On The Organic Trail…Burlington

By Sara Duncan Widness / September 14, 2011

While sustainability concerns do percolate elsewhere, in greater Burlington green is vested like the granite in the Green Mountains. Treat organic/sustainable, yes even vintage/heritage, lightly around Vermonters and you risk affronting personal and public belief systems of talented, well-educated folks who forego high salaries for lifestyles affording the luxury to live, vend, and vent green. Cooperatives like Onion River, singled out last year as the nation’s best, plus community-supported agriculture and Vermont itself, with the country’s strictest environmental statutes, are a few of many reasons why Burlington, that includes a generous swath of villages in the Champlain Valley, is a best practices model of 21st century sensibilities while embracing a vintage past. To experience the integrity of this commitment — and how deeply rooted and organized — is to understand why some folks, upon crossing the border into Vermont, visibly exhale.

In addition to heritage farms and forests, a vintage co-op ski area minutes from down-town continues to secure a six-decades vision of recreational sustainability. Mary Kerr recently authored A Mountain Love Affair: The Story of Mad River Glen (Mad River Glen, 2008). She didn’t mention that its valley harbors grass-fed yaks for organic meat and fiber, reinforcing agricultural diversity. Another writer, Douglas “Las” Wengell, founder of Know Your Source, enjoys the patronage of and shares offices at Gardener’s Supply Company, a company known for innovative and earth-friendly products. An integrative health and wellness specialist, Wengell’s new book is a source for eco-friendly health care products for health care, spa, and wellness practitioners. He says that increasingly well-informed consumers ask for healthier and green products in the establishments they frequent. The book is Educational Opportunities in Integrative Medicine: The A-to-Z Healing Arts Guide and Professional Resource Directory (The Hunter Press, 2008).

Like New Zealanders who prefer their culture in the “bush,” Vermonters’ penchant for outdoors may appear to overshadow the lively arts. But do enjoy the earnestness with which the Flynn Theater delivers its version of high culture (as close as you’ll get to it in this neck of the woods unless you cross over to the Connecticut River to the Dartmouth campus in Hanover, New Hampshire). Do bike through the independent farms operating in Intervale Center (www. intervale.org) and do watch for the presence of youthfully tuned, athletic bodies. When you yourself make the effort to be physically active, then you begin to understand what Burlington is about.

If you’re in town July 2nd to the 14th, you’ll be engulfed by a celebration of the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the lake by the man whose name it holds. July 11th culminates events with parades, pageants, and fireworks.


A Green Grounding


A short trip south exposes you to things that are vintage, green, and sustainable. Heirs of early 20th century American aristocrats summered in Shelburne and collected Ameri-cana before anyone else thought to do so. The Shelburne Museum on 37 manicured acres offers a permanent collection of large (Steamship Ticonderoga) and small vintage memorabilia, housed in 45 buildings. There are rotating exhibits of Vermont artists, and from June to October this year, an exhibit exploring nature in the designs of Louis Comfort Tiffany. www.shelburnemuseum.org


Nearby Shelburne Farms is a 1,400-acre environmental education center looking over the lake to the Adirondacks. On premise is a model working dairy accomplishing best practices in milk production from a prizewinning, grass-grazing Brown Swiss herd. An artisanal cheddar produced on premise receives annual kudos from the American Cheese Society. The dairy milking parlor is visitor friendly, as are the organic gardens that supply the kitchen of the 24-room Inn at Shelburne Farms that opens for the season in May. www.shelburnefarms.org


The Vermont Cheese Council has organized artisanal cheese makers onto a Vermont Cheese Trail Map. Folks lucky to be in the greater Burlington region can visit with farm-ers and sample and purchase their products. Some of the farms are only open seasonally to the public; it’s always best to call ahead. Sweet Clover Market downtown suggests Lazy Lady Farm cheeses from Westfield and Green Mountain Blue Cheese from Highgate, among others. Planning to bring cheeses home? Carry them in a container that holds ice packs. www.vtcheese.com 


At Shelburne Farms stop by the Farm Barn to visit Beeken/Parsons Woodshop and hear the story of Vermont artisans sourcing and using woods harvested from Vermont forests that are managed in a sustainable way. Jeff Parsons and Bruce Beeken are among a growing number of artists-in-wood who exhibit annually at a Fine Furniture & Woodworking Festival held in late September in Woodstock, Vermont. Their company is represented on The Vermont Forest Heritage Trail that, like the Cheese Trail, is a self-guided program to furniture makers’ workshops, many of which are clustered conveniently around Burlington. www.beekenparsons.com; www. vermontforestheritage.org

Looking at the vintage/recycling side of furniture and also on the trail is Barnoire Furniture & Cabinetry that reclaims lumber from New England barns and buildings to hand-craft artifacts for the home. Their work isn’t just limited to the wood they salvage, but also includes antique stained glass, old hinges, and even maple sugar tap hooks. Call ahead for a visit and tour. www.barnoire.com


Before you leave the Shelburne community, imagine sailors chests created from wide planks with locally hand-wrought-iron hinges. Didier Murat, exemplifies precision joinery and the antithesis of mass production in these highly collectible chests that measure 3-feet long by 16- to18-inches wide. He uses Vermont wood that he can actually trace back to a particular forest. But, he also fabricates 99 percent organic French nougat that includes Vermont honey and nuts from Nevada and California. Café Shelburne and Village Wine & Coffee, both in Shelburne, carry this confection. By the way, Didier and his family are part of the community-supported agriculture (CSA) movement that allows farmers to continue on their farms in meaningful production. www.sailorschest. com; www.vadeboncoeurnougat.com


Folks here are talking about adopting the Dutch system of yellow bikes, scores of them, strategically placed and available free to anyone who wants to pedal down street. In the meantime, Old Spokes Home (ablve) rents vintage and new bikes for forays into the farms of Intervale or a seven-mile course along the waterfront. www.oldspokeshome.com

Stewardship of soil and water is part of the Vermont lifestyle. For a study of the envi-ronmental challenges and concerns of the Lake Champlain Basin, stop by ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center to see the exhibits and live marine life. You’ll want to patronize the on-premise Think! Café that’s so green you’ll be weighing your leftovers and packaging and pondering how even fragments of ounces end up in dumpsters and landfills (not here, of course). www.echovermont.org


If the new economy turns leisure time to such pursuits as knitting, weaving, potting, and sculpting, don’t miss Frog Hollow Vermont State Craft Center on Church Street down-town for inspiration from its all-Vermont artists and artisans before a short hop to nearby Essex to explore the quality of yarns and fibers available for knitting and weaving at Kaleidoscope. Local talent is also indulged at Phoenix Books in Essex. www.froghollow.org; www. kyarns.com; www.phoenixbooks.biz

Marc Sherman, owner of The Outdoor Gear Exchange that hosts an annual late August ecofest, says that while Vermonters have always been environmentally aware, they’re now talking about it and telling each other about their conservation strategies. At his store, inventory includes products created from up cycled materials as well the organic clothing lines Prana and Ecoconscious, and equipment for non-motorized sorts like back- country skiing. www.gearx.com

Christopher and Xma Alley own Green Closet, what they call an eco chic boutique that is transforming itself into a Bauhausstyle collective for artisans who will work as they share space and mingle with customers over locally roasted coffee. Chris Alley observes that the green movement in Burlington is now being dubbed “post decadence.” He attributes Vermonters’ focus on earth and green to a deeply rooted relief that comes from making it singularly or as a community through a year. “Our concerns are not frivolous but heartfelt,” he says, noting that here local independent designers have a chance to work with vintage styles and fabrics that they transform into contemporary styles. www.greenclosetvt.com

Isabean on College Street carries organically derived garments for newborns to girl’s size 12 and boy’s size 4. Organic labels include Winter Water Factory, Petunia Pickle Bottom, Kina, and, in a bath line, Little Twig. 802-861-2326

If you’ve seen the movie Slumdog Millionaire you’ll appreciate the outreach to help secure a degree of cultural sustainability in India being assisted by April Cornell, the designer who is headquartered in Burlington. 802-879-1271


Not so long ago, eyes here would glaze at the word “spa.” Vermonters, proud of their stamina in the face of winter wind chills that can resemble the Arctic, didn’t take owner-ship of much comfort beyond warm. But as big cities and corporate enclaves challenged lifestyle choices, folks attracted to practicing and consuming the healing arts moved in. For example, in late January, Andrew Wolf was working with his team at the Vermont Food Venture Center producing elderberry syrup, one of the homeopathic products of Honey Gardens Apiary in Ferrisburg where he is chief of plant medicine. His formulas include Vermont herbs and raw honey, among others. www.honeygardens.com

Leyla Bringas began creating healthy lifestyle products in 2000. Today Lunaroma Aromatic Apothecary is a thriving company that sells internationally to folks seeking all natural, highest quality products for body care and aromatherapy. Products are created in front of visitors at the Burlington shop. She promises no synthetic fragrances, no petroleum-based products, no animal-based ingredients (except pure ethically crafted Vermont honey and beeswax). www.lunaroma.com

While a number of spas are listed in and around Burlington, healthy lifestyle practitioners themselves say they prefer to go to the nearby mountain resort spas that cater to sophisticated urbanites. That being said, varied yoga techniques are practiced at Evolution Physical Therapy & Spa downtown. Look for Vinyasa, Kripalu, Anusara, lyengar, or Ashtanga classes. www.evolutionvt.com However, if you’re having a bad hair day, Stephen & Burns Salon Spa and Boutique is an Aveda day spa that uses eco-friendly products. Another, The Men’s Room, offers green alternatives for guys. www.stephenandburns. com;www.mensroomvt.com



During the mid-1990’s, a number of hardworking individuals dedicated to preserving Vermont’s environment and culinary landscape created the Vermont Fresh network. this was the nation’s first statewide farm-to-restaurant program. the network has been es-sential in helping to create strong relationships between Vermont farmers and chefs (all members practice sustainable farming). Many restaurants, throughout the state of Vermont, have taken full advantage of this special organization and are a testament to this wonderful food community. Below are few examples of this thriving farm-to-table culture.


leunig’s Bistro & Café is one of Burlington’s oldest continuously operating establishments. according to the Bistro, it has been offering its patrons the “panache of Paris and the value of Vermont,” for more than 25 years. its atmosphere is upscale, yet relaxed, with an old-world elegance and charm, and brunch, lunch, and dinner are served, as well as alfresco dining during the warmer months. this cozy neighborhood bistro is known for its use of Vermont products and sustainable offerings, which are prepared with a continental touch. “having local farms, like Lewis Creek and Laplatte River Angus to work with, makes it more enjoyable to create a unique menu while choosing fresh local ingredients,” explains executive chef Donnell Collins. While seasonality heavily shapes the menu, there are a few standards worth mentioning, like classic Steak Frites (brunch and lunch $14/dinner $20), Beef Bourguignon (lunch $15/dinner $24) and Salade Niçoise (lunch $15/brunch and dinner $18). 115 Church Street, 802-863-3759, www.leunigsbistro.com


At American Flatbread Burlington Hearth, the emphasis is on “quality and integrity.” Our goal is to make meaningful food that works for our guests, our community, and ourselves in ways sustainable to all,” explains founder and CEO George Schenk. The hand-made, all natural flatbreads (think crispy thin-crusted gourmet pizzas) are baked in a primitive wood-fired oven and feature the restaurant’s own homemade organic tomato sauce, an aromatic mix of organic tomatoes and vegetables. they buy as much locally and regionally grown food as possible: like asiago cheese from Blythedale Farm; naturally raised pork from Duclos & Thompson Farm; as well as organic and locally grown, in-season produce from a variety of Vermont farmers. “we use what the farms grow when they’re available. this means a lot of heirloom tomatoes on the specials in July and August, and winter squashes in the fall. it also means finding creative ways to use vegetables you don’t often find on pizza, like beets and celeriac,” says head chef Matt Hastings. look for flatbreads like the Revolution, with caramelized onions and mushrooms ($16.75) and the new Vermont Sausage, with nitrate-free maple-fennel sausage and sundried tomatoes ($18.50) 115 Saint Paul Street, 802-861-2999, www.americanflatbread.com or www.flatbreadhearth.com


Magnolia Bistro, located near the corner of College and St. Paul streets, is the first res-taurant in town to receive an eco-friendly certification by the green restaurant association (GRA). Co-owners, Shannon reilly and July Sanders’s commitment to their green-minded practices are seen throughout every aspect of their establishment, from the bio-degradable paint stripper used during renovations, to the use of LEED-certified carpet and 100 percent recycled menus. “For us, becoming a certified green restaurant wasn’t so different from how we were already doing things. our original vision of Magnolia was to try to eliminate the traditional waste that exists in restaurants. working with the gra, we figured out where we could save the most resources and started there first,” Sanders says. They serve breakfast and lunch with an emphasis on Fair-trade, offering local, sustainable, and vegetarian options. “our focus is to be as environmentally friendly and close to sustainable as possible. We envisioned taking the values we follow in our per-sonal lives and integrating them into our business. We don’t serve anything we wouldn’t eat,” says Sanders. going there for breakfast? Try the lemon ricotta Pancakes garnished with sweet mascarpone and powdered sugar ($7), the Vermont omelet stuffed with maple sausage, cheddar cheese, and apples ($8), and the organic Fair-trade Mexican coffee ($1.85). One Lawson Lane, 802-846-7446, www.magnoliabistro.com


L’Amante ristorante offers a seasonal menu showcasing the simple, straightforward creations of traditional italian fare at its best. Chef and coowner kevin Cleary explains, “i would have to say that having worked in Italy, and from continuing visits to that country, my cooking philosophy has been greatly influenced by the ‘italian way.’ The older and more experienced i get, the simpler i want the dishes to be so that the ingredients are shown off, not some fancy cooking techniques. i source the best ingredients i can get, local whenever possible, and let them speak for themselves.” The restaurant works almost exclusively with half Pint Farms (known for their gorgeous organic vegetables) in the spring through the fall. They also work with Black river Pro-duce year round. through them, the restaurant has access to many local, sustainable farms such as the Vermont herb and Salad Company, Vermont Butter & Cheese Company, and Maplebrook Farm. The flavorful Grilled N.Y. Strip ($27) and the succulent Roasted Duck ($26) entrees reflect Cleary’s no-fuss philosophy of allowing the ingredients and simple preparation to shine through. The wine list reflects the same special attention, offering an extensive selection of Italian wines. 126 College Street, 802-863-5200, www.lamante.com


New Ethic Café is Burlington’s only 100 percent vegetarian restaurant. “As Vermont’s only vegan restaurant we are thrilled to help the growing movement of vegans, vegetarians, and ecologically minded people,” explains co-owner Dakota Brizendine. Their mission is to provide a healthy alternative to a meat-based diet, while raising an awareness of the simplicity of a cruelty-free lifestyle. “We are creating comfort food to nourish your soul,” says Brizendine. The plant-centric eatery has been working with Hazendale Farm of Greensboro (long time family friends) as well as Arethusa Collective Farm, a connection made through the Intervale Center in Burlington. “New Ethic is always thinking about where our food comes from and the impact it has on local economy, as well as the environment,” says Dakota. Nearly all of their food is prepared in-house, from dressings to the mock “chicken” (made from homemade seitan, or wheat gluten) hickory-smoked coconut “bacon” (a tasty substitute for the real thing), and veggie burgers. The café never uses eggs, dairy, meat, or the labor of animals (including the honey from bees) in their meals. Popular dishes include the Thai Salad with creamy coconut avocado dressing and crunchy nori strips ($6.95), the Mexican Plate with quinoa, black beans, cheese, fresh salsa, avocado, corn, and scallions ($6.95), and the side dish of cornbread ($2.99). It should be noted that new ethic Café is not a member of the Vermont Fresh Network. 260 North Street, 802-540-2834, www.newethiccafe.com


Located just off of Church Street Marketplace in Burlington, the Penny Cluse Café has been serving breakfast and lunch since 1998. It is owned by Charles Reeves and Holly Cluse and is named after Holly’s childhood dog, Penny. the café is a destination restaurant for tourists and a favorite gathering spot for locals as well. The café is a longtime supporter of local farmers and sustainable agriculture. The menu is eclectic, and will happily satisfy a wide range of tastes. The Zydeco breakfast—two eggs served any style, black beans, andouille sausage, and corn muffins ($9.50); create-your-own omelets, with lots of delicious ingredient combinations (think chicken apple sausage, farm-house cheeses, and pickled jalapenos) to choose from (starting from $8.50); and Tofu Scram ($8.50) are the most popular dishes. Additional plates, such as Mama Cruz’s Huevos Rancheros ($9.75), and Chorizo & Egg Tacos ($10.25) are also noteworthy. 169 Cherry Street, Burlington, 802-651-8834, www.pennycluse.com


Located in the heart of the city at City Hall Park, the Burlington Farmers’ Market is held every Saturday, starting from Mother’s day weekend through the last Saturday in October. Food-savvy locals and out-of-town guests come to the open-air market for its lively social scene, as well as the opportunity to informally meet the farmers and purchase their locally grown and raised products such as gourmet cheeses, farm fresh eggs, high-quality honey, naturally raised meats, delicious baked goods, freshly picked fruits and vegetables (a number of which are organically grown), and beautiful potted plants and cut flowers, as well. The Summer artist Market, a program of Burlington City Arts, also has an area at City Hall Park for local artists and handcrafters to display and sell their work. The Summer artist Market offers a wonderful selection of jewelry, paintings, photographs, fiber and textiles, all handcrafted in Vermont. Their hours and dates are similar to the Burlington Farmers’ Market even though they are not affiliated with it. City Hall Park, 888-889-8188, www.burlingtonfarmersmarket.org, Saturday, 8:30 AM to 2:30 PM, rain or shine The Burlington Winter Farmers’ Market is held at the Memorial Auditorium, near the corner of Main and South Union streets, the third Saturday of the month, January to April, 10:00 AM. to 2:00 PM.


City Market, Onion River Co-op, is downtown Burlington’s consumer cooperative grocery store. The store has over 3,300 loyal members. It focuses on selling wholesome foods and products in a sustainable manner, a considerable factor in making them the leading supermarket for the downtown area. If you are looking to take a little slice of Vermont back home with you, there is a wonderful selection of local, natural, and conventional foods. They offer 1,700 Vermont-made products, with over 1,000 Vermont venders to choose from: such as way out wax aromatherapy candle tins ($4.15-$9.95) and crystalized honey from Champlain Valley Apiaries (starting at $11). The Co-op offers a unique selection of over 70 percent organic and natural products, but also carries a variety of conventional products for their customers. Marketing manager Nicole Fenton explains, “City Market operates on a philosophy of providing consumers local access to progressive, social, environmental, and healthful choices, as well as a focus on strengthening the local food system.” the Co-op, a favorite amongst the locals, has been called a pioneer in community involvement and social responsibility. 82 South Winooski Avenue, 802-861-9700, www.citymarket.coop


A Burlington Institution, The Cheese Outlet & Fresh Market is Burlington’s oldest gourmet market. The current owners pride themselves on providing the most wholesome, natural, and sustainable foods and food products for themselves, as well as for their employees and customers. “The most logical way to achieve this goal, if you really think about it, is to consume what grows in your backyard. Fresh and natural are only fresh and natural when they are just that. Responsibly raised vegetables, fruits, grains, and livestock that are brought to market with minimal to no handling, packaging, preserving, and chemical usage are what we at the Fresh Market strive to provide,” explains co-owner Robert Lichorwic. The gourmet emporium offers everything from microbrews to gourmet sandwiches. For those who love cheese, the market has an impressive assortment for every taste, from sheep, goat, and cow’s milk cheeses, produced by Vermont artisans, to an extensive selection from around the world. 400 Pine Street, 800-447-1205 or 802-863-3968, www.freshmarketvt.com

Sara Duncan Widness
Sara Duncan Widness

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