A Day in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom
What visitors can learn from the region’s farm-to-table lifestyle
By Ivy Morris and Jodi Lew-Smith
The sun has yet to rise, but it’s making its presence known. A faint pink glow to the east, growing brighter over rolling hills that are blanketed in forest, dotted with wide green pastures and weaving around deep, clear lakes that are filled with fish. Across Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, farmers—aka: locals, friends and neighbors—cup mugs of steamy coffee in preparation for the day ahead. The first beam of sunlight sparks into the sky, signaling that it’s time to go—another day of work has begun.
Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom is a place where “farm to table” was never a trend—it’s a lifestyle. Many farms have been worked by generations of the same family—residents of this corner of Vermont have deep roots in the area. They were born here, as were their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. They know every inch of their communities, and enjoy a deep sense of belonging. The Northeast Kingdom is a unique place, but what makes it even more special is how welcoming residents are to visitors. They know their home is renowned for its incomparable beauty and hard-working way of life, and they welcome visitors with open arms, eager to share a slice of their day to day. And when visitors arrive with an appetite, that’s even better, because then they get to see, and taste, the best of the Kingdom.
Take a seat at Juniper’s at The Wildflower Inn, which uses ingredients from nearby farms, and place an order for a Breakfast Sandwich. In the kitchen, an egg is cracked into a cast-iron pan as bacon sizzles and crisps inches away. Steps from the pan, a chef hovers over a cutting board and swiftly slices into avocado, tomato and lettuce. The egg is over-easy and the bacon brown—they’re joined on toasty bread by a dollop of red pepper aioli and some square cheddar cheese, which loses its shape as it melts. At Juniper’s, the goal isn’t to use local ingredients because it’s pretentious, it’s because it’s just so easy. And because nothing could taste better than food grown right in the area.
Agriculture is, in a nutshell, the backbone of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. The people here have always taken pride in growing the crunchiest apples and the juiciest blueberries; in raising beef, pork, chicken, duck and rabbit—much of it fed on the green grass that grows better than anything here. There’s not only local bread made with wheat from Vermont, there’s local matzoh made with a host of seeds and spelt flour. Some of these products are so incredible, fans can be found across the globe. Jasper Hill Farm, in Greensboro, produces cheeses that are award-winning and palate pleasing. Their Moses Sleeper and Winnimere varieties took gold at the 2016 World Cheese Awards. One can’t help but wonder: was Jasper Hill trying to get awarded, or did they just want to share yummy cheese with their neighbor?
Taste Jasper Hill Farm’s cheese, and products from 20 other Northeast Kingdom artisans, at the Northeast Kingdom Tasting Center. Wander, sample, sip, taste—Butternut Mountain Farm Maple Shop for sweet, Kingdom Brewery for suds. Several dozen farmers and producers contribute the fruits of their labors to the Northeast Kingdom Tasting Center— farms, dairies, breweries and more. Come hungry, and don’t leave without sampling the Seasonal Tasting Plate. It’s updated throughout the year to feature something different, something in season, something utterly delicious. The plate’s four “bites” are paired with four locally made beverages, or “sips.” Savor it. These are some of the freshest tastes from one place on one plate.
Get closer to the region’s agricultural roots. Head to Agape Hill Farm, grab a leashed llama and take it for a walk around the property. Never done this before? It’s easy. Visitors often find that taking a trail walk with a friendly llama is far more than a novelty activity. A stroll through Vermont’s picturesque countryside brings a vivid sense of the region’s unique beauty—llama or not. Gaze across those rolling hills that are blanketed in forest, dotted with wide green pastures and weaving around deep, clear lakes that are filled with fish. Filled with treasures that are picked, shucked, raised, planted and ultimately devoured with a smile.
Many regional farmers’ markets are treasure troves, where hundreds of local goods in a rainbow of colors make the perfect souvenir—and meal. Bring home sweet potatoes to slice thin and cook into chips to be dipped into tangy tzatziki; organic rotisserie chicken to pair with roasted tomatoes and creamy brie between slices of warm sourdough; or crunchy apples to smother in peanut butter, depending on the season. A farm stand or farmers market is a wonderful opportunity to get a literal taste of what this region does best.
When you return home from a visit to Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, you don’t just return with a sated appetite. Connecting with these places and these people encourages a love of and a spirit for what farm-to-table truly means. It’s the same feeling that drives farmers—aka: locals, friends and neighbors—to wake every morning and admire a glowing pink sky. Another day has begun.
Explore the Northeast Kingdom and try some fresh local food at a farmers market.