Pete Johnson

Photo by Natalie StultzPhoto by Natalie StultzI started Pete’s Greens in 1995.  But to fully understand why we do what we do, we have to go back a little further.  I was kind of an odd kid.  I was gardening at 3, and at 6 making elaborate plans in my head for mechanical cultivators as I hand weeded my family’s long beds of beans.  I always picked up soil and smelled it, felt it, rolled it in my hands.  By 9 I had a booming pumpkin business, started with my mom’s encouragement and run with my three siblings' help.  When I was 12, we moved from the state of Washington to Greensboro, Vermont, leaving the pumpkin business behind but entering a wonderfully challenging gardening climate.

Vermont’s climate fueled my interest in greenhouses.  I built many an experimental structure in our front yard, and watched most of them blow away or collapse under snow. I have never ceased being amazed by the difference in growing conditions created by a layer of glass or plastic.  As a family, we continued to grow most of our own food and dabbled in commercial vegetable production with a small roadside stand and farmer’s market.  Our land in Greensboro was almost entirely wooded and the native soil was very poor and acidic so any new gardening space had to be cleared of trees and heavily amended with compost and manure in order to grow healthy crops. While this was a lot of work it was a great learning experience to actually create new soil.  It was also how I learned to maximize vegetable production in a small space.

I attended Middlebury College and built a solar greenhouse on campus for my senior thesis.  The experiments conducted there convinced me that greenhouse production of vegetables could help make a farm profitable.  Upon graduation I returned to my parent’s land in Greensboro and cleared ¾ of an acre to start my farm. Access to their tools, tractor, and land meant that I got a debt free start in farming. For its first 4 years Pete’s Greens produced only salad greens before we began to diversify. Diversification meant that we needed more land.  My sheep farming buddy, Neil Urie generously rented me ten of his best acres.  This allowed us to grow more greens and many other crops. However his land is 6 miles from my parent’s and working both places was difficult logistically.  It is tricky to keep track of 200 vegetable varieties, many of which need attention every day or two, never mind doing it on farms miles apart.

For five years I looked for a farm to buy.  After several near misses I struck gold in spring of 2003.  It has 190 acres, 35 of which is prime, a huge house, and a beautiful barn right in Craftsbury Village.  The land is flat and a light, sandy, stone-free loam.  We built a self-designed half-acre greenhouse out of poles cut from local woods, and we burn restaurant grease in special furnaces to heat it.  We converted much of the barn to a root cellar and other cold storage so that we can store large quantities of crops and sell them in the winter.  For the past several years we have invested heavily in quality equipment, that helps us farm better and more efficiently.  While we have a ways to go to get our infrastructure completely set up, it is liberating to have so much land in one spot, and the facilities and equipment to support what the land can produce.

Photo by Jordan SilvermanPhoto by Jordan Silverman