WILMINGTON -- The manager of a new farming operation hopes to provide vegetables grown without the use of chemicals to nearby businesses, residents and visitors.
"I'm experimenting here with many varieties of plants to see what does best," said William Olenick, head of Back to the Land, LLC. "Kale does really good here."
In just eight weeks, some property behind the River Valley Market between Route 100 and the Deerfield River was developed into a garden by Olenick and several employees. All work there is done by hand except the initial plowing and where land was not plowed, it was mulched. Next year, Olenick plans to have everything done by hand.
This experiment, he says, is to show that farming can be done using local labor and local products.
"I buy all local except for the seeds. I go to the hardware store here," said Olenick. "It's important you spend money where you live. This is a local operation for local people."
Ultimately, he would like to inspire others to use this model and promote communities feeding themselves instead of relying on so many outside sources. Providing for school lunch programs, senior citizen programs such as Meals on Wheels and for shut-ins is a big part of Olenick's vision.
Vegetables grown at Back to the Land are being sold on selective days at the River Valley Market and at the Brattleboro Farmers' Market. Certain local restaurants and hotels also will be sending cooks to pick fresh crops from the property.
There are no plans to deliver but in a few years, Olenick hopes to create a marketing and distributing center for farmers that will cover the tri-state area of Vermont, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. He also would like to hold public events that invite people to the property to see ballerinas, yogis and artwork in the near future.
"This isn't just a farming operation," Olenick said, pointing to a picnic area being developed along the river.
No plastic is being used on the property. The material is commonly found in greenhouses. Instead, Olenick's crew uses an expensive fabric wool cover, which allows the plants to breathe and no greenhouse is needed.
The main issue Olenick encountered was Bishop's weed, which grows by the river. His crew cut down several trees on the property.
"It likes the shade so if you make full sunlight, it doesn't like it," Olenick said. "We're hoping it will go away. We're hoping a heat wave will whack it."
He draws on experience from his younger days around New England as well as the last 22 years spent growing a high altitude garden in Switzerland. He always wanted to grow the most pure, biological plants, approaching the task with higher standards than the U. S. Department of Agriculture.
The operations in Wilmington were covered completely by private funds with no government assistance.
"I'm not saying that government money is bad for agriculture," said Olenick. "The whole idea is to keep it local including the administration of it. So far, it looks quite good."
All types of seeds were planted since the operation began. Corn, beans and other vegetables are being grown in the garden. There are also multiple flowers being grown that will likely be sold at the River Valley Market.
"I'm attempting to grow the biggest pumpkin in the Deerfield Valley," added Olenick.
There is a patch designated for people to bring and plant their heirloom vegetables from farms in this region. Currently, there are trials for growing medicinal tea ingredients on the property. Olenick also said he was in talks with some seed growers. Next year, he hopes to have a designated area for local students to learn about agriculture.
Olenick's crew plants at different times to avoid having everything sprout up at once. According to his experience, he believes 15 to 20 percent of the varieties will be taken out by disease or bug.
Back to the Land was up 30 percent after its stand was set up for the first time last week at the Brattleboro Farmers' Market.
Some neighboring businesses may be nervous about the new competition, Olenick says. But he believes if everyone works together, a lot can be accomplished. Olenick has already struck a deal with his neighbor, Adams Farm owner Kip Adams, to use a portion of Adams' property in exchange for some vegetables. He's also made friends with the owners of the Boyd Family Farm, also located in Wilmington.
Olenick began getting into the organic movement around 1969. He had a van, a scale and his crew would sell out of any organic products they collected within a day.
In the 1980s, Olenick started exporting American organic produce to Europe. He wanted to improve USDA standards and began lobbying those representing agriculture in embassies in Europe.
At the time, he said, there was little interest for organics. But Olenick continued to believe it was the future. His activism assisted with establishing a national standard for organics.
"I've been an activist for a long time promoting this kind of agriculture activity," he said.
Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.