NEW HAVEN — An unlikely duo of recent Vermont transplants is teaming up to put on a first-of-its-kind event.
Christine Snell and Maura Lester are organizing the first annual New Haven Farm and Food Festival, a celebration of all the local food producers in the town. The festival will be held Oct. 20 at Tourterelle, the restaurant on Route 7 that Snell owns with her husband, Bill.
Snell and Lester came up with the idea back in July, when discussing how many other towns in Addison County have fall events, but New Haven does not.
“Next thing you know, we were running around with our heads cut off,” Lester said.
Snell and Lester decided to see what interest they could foster and posted the idea on an electronic message board. Soon they received dozens of responses from individuals and businesses interested in becoming vendors at the event.
“Initially, we weren’t sure if we could pull it off this year,” Lester said. “But then we just decided to go for it.”
Snell and Lester enlisted the help of Susan Smiley, of the Addison County Relocalization Network, a group dedicated to connecting food producers with consumers in the area.
Smiley was immediately on board.
“I thought the festival was a great idea,” Smiley said. “All celebrations of where our food comes from are worthy.”
Smiley, who has lived in Vermont for 40 years and has a small farm in New Haven, helped make sure the festival reached out to every single food producer in town.
“We were trying not to miss anyone,” Snell said. “It was a process of contacting everyone and finding out what everyone does.”
While still finalizing the details, the pair says the festival will feature 15-20 New Haven farmers and artisans, including Lincoln Peak Vineyard (wine), Butternut Valley Farm (produce and lamb), Olivia’s Croutons (wheat-based products), Orb Weaver Farm (cheese) and Misty Knoll Farm (poultry).
The festival will run from noon to 3 p.m. Admission is free, and vendors will sell products at booths that will be set up. There will also be a buffet lunch made by Bill Snell, using all of the local ingredients assembled. The suggested donation for lunch is $10 for adults and $5 for children.
Proceeds from the buffet will go toward next year’s festival.
Snell said the festival will also feature kids’ games, a wagon ride, and live music.
A goal of the event is to raise awareness of all the great produce, dairy, meat and poultry that are produced right in New Haven, and to encourage residents and businesses to buy local.
“It’s much easier, as a restaurant owner, to buy from big producers,” Snell said. “But we think buying local is very important.”
The pair hopes to have the festival at a different location every year. Snell offered up Tourterelle because it has a covered deck that can hold 200 patrons, fearing that the cost of a tent at a different location would have been prohibitively expensive.
Snell and Lester are an unlikely pair to host a festival in a small Vermont town. Snell, raised in France (her accent slips in now and then), moved to New York City at 22 where she met her husband. The couple opened a restaurant in Brooklyn in 2000. They relocated to Vermont in 2009, with their children, to open Tourterelle.
Snell said she grew tired of Manhattan and wanted to raise her children in a quieter setting. She doesn’t regret the move one bit.
“I love how people here look out for each other,” Snell said.
Lester also hails from the Big Apple, and moved to New Haven in 2005 with her husband.
“My brother lived up here and saw a property for sale he thought we might like, and we called the Realtor the next day,” Lester said.
The Lesters run a farm that grows a variety of produce. It’s easily identifiable along Route 7 near the north end of Dog Team Road by the plethora of pumpkins out front.
For Snell, another benefit of hosting the festival at her restaurant is to introduce members of the community who have never been to Tourterelle. Snell wants to shed the image that Tourterelle (French for turtle dove) is just a fancy French restaurant — she noted customers can get a burger.
But the primary reason for the festival remains to bring the community together, and to showcase all New Haven has to offer.
“One reason there’s no admission fee is that we want to be accessible to everyone,” Lester said. “There’s no obligation to buy lunch — people should come, cruise around and check out the booths.”
Because of variable weather and the fact that this is the first year of the festival, the pair doesn’t know what sort of turnout they’ll have. But they’re optimistic.
“I hope a lot of families come and check it out,” Snell said.