By Cherise Madigan, as seen in the Bennington Banner:,539776?

POWNAL — Are you ready to discover Pownal?

With a slew of events planned for this summer — including farm tours and workshops, an Independence Day picnic, and a fall harvest festival — a Pownal initiative is working to make the town’s farms and food producers more accessible than ever before.

That initiative, known as “Empower Pownal,” began in 2017 through the Vermont Council on Rural Development‘s Climate Economy Model Community Program (CEMCP). A number of community working groups were formed, focusing on topics like agriculture, recreation, small business, and conservation with a larger goal of strengthening the Pownal community and promoting economic development.

This summer’s events are the result of a joint effort between the town’s agricultural and small business groups, as well as the regional non-profit organization Northshire Grows, funded largely by a “Small and Inspiring” grant from the Vermont Community Foundation. Throughout the season the series, which organizers hope will become an annual tradition, will work to introduce visitors and locals alike to Pownal’s agricultural heritage, landscape, and economy.

“We’re working across the board to promote our local farms, and so far our focus has been on collaboration and cross-marketing,” said Shannon Barsotti of Longview Farm, a leader within the Empower Pownal initiative. “Many of us have our own customer base, and a lot of people sell at farmers markets, but we’re hoping to market them together to be more connected as a community and get more people coming to Pownal.”

Barsotti hopes that the effort will work symbiotically with economic development initiatives in both Williamstown, Mass. and Bennington while also allowing farmers — many with heavy workloads — to benefit from collective marketing efforts.

“This is a great way to support local farms and learn about ways to buy local,” Barsotti said. “We’d really like to showcase Pownal’s beauty, and educate people about our farms and how you can buy fresh produce from them.”

The series will kick off at Barsotti’s Longview Farm on Saturday, May 19 with a pasture walk from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. During the event visitors will have the opportunity to learn about rotational grazing, cuddle with baby lambs and chicks, plant seeds, and enjoy a walk with afternoon snacks. A rain date is set for the same time on May 20.

“We have these little lambs, and it’s just beautiful in the springtime for a pasture walk,” Barsotti said. “There’s not much better than bringing your kids and cuddling a baby lamb in the beautiful spring weather.”

A Fourth of July celebration, featuring a community picnic at the Pownal American Legion, will follow on July 4 from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. At the picnic participants will learn about the Vermont Veteran Farmers Coalition as well as local food initiatives at the Vermont Veterans’ Home in Bennington, enjoy a homemade lunch featuring products from Pownal farms, and participate in some old fashioned fun and games.

“We’re planning to serve local food to highlight our farms, as well as playing some games outside for kids and families,” Barsotti said. “Northshire Grows is our fiscal sponsor, and they are doing so much great work to get fresh food — and even food grown by veterans — into the veterans’ home.”

Hoppy Valley Farm will then host a tour of their hops yard on Aug. 4 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., to educate visitors about the many varieties of hops grown onsite. Samples from Bright Ideas Brewery, which utilize the farm’s hops, and Hoppy Valley condiments will also be available.

“Hoppy Valley is such an eye-catching sight with their tepees, and Peter [Hopkins] makes some great condiments that will be available to taste,” Barsotti added.

Organic vegetable production will be the next lesson on the agenda, with a farm tour and dinner at Wildstone Farm on Aug. 9 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

“John and Joy [Primmer] have been organic vegetable farming for a long time, so they’re well versed in organic growing and how to extend the season,” Barsotti said. “It will be peak vegetable season, and I think this would be interesting not just for people who want to support farms, but also for people who garden or homestead.”

Finally, the series will conclude on Sept. 22 with a Harvest Festival to be held at the Harwood Homestead from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

“Harwood Homestead is at a beautiful spot on Cedar Hill Road with all of these old barns that are great for a festival,” Barsotti said. “We’d like to combine that with a farm market, so local craft and food producers can sell as well. We’d also like to do a dinner or pig roast if possible.”

Barsotti hopes that the series is the first of many, and notes that the events represent only a small sample of Pownal’s agricultural landscape.

“Our main goal is just to get people onto these farms so they can learn about what’s happening locally,” Barsotti explained. “We hope to make this an annual way to highlight our farms, which is why we’re charging a small admission fee. This first year we have money from the Vermont Community Foundation, so whatever we make will work towards keeping this going.”

Each event is family friendly, and costs $5 per person though children under 12 are free.