When it comes to bedding and feeding a pet rabbit, choosy pet owners often buy pure timothy hay.
This year, the Easter Bunny himself-or herself-is stuffing thousands of baskets with the sweet-smelling grass, packed and sold by a Northeast Kingdom entrepreneur.
Every year, in case the Easter bunny needs help filling her children’s baskets, Hillary Hoffman, of Greensboro, gathers handfuls of timothy hay from her neighbor’s dairy farm.
This year, she’s bought bales and bales of it from a certified organic farmer farther north. She’s been packing it in retro style boxes with open windows so prospective buyers can touch and smell it.
"After packing a couple thousand I had a pretty good idea of what a quarter pound feels like," she said, stuffing the hay into one of the blue, white and green boxes before weighing it on an industrial scale in her Hardwick warehouse.
Hoffman has already sold more than 7,000 boxes of Tim’s Real Easter Basket Grass, mostly to Whole Foods Supermarkets. It usually retails for around seven dollars for a four-ounce box.
The fragrant hay will also end up in children’s baskets at an upscale resort in Florida this year. It gets trucked into Hardwick from Canaan, near the Canadian border.
"You know it’s our most economically depressed part of the state of Vermont. He’s certified organic and I buy his timothy," Hoffman said.
She appreciates the irony of sending last summer’s grass down south.
"We package it, and it ends up at the Ritz on Amelia Island, Florida, for obviously kids who are probably a little more fortunate than the kids up where this hay came from," she said.
In addition to more than a hundred Whole Foods stores, Tim’s grass is also sold in several smaller stores around the state.
Hoffman launched the Vermont Hay Company not just to make herself a job-and maybe a few others as sales grow–but also to give families an alternative to buying and disposing of plastic basket grass.
She says 300 million tons of plastic go into the waste stream every year. Her product, on the other hand, makes good compost. To avoid mold, her flowered timothy hay has to be cut when it is very dry, all in one day. Hoffman removes all stray vegetation and stores and packs it in a chemical free environment.
"And even in talking to a lot of people who do grow hay, they say, ‘Well, I have timothy.’ And I ask them further, ‘Is it pure timothy?’ ‘Well, no, there’s a little alfalfa in there and clover.’
I need pure timothy," Hoffman insists.
She hopes many basket stuffers would rather have a sweet-smelling piece of Vermont than colored plastic grass, which goes for about five dollars for only an ounce and a half.
She’s brainstorming a few other unusual uses for timothy but she’s not ready to unveil them yet.
Hoffman got economic development grants to launch her new Vermont Hay Company, and she hopes her business will join others sprouting in and around Hardwick, where a Food Venture center is finding markets for lots of other Vermont-grown brands, as well.