By Juliann Phelps, Contributor
After the thunderstorm broke over the Adirondacks, distantly rumbling off over Mount Mansfield, the skies cleared to reveal the stunning, sultry 360-degree views at Earthkeep Farmcommon.
Vendors set up in the tree-lined shade across from the iconic red-roofed barn for Farm Night, a weekly event with a range of local offerings from fresh food to flowers.
“We are adding value by practicing regenerative agriculture and are hoping to create models to export to other farms. Farm Night is a way to get the community to care,” said Joel Gardner, Earthkeep Farmcommon’s content and farm project manager.
Gardner and chief operating officer Robin Jeffers hosted the information booth, which included designs of their master plan as well as samples of Shrubbly — an aronia- and honey-based soft drink steeped on site. They fielded questions about the event as well as future plans for the farmer’s collaborative, and chief executive officer Will Raap also walked the grounds talking with visitors.
Raap said next for Earthkeep Farmcommon (formerly known as Nordic 3.0) is a malthouse expansion as well as a nascent idea called a “craft micro-dairy.”
“I had a conversation with the commissioner of agriculture about the shift away from commodity dairy to craft, or micro-dairies, with a focus on higher value, higher margin milk, cheeses, yogurt, kefir, etcetera.”
He highlighted the well-known decline of Vermont dairy farms, citing the challenges of current farms competing with large-scale dairy farms out west.
Conversely, he noted the cachet of Vermont-based brands like Cabot. Even the transformation of the “cheese world” in Vermont lends itself to a naturally higher margin when selling products outside of the state.
“We could be a training center for other farms,” Raap said.
Another area of Farmkeep Common hard not to notice is the grain elevators rising from the solar-paneled red barn located further back on the property. This is the location of Vermont Malthouse — Vermont’s only malthouse producing regionally sourced malts.
It’s so hyperlocal, the rye is growing on the property right along Route 7.
Rob Hunter, Malthouse general manager, said several upgrades are in process which would reduce overhead costs and boost production to 15 tons a month — and they have room to expand further.
“Our eventual goal is 18,000 to 20,000 tons a year,” Hunter said.
One of the farm collective members, Foam Brewers, sources its malt from Vermont Malthouse, among other ingredients, to brew a completely locally-sourced pale ale called “For You.” Hunter said the expansion of the malthouse includes a system that is 100 percent efficient using a heat recovery system.
“By dropping malting expenses we can be more competitive in the market and we are able to do more,” said Hunter.
Hunter, along with other members of Earthkeeps’ farmers collective, are featured vendors at Farm Night. The event is held every Thursday from 4:30-7:30 p.m. and features a rotating list of vendors and producers.
At the most recent Farm Night, there was Earthkeep’s organic fresh produce booth, Farmer’s Market Pizza and The Wise Pie serving food on site, and Sweet Sound Aquaculture offering samples of their shrimp bisque. Arrangements from Clayton Floral, CBD products by Upstate Elevator Supply Company, and House of Fermentology/Foam Brewers rounded out the vendors.
There are plenty of places to stretch your legs, with seating under a large event tent, cocktail tables next to the barn. There’s even a cornhole game and a large sand pile and sand toys for the kids.
As part of their continued effort to raise visibility of local agriculture, Jeffers noted that on Aug. 18 Earthkeep Farmcommon is working on a combined event with the Charlotte Land Trust with the hopes of featuring products from Charlotte farms at Farm Night.