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In Hardwick, Volunteers Bake Surplus Pumpkin Crops Into Pies

Herb Swanson
Ruby Dale-Brown, Bethany Dunbar and Nora Lecesse fill pie shells with surplus fresh pumpkin puree for the Hardwick Area Food Bank.

This week, as shopping carts overflow with tasty, sometimes expensive food, it’s easy to forget that the first Thanksgiving was not about bounty. It was about scarcity and sharing, as natives and settlers helped each other through a tough time.

In Hardwick, the spirit of giving smells a lot like warm pumpkin pie.

At the Food Venture Center run by the non-profit Center for Agricultural Economy, entrepreneurs perfect recipes for some fancy gourmet items, like salsas and kale chips. Not your typical food bank fare. But the center also partners with local producers, volunteers and chefs to turn surplus fruits and vegetables into free foods for people who need them.

This week, that includes dessert.

Credit Herb Swanson /
Pies filled with fresh surplus pumpkin await baking at the Food Venture Center in Hardwick. Made by volunteers with donated ingredients, they will be given away at the Hardwick Area Food Pantry.

Bethany Dunbar is the center's Community Projects Coordinator. But on the weekend before Thanksgiving, she looks more like a baker. She dons a white hair net and steps in a sterile shoe bath before carrying vats of fresh pumpkin puree into the Food Venture Center’s commercial kitchen.

There, Dunbar and two other women ladle tawny, spicy puree into about 100 buttery pie shells that had been rolled out by volunteers.

Credit Herb Swanson /
Ruby Dale-Brown, Hardwick Food Pantry Coordinator, places baked pies on cart at the Food Venture Center in Hardwick.

“Oh, they are definitely hand-made and some of the ladies were better than I was, so you can see the sort of mangled ones? Those are me,” she chuckles.

The pumpkins come from a Ferrisburgh farmer, Diane Emery. They were pureed by Pete’s Greens and the filling was made by Sterling College’s chef. The pies will end up in pizza boxes at the Hardwick Area Food Pantry. Pantry Coordinator Ruby Dale-Brown, with her six-month-old son in a backpack, slides stainless steel trays of pies into a commercial oven. But at the food pantry, this project is not just about pastry.

“We have a blackboard and we were making a list of all the things we were grateful and thankful for and fresh food, home-made food, community, family and friends were all on that list. And it just made me think that pie-making process is so much about that,” Dale-Brown says.

"I think that we're gleaning right now 500,000 pounds each year of that surplus, so there's so much more that we can distribute equally and equitably to people who can't afford or who do not feel welcome at farmers markets or local farm stands." - Nora Leccese, of the Emerson National Hunger Fellows Program

In fact, these pies are part of a much broader nationwide effort to glean fresh produce for charitable purposes. Nora Leccese is one of two Hunger Fellows from a Washington D.C. based foundation spending this term in Hardwick brainstorming more ways to expand access to Vermont’s 2 million pounds of annual agricultural surplus.

“I think that we’re gleaning right now 500,000 pounds each year of that surplus, so there’s so much more that we can distribute equally and equitably to people who can’t afford or who do not feel welcome at farmers markets or local farm stands,” says Lecesse.

Or, Leccese says, they may be put off by the perception that local food is expensive.

But this week at least 100 people in the Hardwick area who don’t have the time or money to make a fresh pumpkin pie will get one, along with all the other foods it takes to make Thursday taste and feel like Thanksgiving. 

Charlotte Albright lives in Lyndonville and currently works in the Office of Communication at Dartmouth College. She was a VPR reporter from 2012 - 2015, covering the Upper Valley and the Northeast Kingdom. Prior to that she freelanced for VPR for several years.
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