It was one of those weird, warm mid-October days that are becoming more the norm than a rarity. Rumbling into the driveway of one of Dutchess Farm’s plots, I pulled up beside a big, white, mud splattered van.
“Perfect timing!” says Stephen Chamberlain as he jumps out of the cab. Stephen is the owner of Dutchess Farm, producers of everything from greens and squash to the one of the world’s spiciest peppers, the Carolina Reaper. Dutchess Farm has been with the Co-op since our founding back in 1995, , and Stephen has graciously offered to take time out of his morning to show me around his Poultney, VT location. We started at one of the 9 tunnels, arched structures with translucent covers stretched over the ribs, which allow Stephen and his workers to grow all year long and start their spring planting 4-6 weeks earlier. Stephen recalled that he moved to year-round growing about six years ago, wanting to forego the need for temporary winter jobs in favor of dedicating his full time to the farm. When I visited, I expected a last stage of harvesting situation, but Stephen quickly corrected me on that idea. “October is our busiest month,” he said, “it’s like harvest and spring combined.” This became truly apparent after following Stephen across the road to his main growing fields.
During my visit I saw Stephen and his team harvesting spinach, carrots, Brussel sprouts, and of course all of the hot peppers. You couldn’t mistake their near Day-Glo bright oranges and reds as anything but a strong warning from nature: Picker Beware. At the same time beds were being prepared for greens and chard and beets, his main over-winter crops.
Over his 40+ years of farming, Stephen mused that, “farming is something you never stop learning,” requiring constant adaptation, reinvention, and a willingness to realize what produce is and isn’t worth the cultivation. “I realized after growing blueberries for a few years, that I should just stick to herbs and veggies.”
Dutchess Farm is one of our oldest farming partners, and for a while at the beginning, our only, farming partner. “The Co-op has become so steady,” Stephen said. “It is dependable and we have a great give and take relationship. Helping each other to make it through tough times. The Co-op is so important to us.” Covid-19 has certainly been one of those tough times, but it has been our local suppliers and local farmers like Stephen and Dutchess Farm that we have had to lean on during these last few months. When big, national, suppliers were ambiguous at best as to what we could get, or when it would get there, we were able to utilize our local partners to get the food, toilet paper, and PPE supplies so we could continue to serve our customers and Member-Owners. They stepped up and we will be forever grateful to them.
On working with other organizations and businesses like Spring Lake Ranch Therapeutic Community, the Rutland Community Cupboard, Taps Tavern, 47 Main, and others, Stephen said that “having these long-term relationships is great!” Our relationship with Dutchess has been equally wonderful over these past 26+ years, and we know it will continue for years to come.