Traffic across the railroad tracks in Burlington, Vermont is brisk on summer Thursday afternoons as cyclists, walkers and cars head to the Intervale. Many come with baskets filled with picnic-ready dishes like our Grilled Shrimp Skewers over White Bean Salad. A band plays by the historic farmhouse and barn, picnic blankets patchwork the grass as farmers walk from their fields to set up heirloom-tomato tastings and women in colorful African clothing sell food made with vegetables they grew nearby. Children zigzag between friends and a local beekeeper explains the importance of protecting our pollinators.
Twenty-five years ago, Burlington’s city dwellers crossing the tracks would have seen derelict farms, illegal junkyards and a city dump choking the once fertile Winooski River floodplain. In 1986, a massive clean-up project initiated by local businessman and environmentalist Will Raap and his Gardener’s Supply Company removed hundreds of abandoned cars and almost 1,000 tires. “We had moved the company to the site of an abandoned slaughterhouse and next to a struggling dairy farm, remnants of the Intervale’s centuries-long proud history as Burlington’s farming and food hub,” Raap explains. “We vowed to rebuild it into ‘Burlington’s Farm’ and create a catalyst to bring food production back closer to kitchen tables.”