Shoreham farms to share their stories with bicycle tour

SHOREHAM — Fantastic foods, amazing bicycling and spectacular scenery are in store for all those who participate in the 5th Annual Tour de Farms, which will take place this Sunday in Shoreham.
The Tour de Farms offers three loop rides (approximately 10, 25 and 30 miles) and a family-friendly five-mile walking or biking option. At frequent designated stops, family farmers will treat bicyclists and walkers to tasty samples of local foods such as apple cider, quiche, bread, roasted vegetables, yogurt, wine, maple syrup, and cookies.
Because the event is a tour and not a race, the pace is low key, allowing ample time to chat with farmers and relax with friends in the beautiful Champlain Valley. This year’s Tour will offer a handful of new farmers and food producers and three StoryWalk choices for young children. StoryWalk offers the opportunity to read great children’s books while walking in beautiful, natural settings.
The Tour de Farms is co-organized by the Addison County Relocalization Network (ACORN), Rural Vermont, and the Vermont Bicycle & Pedestrian Coalition and is a fundraiser for all three nonprofit groups. More information on the bike ride and its sponsors is at www.ruralvermont.org.
Among the stops are Golden Russet Farm, owned by Will and Judy Stevens; Champlain Orchards, run by Bill Suhr and Andrea Scott; and Doolittle Farm, run by John and Bay, Hilary with Nick and Martha and their daughter Eleanor Hammond.
Given that it is well established, well maintained, visually appealing and solidly organic, it is not surprising that Golden Russet Farm in 2004 was awarded the coveted Vermont Sustainable Agriculture Farm of the Year. Golden Russet is an organic farm specializing in vegetables, bedding plants, field starts, herbs, some raspberries and apple trees. It is located at 1329 Lapham Bay Road in Shoreham on a former dairy farm with its pastures and hay land rented out to a local organic dairy farmer. The barn is circa 1790 and the lovely house is dated from 1840.
Will and Judy became the owners in 1984 after a number of years selling to the co-op in Burlington their annual small apple crop from the orchard on their farm in Monkton. They feel that the expansion of their business at Golden Russet has not changed them, only guided and formed their work ethic.
The farm’s produce is sold in a variety of ways. Many individuals and families take advantage of Golden Russet’s CSA connection and come to the farm regularly during the growing season to select a variety of vegetables, herbs and flowers. They also supply numerous wholesale accounts in the Middlebury area including the Middlebury Natural Food Coop and weekly attendance at the Middlebury Farmers’ Market. City Market in Burlington and Healthy Living in South Burlington also sell Golden Russet produce, mainly fall crops from August to January.
The reasons why Will and Judy love farming are many fold: the freedom to be self employed and run one’s own business, changing seasons, getting to really know the land and a farm being a great place to raise a family. On a typical day working with the farm crops, employee relationships are all important to Will and Judy with the goal of building interpersonal and warm life experiences that last.
Young Bill Suhr commenced his farm-related activities mowing the lawns for 10 neighbors in Baltimore. As a youth Bill gained appreciation for Vermont while spending two weeks every summer with grandparents in Greensboro. This exposure to Vermont landscape cultivated his interest in farming.
Bill attended UVM, where he studied Natural Resources and received a Bachelor of Science degree in Forest Biology in 1994. He began his professional career as an environmental consultant specializing in natural resource permitting. Pursuing a growing passion for land management and a desire for the independence of self-employment Bill purchased the long-established working farm, now Champlain Orchards, in 1998.
With the purchase of Champlain Orchards, hands on apprenticeship into orchard farming was facilitated by the very seasoned expertise and wisdom of long established neighboring orchardists Sandy Witherell, Scott and Bob Douglas, and Judy Pomainville — who all shared equipment, land and information.
With unceasing energy, Bill, along with the staff of Champlain Orchards, quickly established a statewide reputation for excellence of quality and variety of orchard products. The well-stocked farm market at the orchard has fresh apples, peaches, plums, fresh cider, sliced apples, fresh pies, fresh apple sauce, dried apples, apple butter, apple cider syrup, hard cider, ice cider, cider donuts, pork and beef. Most of the fresh produce and value added products are shipped using their own delivery trucks throughout Vermont, parts of New York and New Hampshire to supermarkets, universities and food co-ops.
Doolittle Farm sprung roots 18 years ago in Ferrisburgh, when Bay’s home garden had much more produce than a young family could consume. As the family grew so did the diversity of products. Within 10 years, the Hammond family had created a dedicated customer base for their produce, organic eggs and organic syrup.
In 1999, the family moved to Shoreham, where the animal population quickly outpaced the garden. In the intervening years, the farm size has flexed to create balance between farm responsibilities, family and John’s custom homes and renovations business. Farm chores became a way of life and farm roots took hold of the younger generation — Nick and Hilary. Both children returned after college determined to turn the small farm into a larger, more-diversified farm. With eyes toward the future and a goal of sustaining current and future families, the farm has begun to push the boundaries in the last four year, increasing in quantity and variety of products.
Though one family, the Hammonds hold a variety of interests. Nick, with his wife Martha and their daughter Eleanor, is very interested in expanding the garden, utilizing the work horses, and even milking a family cow. Hilary has taken on the task of managing a leased blueberry field and raising dairy goats. John has set up our sugaring operation and harvests hay for the farm and others while still managing his construction company. Bay helps keep the balls (or is that eggs?) in the air, continues to expand and work with the organic poultry, and is working on some in-farm breeding for her layers, turkeys and meat-birds. They all love and work with the sheep that grace the lawn in the spring and the pastures in the summer and all lend a hand to each other knitting together the endless, but rewarding, tasks of the family farm.
New for this year — Martha inspired the family to give sunflowers a try (both for chicken feed and cooking/salad oil); Nick is pushing forward to expand the sugaring operation; Hilary is learning about meat cutting and experimenting with goat cheese; Bay is hatching more chicks and sourcing more local grain for the poultry; and John is haying and putting the farm systems into place. There are more expansion ideas in the hopper.
The Hammonds will be the first to admit that families working together definitely pose some challenges. What keeps the Hammonds together is their respect for each other, their love for working the land, and their mutual adoration of Vermont’s changing seasons and the unpredictability that brings. As Bay puts it, “Every lambing season feels like a first, and every chick that hatches never ceases to amaze me. I love having my family around me. I love seeing our children continue to grow and mature while taking on the inevitable challenges of farming. …and let’s not forget about the grandchildren!”
Doolittle Farm products are available from the Hammonds’ Shoreham farm and at the Middlebury Farmers’ Market. The organic eggs are also sold at the Middlebury Coop, City Market (Burlington), Healthy Living (Burlington), Trillium Hill Farm (Hinesburg), and through Charlotte and Middlebury College online markets (www.yourfarmstand.com markets).
Editor’s note: The farm profiles were provided by Rural Vermont and written by Maizie Hescock, Rustan Haycroft and Valerie Szymkowicz.

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