Lessons from Weeding: Grassroots Action

This article originally appeared in the Charlotte News.

By Francine Stephens

I’m 47 years old and this month was the first time in my life that I’ve ever weeded a garden. While this might be surprising to many, as I am the newly appointed Food & Farm director at Philo Ridge Farm, I’ve spent the better part of my adult life on the social and culinary side of food and agriculture. Furthermore, other than my college years at UVM, I’ve spent my entire life in the city. 

 
  Francine Stephens, Food & Farm Director

Francine Stephens, Food & Farm Director

 

During the course of my career, I’ve been advocating for a deeper connection between what we as consumers eat and those who produce our food. I’ve fought for a public understanding that where we spend our money matters and has a direct and meaningful impact on our local communities. I’ve explained that the products we eat and put on our skin directly affect our health and well-being. However, despite the near constant mindfulness around agriculture, I’ve never spent time in the garden.

When Jane Engelman, our Market Garden manager, asked for help weeding the asparagus patch, I didn’t think twice to offer my help. Jane let me know that the asparagus field on the farm has been very challenging—the beds were never prepped properly when the asparagus was first planted and thus the weeds were particularly tenacious. 

Under the hot sun, Jane gave me a trowel and bucket and put me to work. Within about 30 seconds I knew I was wearing the wrong clothing. Within about 5 minutes I understood the challenge of our Champlain Valley’s clay soils. Most profoundly, within the first 30 minutes I was in awe of the strength of these grass roots that I was trying to pull out of the soil. 

I’ve since learned that grass has rhizomes, a horizontal stem that forms new roots and shoots. Many invasive plants form rhizomes, making them difficult to eradicate. Indeed. This grass was deep, entangled, strong.

I’ve spent much of my adult life forging bonds in my community over real food. I’ve felt deeply the importance of coming together over common threads and achievement through collective action. In our lifetime we’ve seen, firsthand, groups of people coming together to represent themselves and speaking out on issues that are important to them, their families and their communities. I believe in strong grassroots action. But no, I’ve never made the obvious connection between the term grassroots and the powerful, multi-layered, intertwined roots of grasses. How glaring the connection now is.

I plan to help my fellow co-workers weed the gardens here on Philo Ridge Farm throughout this growing season as well as with other tasks that Jane and the rest of our team need assistance with. I am sure I will come away with many profound and obvious thoughts. Helping others is, after all, a core tenet of being human. I look forward to many years ahead as I become an active member of this community of Charlotte, Vermont.
 

Welcoming our new Food & Farm Director

 Francine Stephens with her husband Andrew and their two kids Prue and Marco

Francine Stephens with her husband Andrew and their two kids Prue and Marco

We’re thrilled to welcome Francine Stephens as our new Food & Farm Director! Francine recently moved to Vermont from Brooklyn, New York, where she’s been living and working with her husband Andrew and their two children, Prue and Marco. But after city living for the last 20 years, Francine and her family decided to head north and felt a pull to Vermont due to its agricultural landscape and rich food culture.

Francine is no stranger to the Vermont landscape, she studied at UVM for her undergraduate degree and lived in Brattleboro while she got her Masters at Antioch in New Hampshire.

When asked what she looks forward to most about working at Philo Ridge Farm, Francine quickly responded “Everything! I love being around animals and feel that being on a farm cultivates my mind and soul. I’m looking forward to gaining an understanding of this working landscape and, without question, getting to work with and eat the bounty that this land will produce. To be a part of a project like Philo Ridge Farm is a lifelong dream.”

Her husband Andrew is a chef and at home transforms Francine’s favorite vegetables into her favorite dishes, like locally-grown artichokes into Andrew's famous fried artichokes. What are some of her other favorites? She enjoys classics like steak Diane, snacking on fresh cucumbers and sea salt, and digging into grilled chicken with salsa verde. She’s thrilled to be able to incorporate all of the produce and meat we grow here at Philo Ridge Farm into some new recipes for her friends and family.

Francine’s role as Food & Farm Director is to oversee the market we’re building on the farm. When she’s not working on the new market, you’ll find her petting the barn cats, helping herd the sheep, and reading books. She’s an avid reader and currently is reading The Art of Raising a Puppy by the Monks of New Skete. Francine explains, “I’ve never had a dog and now that we are living outside the city, my family is super eager and excited about adding one to the family— so I’m preparing!”

Come meet her this Saturday at our “Everything but the Turkey” Sale from 10am-2pm at the farmstand. The sale will feature our grass-fed beef, pasture-raised pork, chicken and lamb as well as a bounty of our vegetables. Learn more here!

Everything But The Turkey SALE!

We are excited to announce our EVERYTHING BUT THE TURKEY SALE on NOVEMBER 18 from 10am-2pm at our farmstand.

The sale will feature our grass-fed beef, pasture-raised pork, chicken and lamb as well as a bounty of our vegetables. We will have all the produce you need for your Thanksgiving feast including the following:

  • Beets
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Carrots
  • Garlic
  • Kale
  • Leeks
  • Onions
  • Parsley
  • Pie Pumpkins
  • Potatoes
  • Spinach
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Turnips
  • Winter Squash – Acorn, Butternut, Delicata, Honeynut

We’re also offering beautiful Autumn Harvest Boxes. These seasonal veggies are packed to order and come in a wooden wine box. Preorder on our website and pick-up during our sale on November 18th.

If you would like to place an advance order to pick up at the sale, please contact Jane at jengelman@philoridgefarm.com.

November 18 will be the final day our farmstand will be open for the season so we hope to see you there!