Footprint Farm, Vermont

Taylor and Jake Mendell of Footprint Farm Vermont share their thoughts on finding the right words to describe their farming practices to customers in the changing landscape of USDA organic.

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Footprint Farm, Vermont

Taylor Mendell: We’re looking for what’s next. How do we say “we’re what organic used to be.”?

Jake Mendell: I’m Jake Mendell.

Taylor: I’m Taylor Mendell.

Jake: And we’re in Starksboro, Vermont at Footprint Farm.

Taylor and Jake Mendell at Footprint Farm Vermont

Photo courtesy Footprint Farm.

Taylor: We didn’t grow up on farms but both went to school and ended up studying different food-related fields. I was in health policy and Jake did nutrition science.

And through one way or another, we realized that where we wanted to be in the stream of health was growing food and teaching people about food and trying to get kids to start eating real foods earlier.

So we met on an educational farm where we took kids out of the city and onto a small farm and milked goats with them and made bread with them and really enjoyed it.

But, we liked the farming part a lot more, so, we kept on with it.

Managing Land And Shopping Locally

Jake: We manage three acres of cropland and we have about an acre and a half to two acres in production each year of diversified vegetables. The other third is in a year of cover cropping and weed management.

View of crops and hoop houses at Footprint Farm in Starksboro Vermont

Photo courtesy Footprint Farm.

We grow what, 60 different varieties of vegetables? And we raise about 120 laying chickens and a few pigs for mostly us and friends and family to eat.

Taylor: If I don’t have food that I grew or that somebody I know grew and I go to the grocery store I don’t know what I’m buying. And I think even with the organic standards there’s still uncertainty about what that means in the actual practices.

It’s been broadened so much that there are farms that are certifiably organic now that are growing crops in a way that I don’t really want to eat myself.

When Farmers Shop For Eggs

We lost most of our flock to a bear last fall. So we didn’t have eggs of our own through the winter, and we were having to buy eggs and it was really difficult because we’d go to the grocery store and there are all these words “vegetarian fed” “pasture-raised” et cetera, et cetera.

And even as experienced farmers, it was really hard to navigate. You can be organic and have access to outdoors but I really want chickens that are outside.

Farm crew harvesting and chickens enjoying the pasture at Footprint Farm Vermont

Photo courtesy Footprint Farm.

I love that bright, orange, flavorful yolk that you really only get from birds that are raised outdoors.

What outdoors really means is that they can go outside and be entertained by scratching around in the dirt and looking for bugs and taking dust baths and catching frogs.

Like, watching a chicken catch a frog is the best thing ever.

Chickens aren’t meant to be inside all the time. Nobody is.

And so for them to be able to actually go outside and do things that chickens are meant to do.

Jake: And eat the food that chickens would naturally want to eat like bugs and worms and grass. They’re omnivores.

So while they can survive on just grain, the egg that you get out of them when they’re not eating their natural diet is not going to be as nutritious as one where they are.

The Search For Better Food

Taylor: People are grappling with what is the word now to find the food that I want.

And maybe it’s not “grocery store organic”, maybe it’s “farmers market organic”.

People are also grappling with how do I know what I’m getting?

I think they’re realizing that the word has lost something and they don’t know what that is.

Colorful organic vegetables displayed at the Footprint Farm market booth

Photo courtesy Footprint Farm.

So we’re trying to figure out, how do we describe what we do in an elevator pitch:

You can take this food, and you can take it home and you can eat it without worrying about what’s on it.

It’s going to be super healthy for you, it’s better than a lot of the foods that you can get in the store.

It’s just grown in dirt you know? And there’s not much to it.

I think that’s the beauty of organic is that you can explain everything that’s happened to these crops. And feel good about eating them.

Taylor Mendell of Footprint Farm in Starksboro Vermont posing with huge bouquets of carrots

Photo courtesy Footprint Farm.

Oh, I have to say, I went to the doctor and got my cholesterol checked and it’s through the roof like she’s never seen. But it’s the good kind, the HDL cholesterol.

She was showing it to her doctor friends, my cholesterol report. And she said, “What do you do? How do you do this?”

I said, I eat two eggs for breakfast every single morning they just happen to be eggs that are raised in a specific way.

Linley Dixon: So an egg’s not an egg?
Taylor + Jake: An egg’s not an egg! Exactly.

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