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Intervale

10/16/06 12:00AM By Ron Krupp
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(HOST) Fall is upon is, the harvest is under way, and commentator Ron Krupp says he's especially grateful to be able to garden in Burlington's Intervale.

(KRUPP) What a gift it is to be able to dig my fall carrots and experience serenity at the Tommy Thompson Community Garden in the Intervale. It's hard to believe that such a lovely place exists so close to Burlington. The Intervale is filled with meadows, wetlands, fields and farms, where long windrows of compost ferment, and acre upon acre of organic vegetables and soft fruits grow with abandon. There's a feeling of both wildness and cultivation.

The word Intervale in the dictionary means a tract of low-lying land along a river. The waters of the Winooski River meander through the Intervale.

Annual floods have created floodplain alluvial soils on the surrounding land. The Winooskik or Onion River was named by the Abenaki because of the wild leeks they gathered along the banks of the river in spring.

A thousand years ago, long before Columbus arrived in the new world, the Abenaki people farmed the land and grew corn. Over two hundred years ago, Ethan Allen and others chose to settle in the Intervale because of the fertile soils and access to water. Here are some of his words: "I have arrived at my new farm of fourteen hundred acres, in which there are three hundred and fifty acres of choice river intervale, rich upland meadow interspersed with the finest of wheat land and pasture land well watered, and is by nature equal to any tract of the same number of acres I ever saw."

Through the 1940s, the Intervale continued to be the home of a vital farming community, including a number of dairy farms and other agricultural pursuits. Gove the florist grew his renowned gladiola bulbs and sent them around the world. And long before Ben & Jerry's laid claim to ice cream, Florence Arms sold ice cream from her Intervale herd of Jersey cows at the Arms Dairy Bar in downtown Burlington. Eventually, agriculture lost its place in the Intervale until it began to make a comeback about eighteen years ago.

Today, the rich soils of the Intervale are being transformed by the Intervale Center into one of most innovative agricultural experiments in the Northeast. The Center was formed in 1988 to restore this valuable land resource to its agricultural roots, while protecting the natural resources of the area.

The mission continues, and the results tell the story. Over three hundred and fifty acres of land have been reclaimed for agricultural use. Twelve organic farms produce seven percent of the fresh produce consumed in Burlington. Roughly fifty people work the land, including farmers, hired staff, interns and students. There are greenhouses, public walking trails, Vermont's largest compost project, and the newest initiative - a nursery for native trees and shrubs being developed for the protection of streambeds and rivers - a project that has already proven valuable to flood-prone areas in Vermont.

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

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