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Farmer's Diner

04/08/04 12:00AM By Ron Krupp
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(Host) Eating out and eating locally grown food don't always go together, but commentator Ron Krupp has an example of how the two can be combined creatively.


(Krupp) The Farmer's Diner is located on North Main Street in Barre. The diner is so radically old it's radically new. What's special about it is the food, how it's grown and where it comes from - and "the man behind the plan." Tod Murphy started the 60-seat diner in July of 2002. His goal was to support nearby farms and to demonstrate that local, organic agriculture is viable and that taste and tradition do matter. Currently, 70 percent of the food comes from 35 local suppliers and producers. His goal is 80 percent.

Jane Collins, the assistant manager, told me that Jim Bulger of West Topsham just brought in some yellow carrots from his root cellar. And it won't be long before local rhubarb will be spreading its sauce over pancakes and next to pork chops.

The potatoes and vegetables for the diner are grown on the farm of Will Allen and Kate Duesterberg over on the flats of the Connecticut River. The milk, butter and ice-cream come from Earl Ransom and Amy Huyffer and their Guernseys at the Strafford Dairy. At the Farmer's Diner, you can have a cup of Chili or a grilled cheese sandwich with an order of philosophy on the side.

A 16-ounce glass of milk costs a little more than the equivalent at the chain restaurant down the street but at the diner, it's certified organic.

I forgot to mention that the cheese in the grilled cheese sandwiches comes from the farm of John and Janine Putnam. Janine told Murphy they were having trouble discarding their whey, a byproduct of the cheese-making process. Murphy knew that the Putnam's 15 year-old son, Andrew, was looking for a part-time job. So he suggested that Andrew raise hogs on the whey, and he would buy hogs from them. And it worked, and that's where some of the bacon comes from at the Farmer's Diner.

Just down the road from the diner is a small corrugated metal building with a few small rooms, one hot and smoky, the other refrigerated. It's one of the smallest USDA-inspected, meat-processing plants in the country - and one of the few not controlled by a large food company. Every diner needs a good supply of bacon, sausage, and ham.

The Farmer's Diner is competing with diners that get their chickens from Sysco and Tyson, that are cheaper and that are shipped from who-knows-where and are processed and pumped-up with high protein feed and antibiotics. In an era in which 10 companies supply more than half the food sold in the U.S., Tod Murphy is bucking the trend and making money at it. In fact, the diner may be the first of many in the development of the Farmer's Diner Franchise. Plans are in the works for a diner in Williston, Vermont and West Lebanon, New Hampshire. Please pass the rhubarb sauce.

This is Ron Krupp, the northern gardener.

Ron Krupp is a gardener and author who lives near Lake Champlain on Shelburne Bay.
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