farms... we became committed to farming as our life's work."

~Phelan O'Connor

A Unique Farm Product

Kelsey and Phelan began Pigasus Meats in 2013, on leased land in Fairfield. Right away, they wanted to distinguish their product and introduce customers to it in a fun way. So Phelan got busy in the kitchen, developing signature recipes for their beer bratwurst and lemon and herb sausage. Their breakfast sausage, developed by Vermont Artisan Meats, became a star product at the Burlington Farmers’ Market. Each Saturday they would load up with pork, fresh bread, eggs, and a grill, and sell breakfast sausage sandwiches at the market.

They also sold packaged retail cuts for customers to take home. By the second year they were selling out every market, and they needed room to grow. By 2015, Kelsey and Phelan were ready to purchase their own land.

 

It Couldn’t Have Happened Without…

While looking for land for their farm, Kelsey enrolled in an accelerated nursing program in Massachusetts, and began working as a nurse at the UVM Medical Center in April. They also began working with Sam Smith, a farm business planner at the Intervale Center, who helped them assess and improve their business skills and farm plan. As soon as Kelsey got her nursing certification the couple came back to northern Vermont and began to search in earnest for a permanent home for Pigasus Meats. This is where Vermont Land Trust, the current owner of the farm, and South Hero Land Trust got involved.

"We see farming as a way to be proactive stewards of the land, provide humane animal husbandry, produce high-quality food products through a pastured system, and engage actively in our community. We are very excited and honored to make our home in South Hero and become members of its agricultural community."

~Kelsey Chandler

At the Last Minute

This past winter the most recent tenants of the Landon Farm, East Shore Vineyard, made the difficult decision not to purchase the property. VLT and SHLT wanted to provide any new farmers of the land the opportunity to take advantage of the summer growing season, so we initiated a search for new farmers right away. VLT staff Jon Ramsay approached several farmers enrolled in VLT’s Farmland Access Program whose farm plans were a good match for the land base, and invited them to visit the farm and submit proposals for buying it. After a careful process, VLT and SHLT staff selected Pigasus Meats to buy the farm.

 

"It is exciting to have Kelsey and Phelan as stewards and owners of the Landon Farm. We have confidence that they will bring a vibrancy to both the Landon Farm and to South Hero."
~Bob Chutter, SHLT Board President

Piglets, Chicks, and a Dog Named Jenny

The Landon Farm provides Pigasus Meats with a great opportunity to invest in their own land and grow their business. With acres of pasture and woodlands, the Landon Farm is well suited for a diversified grazing operation, and Phelan and Kelsey plan to raise pastured pork and laying hens on the property. Pigasus Meats' goal is to build soil fertility while raising high quality pork and eggs, which they hope to sell through local farmers’ markets, retail outlets, and eventually a new farm-stand. 

Kelsey, Phelan, and their dog Jenny moved to the farm in early May. Their first pigs arrived soon after, and are happily grazing in pasture near the farmstead. We are lucky to have Kelsey and Phelan joining our special Island community!

Emily Alger
Apples, Cider Donuts, and Local Agriculture: Celebrating 50 Years with Hackett’s Orchard

The Places that Make South Hero Home

Springtime bloom at Hackett’s Orchard fi lls the air with the sweet small ofapple blossoms and the hum of bees.

Springtime bloom at Hackett’s Orchard fi lls the air with the sweet small ofapple blossoms and the hum of bees.

South Hero’s apple orchards hold a special place in the hearts of many Islanders, young and old. As children growing up in the Islands, fall trips to Hackett’s Orchard and Allenholm Farm to pick apples were sacred- the orchards seemed to sit outside of time, trees heavily loaded with crisp sweet-tart apples and the smell of cider donuts. From picking apples in the fall and seeing young calves in the fields in spring, to swimming lessons at White’s Beach and skating at the Sandbar, there are special places that make South Hero home for us.

Ron and Celia Hackett, who’ve owned Hackett’s Orchard since 1967, have introduced generations of children to apple picking. Hearing their stories over the years, from when they first arrived at the orchard, and “didn’t know one apple from another,” to the day they sold their first pie, was very special for us, and we hope you will enjoy reading some of their story here.

Vermont Beginnings

Ron and Celia both grew up in the Northeast Kingdom. Ron’s father owned a dairy farm, a small sugar bush, and a potato farm in Albany, VT. At one time Ron anticipated taking over the potato farm, but life took him in a different direction. He married Celia and began a career with Bell Telephone Company, where he worked on the dial conversion of Vermont towns (allowing phone users to dial a number directly, rather than through an operator). They lived on a “postage stamp” lot with their two young daughters, Deb and Jill, in Essex Junction. As the girls grew, the home felt smaller and smaller; they wanted to get out of the suburbs. When they learned that the Larrow orchard in South Hero was for sale, they decided to make a change. They bought the property in March of 1967 and got to work.

The Hacketts now sell all of their apples and cider at their on-farm store on South Street, and host thousands of children on school field trips each fall.

The Hacketts now sell all of their apples and cider at their on-farm store on South Street, and host thousands of children on school field trips each fall.

The first year was hard. Ron had helped in the orchard a few days the previous fall, but they were otherwise untrained. They had a heavy bloom in the spring, which would usually be thinned with a chemical spray so that the trees produce big red apples. But as Ron says, their first spray salesman didn’t have faith in Ron’s ability to do anything properly. So he recommended not spraying and Ron didn’t know any better. As a result, they had a tremendous crop of small green apples, not a one as big as three inches, and few turned red.

Learning As They Went

They kept working and learning. A new spray salesman came along and took Ron under his wing. He helped with the spray schedule and taught them to monitor for scab and insects. He and the UVM Extension’s tree fruit specialists were important mentors. Ron worked for the phone company for the first 19 years, spending weekends and evenings in the orchard. He took all of his vacation time during picking season. They picked the apples into bushel boxes scatted throughout the orchard. Ron would come home and take the tractor to collect the boxes, often working until dark. They hand graded one bushel at a time on a table in the shop. Ron gives Celia credit for keeping things together; driving tractors, caring for the pickers, grading the apples, raising their kids, looking after the house- she did it all.

Wholesale to Retail

In the 1960s, most apples at that time were sold by route; orchardists like Ray Allen and Alan Kinney would go door-to-door selling apples all day. Ron and Celia sold most of their apples wholesale at general stores. They also sold apples to Carpenter’s Apple Cider in Colchester, at 25 cents a bushel, and would buy cider back. They later bought cider from Ray Allen, and then in the early seventies Ron bought a press and began making cider at the orchard. When they did sell apples by retail, it was all by the bushel- folks buying storage apples or fruit for making pies and applesauce. Ron and Celia would set up a long line of pallets, separated into fancy and utility apples of each variety. Customers would go down the line asking for what they wanted, and Ron and Celia would load up bushel baskets.

Apples for sale at Hackett's Orchard, the family grows about 50 varieties that ripen August through October.

Apples for sale at Hackett's Orchard, the family grows about 50 varieties that ripen August through October.

In 1990 they built the kitchen and began making pies. Ron and Celia built their farm store up and worked to start Applefest, and many people discovered the South Street orchards. They were still only picking a couple thousand bushels a year, so in 1984 they planted 4 more acres. They bought some land from Ray Allen to expand the orchard, and suddenly their sales were all retail. When they sold their first pie, Celia couldn’t believe it. “No one buys pies! I don’t buy pies, my mother never bought a pie,” she thought. But they had the pie out on the table and a man came in and said, “I’ll buy it.” She was floored, she said, that “someone bought a pie!” They went on to sell 60,000 pies by 2008. It still bothers some people that they gave up making pies. But Celia says that the apple crisps they sell now have gone over very well.

They began doing Pick-Your-Own in the 1980s. It’s a lot of work to manage, but an important part of their customers’ experience. Ron says that when he goes down to the orchard on a weekend afternoon in the fall, all he hears is talking and laughing. Celia remembers a customer who pick apples at the orchard, wrote a song about it, and came back to play it for them. And now they have second, third, even fourth generation pickers coming to the orchard.

Looking to the Future

They do have concerns for the future. They think about what the changing environment will mean for the orchard. New diseases and pests keep them on their feet. Climate change, and increasing variability of temperature and rainfall are hard on the trees, which need steady warming and sun for good bloom and pollination. Violent summer storms, which often bring hail, damage the trees and fruit. They can’t irrigate easily, which will be a challenge for the dwarf trees they are planting.

To Ron and Celia, it never seemed like they were making major changes, but over 50 years the small changes added up. National pressures such as changes in food safety regulations have led to many small shifts. They’ve shifted from mostly selling wholesale to all retail. The farm store has brought visitors from across the country, as well as generations of school children to the farm- where they learn about farming, and leave with a special connection to the orchard and South Hero.

Celebrating 50 Years of Growing Apples and Feeding a CommunityRon and Celia’s stories of their years at Hackett’s Orchard made me realize that even the places and things that I think of a constant, are changing and adapting all the time. Ron and Celia have embraced change, while remaining true to a few core values at the heart of their business. They believe in working hard, providing the community with the very highest quality product, safety for their workers and customers, in generosity, kindness, family, educating the next generation. Because of their hard work and that of farmers like them throughout the community- the orchards of South Street have come to feel like part of the very bedrock of South Hero.

Many thanks to Ron and Celia Hackett for sharing these stories with us, and for their hard work over the last 50 years. And many thanks to all of the hard-working farmers that feed us, teach us, and make South Hero home.

Dan Kirk