I am in love. With the state of Vermont. That table of produce on the side of the road after our hike was just the beginning. As far as I can tell, the produce stand to population ratio is approximately 1:3.
I knew that my tendency to ask John to stop at produce stands on the side of the road may cause a problem. Often these stands are on the side of a 50 mph county road, identified by small signs only visible as we are speeding past. And when I see it, I say “what is that? oh! oh! fresh produce! please stop!” and John slams on the brakes and skids onto the shoulder for me. (Only a slight exaggeration – u-turns are more likely). So months ago I joked that we needed a bumper sticker that says “I brake for fresh produce”. Well, while we were in Florida, John arranged to have a sticker custom-made as a surprise for me. He kept it such a surprise that when we went to pick it up, he blindfolded me and told me I had to wait until he loaded the surprise, which might take a while because he wasn’t sure it would fit in the van – trying to mislead my thinking. When he finally led me around the back to see it, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. John said that was his favorite part – the look of disbelief on my face as I registered that he had actually obtained a bumper sticker that states “We stop for fresh produce”, and glued it to his van. It is so special, and such an amazingly thoughtful gesture. John’s a good boyfriend.
So, back to Vermont. Local produce is available everywhere – at the end of every third driveway, at the grocery store in Middlebury where we shopped, and additionally at farmers’ markets! We know this, because we drove through more of the verdant rolling farmlands than expected. The day after finishing our Long Trail hike, we were going to visit my friends Mark and Ali, who had just moved to Vermont. But first we had an errand to run.
After running our refrigerator on propane while we were away hiking for four days, the fuel was entirely depleted when we got out. This meant we had no heat (and it was a cold night!), no hot water (thankfully the park offered hot showers for a few quarters), and had to use our backpacking stove to cook. So we set out in search of a place to fill the propane, for the first time since we started the road trip. We saw propane everywhere – giant bottles outside of houses and small bottles at gas stations, but it took many stops and a fair amount of Google searching to finally find a U-Haul place that fills propane bottles permanently attached to the vehicle. They wouldn’t fill ours, though, due to a very small patch of rust they observed on it. So we had to drive west, just short of the New York state border, to Exit 1 RV. The entire drive we worried we’d have to get the tank replaced – an expensive purchase, which would most likely need to be special ordered and take some time. But we also realized that Camping World in Florida had replaced the propane regulator, and added propane in the process, and had not said anything about needing to replace the tank. The helpful owner of Exit 1 RV filled the tank with no comment about the rust spot, provided tips for us newbie RV owners, and we were on our way.
We arrived at Mark and Ali’s new home in the evening. The location is just spectacular, with views over rolling farmlands to the mountains beyond, and their yard offers several fresh fruit options – apples, pears and grapes. They were great hosts and we all had a fun time, sharing home cooked meals and visiting their local swimming holes, with one board game thrown in (Mark is a big gamer). It was great to catch up and to visit with their two year old son, Sammy. We also got a little bike ride in. There isn’t much in the way of shoulders to ride on, but there also isn’t a lot of traffic, so it is a lovely place to ride.
Our last day in Vermont, we went on two factory tours. First stop, Ben & Jerry’s. John LOVES ice cream, so had requested this stop early on. I added Cabot to the mix, because it is nearby and I like to learn about all types of fermentation. The contrast between the tours was interesting. Ben & Jerry’s is a corporation that creates an amusement park environment for it’s visitors. The tour itself is conducted from a viewing platform, looking through windows down to the factory floor, and they only give very high-level information about the ice cream making process. The pre-tour video covers the history of the company, but not the process itself. Cabot, in contrast, is a farmer-owned cooperative, and the visitor’s center is more utilitarian. For the tour, the viewing windows are from a hallway right in the middle of the factory, where employees walk past (and sometimes get flagged down to answer difficult tourist questions). They unfortunately were not in production that day, but it was interesting none the less. Sadly, some of my questions went unanswered – the tour guide knows a lot about the coop and the product, but not so much about the fermentation details. The Cabot shop offers samples of all the cheeses, and good deals on the products. Ice cream at Ben & Jerry’s cost just as much as any other retail store.
From Cabot, we headed to New Hampshire. Our route took us through Stowe, where we came across a ‘House of Jerky’. When John spots a produce stand, he hesitates and we are past it by the time he asks if I want to stop. At this sign, though, I didn’t even think he’d had time to read it before we were in the parking lot.
Once inside, viewing packets of kangaroo and ostrich jerky with no prices listed, John realized that this was not the place to buy bulk beef jerky for our hiking trip, and we continued on our way.