From Seven Days, Vermont alternative art’s and culture weekly, following an article about Julie’s dad, Gerard Rubaud:
Green Gene by Suzanne Podhaizer
Gérard isn’t the only Rubaud spicing up the local food scene. His daughter, Julie Rubaud, 37, runs Red Wagon Plants in Hinesburg. There, in four sizeable greenhouses, she and her staff grow over 320 organic varieties of herb, vegetable and flower seedlings for gardeners and culinary enthusiasts. They also do a wholesale business, supplying local garden centers and food co-ops.
Garden Center Gems by Cheryl Dorschner
An article about small, independent garden centers in Vermont in the Burlington Free Press.
Growing your own seedlings may seem easy enough — open packet, put seeds in dirt, water and wait. But according to Rubaud, it’s not that simple: “It’s really hard to start good seedlings on a window sill. Then you put out leggy, yellow seedlings.” She explains that hearty, high-yield plants require a couple of specialized conditions: abundant overhead light, so plants grow straight and don’t become spindly; and lots of air circulation, to foster stocky stems and tough, insect-resistant “skin.”
“Buying healthy seedlings is a form of season extension,” says Rubaud.
Although she helped her father garden as a youngster, it took Rubaud a lot longer to get interested in farming. “I don’t think I was into it as a kid at all,” she says. “I don’t want to romanticize that. It was all forced labor.” Still, she sounds proud as she reminisces about her “very French” upbringing: “When we moved to Westford, my dad built a greenhouse with raised beds in it, and we had lettuce, we had sheep and capons and chickens for eggs . . . we had currants.” Though Rubaud may have grumbled over her chores, she learned that “the kitchen shapes the garden; the garden shapes what’s happening in the kitchen,” she says.
Rubaud attended boarding school, working at her father’s restaurants during breaks, then matriculated at UVM where her mother taught French. She earned a B.A. in English and philosophy, with a concentration in “17th-century radical literature of the Revolution,” and was accepted to a philosophy graduate program in Montréal. That was when Rubaud decided to return to her roots and become a farmer.
The catalysts? A part-time job at Digger’s Mirth in the Intervale and a cross-country road trip that took her to the lush organic gardens at U.C. Santa Cruz. Standing in a patch of tall red chard, with the ocean as a backdrop, Rubaud realized she “was in love” with agriculture and “couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”
Rubaud stayed with Digger’s Mirth until 1999. That year, she and her former partner, Eric Rozendaal, went into business together as Eric & Julie’s. Rubaud grew and sold seedlings while Rozendaal grew veggies. In 2005, after the couple split, Rubaud founded Red Wagon. Rozendaal’s current Starksboro operation is Rockville Market Farm.
Although many of the plant varieties she sells are considered “heirloom,” Rubaud isn’t hung up on the buzzword that denotes rediscovered, old-fashioned varieties. “It’s hard to say what’s an heirloom. It’s not like that’s a botanical term,” she explains. Rubaud prefers to grow varieties she refers to as “vegetables with stories,” such as “silver queen” thyme, coral-colored “garden peach” tomatoes and extra-sweet, French “Charentais” melons.
Rubaud’s business thrives on helping people grow sublimely tasty food. “It’s so much easier to cook if you have these fresh things; you can take so little time in the kitchen. You just need olive oil, lemon juice and some salt,” she enthuses. “Fresh herbs make all the difference. Anyone who likes to cook should have a few pots of herbs outside their door or on a windowsill.”
Red Wagon’s Propagation and Scouting Queen, Allison Lea, wrote this beautiful piece that was published in Burlington Free Press in the spring of 2011.