There are always plenty of reasons to visit the Walloomsac Farmers Market, where vendors who are our neighbors sell locally-grown produce, cut flowers, fruits and berries, and hand-made foods and crafts. On opening day this year, there will be one more reason to go.
This item isn't an animal, or a vegetable, or a mineral – but it is a secret. Or rather ten secrets – and you can find the clues to the mystery at the market. Families with children and anyone with a hankering for adventure will want to participate in Farm Quest Vermont, a scavenger hunt for ten farms from around our region. A similar Quest will be headquartered at the Poultney Farmers Market this growing season.
The project is the brainstorm of us here at the Conservation District and of Scout Proft, who with her husband Matt owns Someday Farm in East Dorset. Scout is also our area's Farm to Community Mentor with the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont. NOFA-VT and a couple of generous donors to the district have provided funds to make the project possible. The Poultney-Mettowee Conservation District is also contributing staff time. (Our team was inspired in all this by Valley Quest, an Upper Valley institution that uses treasure hunts to introduce folks to special natural, historic, and cultural locations in their area.)
Here's what we've done to get ready for you.
First, we reached out to farmers in our tri-state area, asking if they'd be interested in being a host farm. Ten farms signed up for the Walloomsac Quest and the Poultney group is hoping for the same number there. Who are they? We're not telling you now!
Next, we enlisted the help here in the Bennington area of several home school families. In Poultney, students and the teacher in a ninth grade family and consumer science class volunteered to help. (Just who those students are is also a secret – for now.) The kids and their adult assistants were challenged with the task of visiting and exploring each farm. Then they wrote clues to steer Questers to the locations – clues that are poems, each twelve lines long. The poem-clues, with a map of the area in which the farms are located, are being compiled into booklets we're calling "passports."
Finally, the students created a logo for each farm. We'll make stickers with them, which will be stored on each farm in a box (specially made for us by Manchester Woodcraft), along with a farm "log" where visitor comments can be entered.
And now it's your turns. We invite you to stop at the Walloomsac Farmers Market, beginning on May 7, to purchase a passport for only $2 each. (The passports will be available at the Poultney Farmers Market beginning in June.) Use the clues to make your way to each farm, and look for the farm box there. Take a sticker from the box and place it in the appropriate spot in your passport, and if you'd like, make an entry in the farm log. Shoot a few photos (Quester portraits would be nice), and send them to the conservation district. We'll see that they get placed on the farmers market and conservation district websites.
If you visit all the farms in your area and return your passport by market closing day, you will win a prize! You will also have had yourself a memorable summer making the acquaintances of chickens and dairy cows and goats and strawberry fields and pumpkin patches and sap houses and – well, you tell us when it's all over, with your farm log comments and your photographs.
Opening day will be here soon. So get ready, get set, QUEST!
Shelly Stiles is the district manager of the Bennington County Conservation District, whose mission is promoting rural livelihoods and protecting natural resources in southwestern Vermont.