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Willette and Peak are now too Busy for Retirement

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Colleen Willette and George Peak started a retirement business out of their home in Walden.

WALDEN – Colleen Willette and George Peak of Walden seem to have worked themselves right out of retirement with their Top of the Mountain Vegetable Farm and Bakery.

The two native Vermonters began their lives pretty typically. Colleen grew up in Burlington and graduated from Burlington High School in 1974. George grew up in Lyndonville and graduated from Lyndonville High School in 1964. That’s kind of where their common story changed.

Not many years after graduation from high school, Colleen married and had two children: a son and a daughter.

When George graduated from high school, his plan had been to go to college but he didn’t think he had the grades or the money to make it. So, like many men in the 1960s, he enlisted in the United States Air Force in July of 1964.

George served for four years and was trained as a jet engine mechanic. His first two years of service were in the Philippines supporting the war effort in Vietnam. He remarked that mechanics were highly valued because they were the guys who kept things running. He was honorably discharged in 1968 and is a lifetime member of the American Legion Post 7 in Hardwick.

Their paths crossed around 1996 when Colleen was working at a retail store in Morrisville and George was a regional manager for F.W. Webb in Barre. George visited the store where she was working. They began their relationship and eventually moved in together. Later they would move to White River Juncton, where George would eventually retire from F.W. Webb. While living there, they purchased a piece of property near the top of a mountain in Walden, just up from Coles Pond. They would camp out in tents on the property and had planned to build a home there.

A camp near their original lot came up for sale and they bought it in 2008. George retired in 2009 and they moved to Walden. They began building their home around the original camp where their farm is today.

George served as president of the Cole’s Pond Sledders from 2007-2020, while they were becoming part of the Coles Pond community.

Colleen was very active volunteering as the cook for the Cook Shack which originally was an old fishing shanty.

For many years the Cook Shack grew and was a fundraising resource for the club. Over time volunteers from various sledding clubs would take over the cooking while Colleen continued to do the purchasing.

The couple maintained a large vegetable garden in Walden and Colleen would can vegetables to sell primarily at craft fairs.

Their business continued to grow and expand mostly through word of mouth. They eventually built a structure that is now used to house their retail and bakery sales and serve customers coffee and breakfast sandwiches.

What once began as a small farm stand has grown to include an online business; their baked goods are sold at eight local stores throughout the Northeast Kingdom.   

Colleen now has help three days a week from her sister-in-law, Erin Willette of Hardwick. During winter months they make soups, stews and chicken pot pies to order. In the summer months they shift to more cold salads which are a staple for many Cole’s Pond campers.

George manages the online business, deliveries and stocking shelves. Stocking shelves was his job throughout high school when he worked at the Midway Grocery in Hadleyville, between Lyndon and Lyndonville. He also helps out chatting with customers over coffee.

An interesting part of their expanded online business is selling poultry shrink wrap bags. The couple  purchase plastic poultry bags in bulk and then sell them in various quantities and sizes to homesteaders, small farms and customers from all over the United States and as far away as Homer, Alaska. Many of their customers are from Amish and Mennonite farm areas.

When it was suggested that the business may have not been a very good retirement plan, George laughed and said “that if you like what you’re doing it isn’t really work.”

When not baking, delivering, canning or doing the many other chores needing to be done to support their business, Colleen and George enjoy sitting around a small fire and enjoying the peace and quiet at the top of the mountain.

Mary Wheeler, Community Journalist

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