Food and Family at Farmhouse Pantry
Growing up, Sarah Vaillancourt fantasized about having a farm and living around large animals. Josh Vaillancourt, who grew up in Vermont, learned all about animal health, crops, machinery and carpentry, but had no intention to continue farming in the future.
Working with Heifer International in 2004 on a volunteer trip to Selma, Alabama, Josh Vaillancourt and his wife Sarah learned about sustainable and regenerative farming — a practice to conserve the productivity of both the soil and the water. It became their passion. A few years later, the couple moved to Saranac to do what Sarah always dreamed of, what Josh thought he would never do again, and what they both grew to love: farming.
The goal for their farm, Woven Meadows, is to provide good, quality food.
“On our farm, we don’t want to pollute the soil and water — and in turn, other plant and animal life — with chemicals, and we don’t want the products we use to have done so either. That is all part of our holistic outlook — everything and everyone ‘woven’ together,” Josh wrote on Woven Meadow’s webpage, explaining their approach.
Ten minutes away from the farm is Farmhouse Pantry, Vaillancourt’s restaurant, bakery and cafe, as well as a small store where they “make everything from scratch and unicorn tears.” The unicorn tears might be a trade secret, but the fact that Farmhouse Pantry is all about serving locally-sourced, organic, handmade and farm-to-table products, is not. People don’t just come here to eat or grab a cup of coffee, they also come for the homemade jars of jam, pickles, honey, the hand-bottled fruit juices, kombucha, fruits, vegetables, meat, cheese, yogurt and ice cream. The ingredients for everything served or sold here comes from the Vaillancourt’s and other local farms.
Farmhouse Pantry is a no-tip establishment, meaning a tip is neither expected nor required. The practice of tipping, according to Josh, is illogical; one that creates a power dynamic between the server and the paying customer, as well as a way to disguise the true cost of food.
“Why is the customer expected to pay a wage or a bonus to the server, but not the cook, dishwasher, etc? Why is this cost broken out, but not the utilities, rent for sitting at a table, etc?,” Josh says.
A regular day for Josh starts with farm chores at 6:40 a.m. after Sarah leaves for her teaching job at Malone Middle School. Their children, Noah, 13, and
Del, 11, get themselves ready for school while Josh quickly gets their preschooler Rye, 4, up and ready so they can all head out before 7:50 a.m. After dropping the children off at school, he heads over to the restaurant to prepare the food before opening and staying there, where he will be busy cooking as the only cook until it closes at 9 p.m. When the Pantry is busy, only after closing can he start doing evening chores at the farm.
“I spend around 60 hours a week at the Pantry,” Josh says, “when things are going well, the farm chores take about 14 hours or so. But there are always things that need to be done in addition to the daily routine, like a fence or waterline that breaks, equipment to repair, hay to make, livestock to haul, or and or and or.”
Taking care of a farm and running a restaurant while having three young children is not easy.
“It’s mentally and physically exhausting,” Josh says, “The Pantry is unpredictable in terms of work and revenue; the farm is even more so. About a year and a half ago, Sarah got outside employment so we could have a regular and reliable income.”
Farmhouse Pantry never had any employees besides its owners until last summer. “We found that the demands of our life meant we needed more versions of us,” says Sarah, “we couldn’t do it all alone. Business was picking up and there was less time Josh could run the place on his own.”
The Pantry now has three part-timers who were all customers before coming on board.
“It is great when you have people helping you out who already love and endorse what you’re doing, and the enthusiasm is contagious,” Josh says. In the future, he hopes to add some outside seating for the warmer season, and live music or events.
Despite the long work hours, the challenges and the many hats they wear, being able to provide good, quality food keeps Josh and Sarah Vaillancourt motivated.
“What makes us happy is that people are happy, that members of our community are grateful to have us here,” says Josh, “and just knowing that we’re doing something good in the world keeps us going. We’re not about tooting our own horn; we’re about serving others.”