Our Backyard: The Intervale
Gardener's Supply founders transform a misused piece of land
Our headquarters are located in the Intervale, a stretch of land along the Winooski River in Burlington, VT.
Our Burlington, VT, headquarters are at the edge of a 700-acre floodplain known as "the Intervale". This "backyard" is a combination of farmland, forest and wetlands that's been under cultivation for centuries, going back to 3000 BC, when small groups of Native Americans camped in the area to take advantage of seasonally available resources.
During the last few decades, the area has undergone a remarkable transition: from a dumping ground to a city breadbasket, producing more than 500,000 pounds of food each year.
While Burlington is named one of the nation's best cities by Kiplinger magazine, the Intervale is called the "crown jewel for locavores" and visitors come from across the country and around the world to learn how to create an Intervale in their community.
But this wasn't always so. In the 1980s, the Intervale had become a neglected, dangerous, dumping ground for cars and trash — an area to be avoided. So what possessed Will Raap, the founder of Gardener's Supply, to move his company to the Intervale in 1986?
Raap recognized the value in the Intervale's agricultural past. Underneath all the junk and debris, Will Raap saw potential for revitalizing local agriculture, as well as providing a much-needed destination for outdoor recreation within the city.
Will Raap, founder of Gardener's Supply, was the leading visionary behind the Intervale's transformation.
Cleanup efforts began in 1987 when Gardener's Supply, founded the Intervale Center, originally called the Intervale Foundation. Almost 1,000 tires and a 350-car illegal junkyard were removed so that the floodplain's nutrient-rich soil would once again see the light of day. Gardener's Supply and others began a community-wide effort to raise awareness of this natural resource.
Soon after the initial cleanup, Intervale Compost Products set up shop in the Intervale, providing a leaf and yard waste recycling center for Chittenden County. More initiatives followed, including several small farms. Gardener's Supply led the effort to establish the Intervale Community Farm, Vermont's first community supported agriculture (CSA), and the Intervale Farms Program.
Community-minded educators, businesspeople and others began to see the beauty of the Intervale, and the ideas—and opportunities—grew.
A Vibrant Community
The Intervale of today is a lively, financially viable and environmentally sound agricultural community that is a national model for sustainable agriculture. The food and other products grown here ultimately find their way to shops, farmers' markets, restaurants and tabletops in the city and beyond. The Intervale Center oversees land stewardship and farming on about 350 acres.
The Intervale Community Farm has expanded to provide seasonal organic produce for 500 member households, and the Intervale Farms Program has supported the development of dozens of organic farms, encouraging farmers with subsidized land and equipment rentals, business planning and mentoring.
Visitors to the Intervale can see the local food system at work. They can tour tour organic market gardens, hike a network of trails and wildlife corridors, and visit a native plant nursery. Wildlife is plentiful, including great blue heron, deer, fox, butterflies, otters, kingfishers and even moose. A gravel bike trail runs through the farmland and along the river, and links to Burlington's 10-mile Cycle the City loop.
The Intervale Center has also created the Abenaki Heritage Garden, a "three-sisters" garden featuring corn, beans and squash varieties grown in the way the Abenaki would have cultivated them 900 years ago. The garden is intended to honor the agricultural heritage of the Abenaki at the Intervale, educate the public about Abenaki history and culture, and grow food for the Abenaki community.
Learn more about what you can see and do in our backyard at the Intervale Center.
The Intervale Through the Years
In 1787, Ethan Allen built a home for his 11-member family.
The Calkins family operated Riverview Farm from 1911 to 1991.
In the 1930s, Elmer Gove grew gladiolus in the Intervale for his international mail-order business. In the 1940s, Al Morril, owner of Pease Grain Co., grew blue hubbard squash — an experiment to find alternative crops for Vermont dairy farmers.
After decades of informal dumping, Burlington opened a landfill in 1944. A sludge pit was added in the 1970s.
By the mid 1980s, an illegal junkyard littered the Intervale with 350 cars.
The Intervale was also the site of a slaughterhouse, which closed in 1977. Here, Rena Calkins' cows graze around the vacant building.
Today's Gardener's Supply employees continue to maintain their backyard, the Intervale.