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Seeds of Change

Side Dishes: Growers can buy now, choose later

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The Green Mountain State is home to numerous “community-supported agriculture” farming operations and even a handful of “community-supported restaurants,” such as Claire’s Restaurant & Bar in Hardwick and The Bee’s Knees in Morrisville. Now ag entrepreneur Tom Stearns, owner of High Mowing Organic Seeds in Wolcott, is pioneering an option for those who like to grow their own: “community-supported seed shares.”

It works this way: Folks who aren’t planning to order their seeds till the next planting season can prepay now and score a 10-percent discount.

“I’m not selling any seeds this time of year, so it’s a way of helping our cash-flow cycle out,” Stearns explains. Pre-purchasing seeds during the 2008 tax year aids farmers, who can still specify their orders closer to the spring. Regular consumers can give the shares away like gift certificates.

Stearns says that the initial reaction to the idea has been “really enthusiastic.”

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Stearns has been generating enthusiasm in his other role, too, as the president of Hardwick’s Center for an Agricultural Economy. Already written up in The New York Times and Gourmet magazine, the group will be profiled on NPR in December. It’s been awarded “three or four grants in the last month,” Stearns boasts.

Right now, the CAE is working on ways to make organic food more widely available. In its Pies for People project, currently under way, area businesses have teamed up to donate “hundreds and hundreds” of squash pies to a chosen food pantry, elementary school and nursing home before Christmas.

The butternuts are excess from High Mowing’s seed trials, which are processed en masse at Pete’s Greens. In the kitchens at Sterling College, the orange stuff is blended with milk from North Hardwick Dairy, eggs from Applecheek Farm and maple sugar from Butternut Mountain Farm in a recipe developed by Claire’s Restaurant. The filling goes into a crust made from Butterworks Farm flour and Cabot butter.

Charity doesn’t get more much localvore than that.

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