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Reap and Sow: Changing course, resiliency, and feeding communities

MATT LASSER AND Food Hub Manager Jessica Purks display some of the local produce at the Exchange Street food hub in Middlebury last fall. Independent photo/Steve James
Independent photo/Steve James

Since its start in 2019, the story of Matt Lasser’s farm, Reap and Sow, has been defined by having to pivot: to new land, new business models, and new partnerships. Lasser started Reap and Sow with his business partner, Josh Fisher, a chef experienced in the local farm-to-table culinary scene. The pair met while attending UVM and became fast friends and “chosen family.” After years of Lasser working in the environmental non-profit world and Fisher at the late Kitchen Table Bistro in Richmond, they opened Reap and Sow together in Hinesburg with the hope of growing food for restaurants. Largely inspired by the talents of the Intervale’s late Half Pint Farm, they started by growing culinary varieties for locally-minded chefs at the top restaurants and cafes in the Burlington area.

In early 2020, just before Reap and Sow’s second growing season, the Covid-19 pandemic hit Vermont, forcing all the restaurants they supplied with their unique products to close their doors. Unsure of what to do next or how to pay their bills, they shifted to direct-to-consumer agricultural models by creating a CSA program and vending at the Burlington Farmers Market. This meant changing their product offerings considerably to appeal more to the average consumer instead of chefs. In its first year, Lasser’s CSA had over 125 members who helped keep Reap and Sow afloat in incredibly uncertain times. He also created a donation CSA program in which people could buy CSA shares to be donated to the Hinesburg Food Shelf.

In 2021, Lasser continued the CSA and vending at the farmers market while also moving his farm to Monkton, where he encountered unexpected challenges with the soil. Lasser still only rents the land he stewards. During the pandemic, people flocked to Vermont in an exodus from New York and other east coast cities. Now, farmers like Lasser and their employees often compete with wealthy new Vermonters and prospective second homeowners in a tight real estate market that is offering increasingly less land for more money. Lasser hopes to be able to buy land of his own soon and sees this as one of the keys to a stable and expansive future for Reap and Sow. 

Although the last couple of years were full of challenges, Lasser praises pandemic times as an era of food system innovation and refocusing. In 2021, You First, a state Department of Health-run program supporting mothers with a range of medical needs, reached out to him. Ever since, You First has partnered with Reap and Sow to connect their members with CSA shares. Lasser crowns this program as the most gratifying thing he does. At the same time, Burlington area restaurants were beginning to order produce again, forcing Lasser to redirect to growing for both restaurant and consumer markets. Three years in, Reap and Sow looked very little like Lasser and Fisher’s original dream. But while Covid-19 may have forced them to reassess their goals time after time, they never lost focus of what they originally set off to do: supply the Vermont culinary world.

Now, in 2023, the CSA and Burlington Farmers Market are no longer about survival for Lasser. He’s excited to continue those markets for the foreseeable future and grateful for the community of farmers and customers he’s found in his four years of growing. Through it all, Lasser has continued to innovate. This year he added a Free Choice CSA option to the business, giving customers more control over their food shares while still providing Lasser with the money he needed to start off the growing season. He also recently announced a partnership with VT Vineyards to offer garden design, build and maintenance services for homes, schools, restaurants, churches and other community spaces starting for the 2024 season. 

At the same time, Lasser is excited to be pivoting back to his dreams of supplying Vermont’s thriving culinary world. And although Reap and Sow is never not adapting, Lasser is happy to find himself “on the other side of reinvention” as his goals come back into view. “It’s been a wild ride but somehow we’re still here.”

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