I spent a good part of today visiting three great permaculture-oriented nurseries in the Lamoille River Valley in northern Vermont – Zack Woods Herb Farm, Perennial Pleasures, and Elmore Roots. It was a gorgeous, clear, warm early fall day, and the drive gave me time to observe and understand more about the landscapes of northern Vermont.
Some unfocused observations and themes:
–The river valleys of northern Vermont are very “settled” with agriculture and small towns. This is in stark contrast to central and northern New Hampshire, which has plenty of small towns but little agriculture. Geology is one reason for this – the more erosive limestone-based rocks of the Green Mountains have allowed more and wider river valleys to form, and the large post-glacial lakes that occurred here dropped tons of nutrient-rich sediment from those erosive rocks into those valleys. So the state is crisscrossed with rich agricultural soils in these little river valleys cutting between mountain ranges. New Hampshire, on the other hand, is mostly a big chunk of less-erosive granite other than in the Connecticut and Merrimack river valleys and along the narrow seacoast in the southeast. So New Hampshire’s post-colonization economy has always been more extractive – mining, logging, factories, etc. – while Vermont’s has been more agricultural. By the way, this also gave me a good sense for why re-establishing large predators in Vermont would be a challenge. The Greens aren’t as unbroken as they can seem on maps – each of the individual ranges is like an “island” surrounded by this working-landscape mosaic of farmland and towns.
–The Lamoille River Valley is a happenin’ place for the new polylocalized agricultural economy! Within 20 miles of each other along VT-15 are turnoffs for Prospect Rock Permaculture (my friend Keith Morris’s teaching and floodplain reforestation site), all three nurseries I mentioned above, High Mowing Seeds, multiple CSA farms, and the town of Hardwick, the famous “Town That Food Saved.” I’ve heard the same is true of the Mad River Valley south of Montpelier (home of Yestermorrow Design/Build School and numerous other cool eco-social businesses) but I haven’t been there yet.
–The parallel north-south running ranges of the Green Mountains exert a big influence on travel and access between places. After all, the roads over the mountains are dirt, 25 miles an hour, and/or closed or requiring off-road vehicles for parts of the year. At one point I was only 35 miles due east of Burlington as the crow flies. But two different ranges of the Greens were between me and home. The only way to get back in a sane amount of time was to go south to the Winooski River Valley or north to the Lamoille, and then west on the highways that run through those valleys, both 60+ mile trips in all. Again, this is in contrast to New Hampshire whose mountains are scatter-dot monadnocks until you get up into the higher Whites.
—The Northeast Kingdom really is its own eco-socio-geographic region. As soon as I crossed into Caledonia County the forest type started to change, with much more spruce-fir present and much less hemlock and white pine. The working-landscape settlement pattern described above continued, but was more spread-out and dispersed. Geologically the Northeast Kingdom is essentially part of the White Mountains (the Connecticut River actually flowed to the west of the Kingdom in the distant past) so it has scattered-granite-dome topography and a more New Hampshire-like feel in general. And it’s also the coldest part of the state (zone 3 until recent decades), the farthest from any urban centers, and the least densely populated by people. A very unique, beautiful, and remote-feeling place.
–I really, really like having heritage plants to grow and propagate. Two of the friends I picked up today below. See if you can identify them!