NEW YORK CITY — The Vermont Sail Freight Project sail barge Ceres,which left Shoreham Oct. 6 loaded with Vermont agricultural products, reached its destination this past Thursday — the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Erik Andrus, who is director of the project and runs a rice and beef farm in Ferrisburgh, said the project came out of a desire to connect people and the food they consume.
“This was an idea to amplify the reach of the work of small farms in northern New York and Vermont, the rebirth of small-scale agriculture,” Andrus said by phone from New York Harbor.
The project is intended to transport food in a carbon-neutral way — that is, without the burning fossil fuels that emit carbon into the atmosphere.
“The project’s goal is to revitalize our regional food economy through ongoing relationships with family farms and the sailing community,” the organization said in a statement. “Ceres will deliver a cargo of naturally durable and preserved agricultural products that do not require rapid transit down the interstate.”
The 40-foot barge was built by hand this past spring and summer in Ferrisburgh. After departing from Shoreham it traveled more than 300 miles in three weeks, stopping at 12 locations along Lake Champlain and the Hudson River. It carried 15 tons of agricultural products from Vermont — potatoes, apples, beans, flour, rice, herbs, maple syrup and honey, as well as pre-made products like jam, jelly, pickles and condiments. On future trips, the barge will carry craft beer and hard cider.
At each docking along the way — in places like Troy, Poughkeepsie, Hudson, Nyack and Brooklyn, N.Y. — the crew set up a market to sell their products. The project also allowed restaurants and co-ops in New York City to place wholesale orders that would be delivered by bicycle with the help of Revolution Rickshaws. A final market for the public was held at the New Amsterdam Market in Manhattan on Sunday.
More than 100 New York City public school students visited the vessel to learn about its construction, crew and mission.
The idea for the project came from Andrus. Volunteers from New York and Vermont helped him construct the barge. The seaworthy vessel was piloted by captain Steve Schwartz, assisted by first mate Jordan Finkelstein.
On the river, there were two types of days — sailing days and market days. On sailing days, the crew would rise at 7 a.m., prepare breakfast and then push off. Schwartz and Finkelstein did most of the sailing, while Andrus worked in the “office” in the boat’s cabin, returning emails and taking care of the project’s finances.
Ceres typically docked for two nights. During a day in port, volunteers would meet the crew and help unload the 160 different products for sale, and then pack them back in the hold at the end of the day.
“The boat got lighter every day,” Andrus said.
Despite the rapid onset of fall — the embarkation was supposed to be Sept. 15, but was pushed to Oct. 6 so the Ceres could have more test time — the crew experienced pleasant weather.
“Unfortunately most of the wind was north-south, so we had to use the motor more than we would have liked,” Andrus said.
While the crew didn’t have much time to fraternize with the locals, Andrus said those he spoke to were enthusiastic about the project.
“Someone said we were the most exciting thing happening in Nyack,” Andrus said.
Construction on Ceres, named for the Roman goddess of agriculture, began in March and was completed at the end of July. The vessel, which has a 40-foot mast, was constructed of wood and fiberglass using lumber from Addison County. Though this was Ceres’ maiden voyage, Andrus said he hopes she lasts 15 years.
Greenhorns, a nationwide grassroots network of young farmers and artists, orchestrated communications, cargo, sales, press, art direction and docking logistics.
Tianna Kennedy coordinated the logistics for the trip, and was one of four people who traveled by land through the Hudson Valley, meeting the boat at every stop. Kennedy, who works on a farm in Delaware County, N.Y., gradually became a part of the project.
“It was like, ‘Can you help 10 hours a week?’ and then it turned into 10 hours a day,” Kennedy said. “But I love it, there’s a lot of really great people here.”
The vessel cost $16,000 to construct, and the total costs of labor, canal fees, mileage and building the website brought the project cost to $50,000. Insurance cost another $20,000. Thousands of volunteer hours went into the project, though crew members received a small stipend and Andrus was paid a small fee from the Willowell Foundation.
The project was also sponsored by the Willowell Foundation, the Monkton-based nonprofit that connects young people with the arts, environment and education. Project organizers also ran a successful Kickstarter campaign and had the support of the Eastman and Waterwheel foundations.
Ceres will head north again by the end of the month. Andrus said the crew hopes to purchase chocolate, coffee or olive oil and transport it to Vermont.
“There’s no point in sailing empty,” Andrus said.