Bean Crafters started at Boardman Hill Farm in the winter of 2009. That first winter it was just Joe and a smattering of help from supportive friends. We made up to twenty different bean burgers and sold them both as hot prepared foods and as frozen retail packs at the Rutland Winter Farmers Market.
In April the following year Black River Produce took on our black bean burgers and we began a growth curve in which we doubled sales each year from 2010 to 2014. From then on sales slowed to a saner rate of 25% compounding. In that first full year (2010) we grew an acre of our own black beans at Boardman Hill farm, working the fields in the morning and in the kitchen through the evening hours. We went to two Vermont farmers markets, vended at festivals, and went to the New Amsterdam Market NYC. We learned how not to do so many things.
We spent the two years at Boardman Hill Farm working straight through the night, literally, every Thursday and Saturday in order to get everything done and not impose on the main farm’s schedule and kitchen needs. When the Mad River Food Hub opened in the late fall of 2012, we moved to the Mad River Valley where we expanded our product offerings, increased production volumes from 300 burgers a week to 1,200 in 2013; and then up to 3,000 in 2014. In 2015 the most burgers we made in a week was around 7,000. During this time we began decreasing our catering and event vending, pulled back on retail sales, gave up farmers markets altogether, and focused on selling to public schools, hospitals, and higher education food service—sectors much of the local foods movement left behind. We grew from 1.5 full-time employees as recently as 2014 to seven full-time equivalents as of late 2015.
In 2015 we were awarded grants and loans that allowed us to purchase seed cleaning equipment that expanded our capacity to function as a post-harvest processor of beans and grains in the Northeast. We now are able to function as an entity that more or less incubates farms looking into getting into small-scale bean and grain growing without having to invest in tens-of-thousands of dollars in post-harvest processing equipment. This is critical as staple foods (beans, grains, nuts) currently make up less than 0.5% of Vermont’s agricultural economy and those growers in the Northeast who are growing staple foods are often in the sixties with no succession plan. We are hoping to sow the seeds of the next generation of staple foods growers while building markets for these crops through our valley-added products. All this endeavoring is to support an agricultural system that more readily builds soil, protects water, and feeds people cholesterol-free nutrient-rich foods in a less energy-intensive way.
In 2015 we were approached by Sodexo to open an on-campus eatery at UVM. We did, and in a Real Food Challenge audit were ranked the most “Real” on-campus food venue in the country. Paradigms are shifting.
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