MacLeans are building on a Charlotte legacy farm

Jane MacLean knows that taking over a legacy business can be difficult. Residents of Charlotte and beyond have spent the last four decades enjoying the produce of the Charlotte Berry Farm and she hopes they will appreciate the work she and her husband Dan have done to transform the property into the Sweet Roots Farm and Market.

MacLean and her husband took over the farm in the spring of 2021. The Vermont Land Trust had purchased the property that winter and leased it to the couple through the Farmland Access Program. The MacLeans have a long-term lease with the opportunity to purchase the land later.

The couple has lived on and off in Vermont for the last 20 years. “We went to Green Mountain College,” MacLean said, “but we bopped around the world after that.”

They started a micro-farm in Maine in 2013 but left when they outgrew the space and moved to Charlotte in 2017.

This will be the fourth year for MacLean at the farm, and she’s happy to report that they have transitioned to fully organic.

Photo by Daniel Schechner. Jane and Dan MacLean have transformed the Charlotte Berry Farm into Sweet Roots Farm and Market.
Photo by Daniel Schechner. Jane and Dan MacLean have transformed the Charlotte Berry Farm into Sweet Roots Farm and Market.

“That was a big undertaking, because the farm had been managed by many people in many different ways,” she said. “It’s similar to buying an old house. There are systems that you might not have put into place, but we’re trying to utilize the resources we have and improve as much as we can.”

MacLean has also added vegetables to the farm’s output. “We have vegetables from A to Z,” MacLean said, “arugula to zucchini.”

The farm also grows a wide variety of greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, pumpkins and root vegetables.

“We wanted to make the farm more dynamic,” she said, “and that’s one of the reasons we changed the name.”

Blueberries are still the main crop, but they also have strawberries, black and red raspberries, and blackberries. They don’t have enough covered infrastructure for winter crops, so they consider themselves a three-season farm.

Sweet Roots Farm has three different kinds of CSAs. Their fall traditional boxed CSA has vegetables and often fruit or frozen blueberries. The Customer Choice CSA is for those who pay upfront. They get a gift card for the amount paid (with a minimum of $100) and get to purchase produce with that card for the duration of the season. An additional incentive, based on the amount spent, is added to the card.

MacLean considers the Community Pick CSA to be the heart of the farm. “It’s an opportunity for us to encourage community members to participate in the harvest along with us,” she said.

Community Pick members commit to picking 50 pounds of blueberries. They get to keep half with the other half going to the farm. The farm has 5 acres of blueberries, and the Community Pick allows Sweet Roots Farm and Market to make up for any gaps in their labor pool since the berries tend to ripen at the same time.

The Community Pick CSA is so popular that it is capped at 45 families.

In addition to the CSAs, Sweet Roots has a farm store which will be open from mid to late May until Thanksgiving. The store carries a variety of local products including cheese, milk, butter, eggs, a variety of frozen meat, frozen prepared food like bean burgers, ice cream, fermented food, honey, maple syrup and beverages.

They also carry wellness items like teas and syrups and local artisanal products. “We like to highlight the incredible producers who are members of our greater community,” MacLean said.

Staffing at Sweet Roots fluctuates during the year with roughly 10 during the height of the season. “We have a great field crew,” said MacLean, noting that several employees stay from early spring to late fall.

“Taking on a legacy business is complicated physically, socially and emotionally for the community,” MacLean said. Not all community members appreciate the changes. but she hopes those people grow to understand them and see the farm as way to make the community more vibrant. As part of that goal, Sweet Roots donates excess vegetables to the Vermont Food Bank and designates one section of blueberries for the non-profit’s gleaners. Last year that group harvested over 300 pounds.

“What’s most enjoyable,” MacLean said, “is that we are working on creating a better future for our community. We are feeding families. We try to introduce programs like the Community Pick CSA and build partnerships like the one with the Vermont Food Bank because we want to make nutritious food accessible to as many people as we can.”