story and photos by Marichel Vaught
MONTPELIER — We’ve all heard that it’s important to get to know your farmer, and we have opportunities to do just that at local farmers’ markets or at farm stands if the proprietors happen to be there. But just as important is your farmer getting to know you. This is what Patrick and Melisa Sullivan, owners of Ananda Gardens, want to do. The Sullivans started harvesting in April from their one-acre plot on the outskirts of Montpelier.
Rather than setting up a space at a farmers’ market, which was not very cost-effective for them, they provide a list of available vegetables on their website or through their newsletter, which is currently emailed to about 100 recipients each week. The customers pick which vegetables they want and how many. The Sullivans then gather them from the garden and deliver the order directly to the customer, or the customer can pick up the order at the farm. “There is no refrigeration involved, so it’s at most a few hours between the veggies being in the ground and in the customers’ hands,” said Patrick.
Ananda Gardens will deliver your order to you in Montpelier, provided the order totals $15 or more. This direct delivery allows them to make a connection and create a relationship with their customers. In fulfilling individual orders, they know exactly what each person wants. They know their regular customers’ preferences. As food lovers themselves, who are always looking to discover new and delicious ways to cook with vegetables, they like to start conversations with their customers to learn how they prepare vegetables.
Patrick, 32, originally from Pennsylvania, has always had a passion for organic farming. He’s lived on a fruit orchard, helped operate a CSA (community supported agriculture) and studied horticulture at the University of California at Santa Cruz. Patrick then participated in a farmer-to-farmer exchange program through the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA), which led him to El Salvador and then to Peru, where he met his wife Melisa. Melisa, 37, was taking classes in urban gardening and shared Patrick’s passion for good, fresh and healthy food. Together, they knew they wanted to start a farm. Vermont seemed like the perfect place with its appreciation for organic gardening and farming communities.
“Montpelier is a community that has a huge interest in local eating,” said Patrick. It was also where they wanted to raise their now two-year old daughter, Ananda, after whom the business is named.
Earlier this year, the Sullivans searched for the perfect location to set up shop. They finally found the ideal site through Geoff and Kim Beyers, who now rent living space to them that is conveniently adjacent to one acre of land suitable for growing organic crops. Since April, Ananda Gardens has been fulfilling about 15 orders of various sizes per week. They receive orders from area eateries such as Philamena’s, NECI and Magical Falafel (a falafel pop-up that can be found every Monday at Tulsi Tea Room on Elm Street).
“We are so lucky to have farmers like Patrick and Melisa who grow local, nutritious food that feeds our community,” said Mollie Wills, who owns and operates Magical Falafel with her partner Adam. Wills says they specifically sought out a service like Ananda Gardens because they wanted to source locally. Produce from Ananda Gardens can also be found at Northfield Falls General Store, which is currently their only reseller.
A tour of the gardens is almost meditative. There are splashes of vibrant colors in the greenhouse — from the deep reds, golden oranges and crisp greens of the tomatoes to the lush and velvety dark purples of the eggplants. You can’t help but smile upon seeing the rows of bright sunflowers and bulbous onions peeking up through the soil. The earthy scent guarantees that what grows from it will be remarkable. In Sanskrit, Ananda means “abundant bliss,” which is how it feels to stand in their garden.
Ananda Gardens doesn’t stop at vegetables. They also grow and sell perennials, and are working on growing fruit trees as well. Patrick keeps bees and Melisa uses the beeswax along with aromatic flowers and herbs from their gardens to create soothing salves. These will be available for sale at the Montpelier Welcome Center beginning in November. They’d also like to offer gardening and fruit pruning workshops and cooking classes. Eventually, they would like to own their own land. Still, they always want to keep it manageable, staying around the one-acre scale.
Their mission is to grow food that has versatility and incredible taste and is as fresh as possible. The Sullivans rave about the flavor of the potatoes, peppers and tomatoes found in Peru, and are experimenting with growing comparable varieties here. “We see our customers as partners,” said Melisa. “We love sharing what we grow.” The Sullivans clearly love what they grow — the community is abundantly blessed for that.
Ananda Gardens is located at 200 Dillon Road in Montpelier. For more information, to subscribe to their newsletter or to place an order, visit anandagardens.com.