Last October, we organized and hosted the first Taking Root Student Symposium in partnership with Vermont Farm to Plate and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets. Overall, 83 students from 7 Vermont campuses, joined by 67 staff, faculty, and community members heard from entrepreneurs, farmers, and policymakers to learn about current food systems issues and engaged with leaders in the field to discuss potential careers working in Vermont’s food system. If you missed it, or if you attended and want to see scenes from the day, check out our video from the day here!
A huge thanks to UVM Video and everyone who took the time to speak on our video covering the day of the Student Symposium!
We cannot believe we are already at the end of the 2018 fall semester. Vermont is currently buried in snow and serious winter temperatures, so we come in from the cold to look back on what has proved to be a stimulating and fun semester.
We are excited to share a post by our UVM Dining Nutrition Intern, Anastasia Tsekeris, who attended the Taking Root Student Symposium this past October. Overall, 150 attendees, including 83 students from 7 different VT campuses, gathered at UVM on an icy Sunday morning to hear from food system professionals about the innovative work happening in Vermont food and to learn more about what it looks like to launch a career working in food in Vermont.
In addition to reading this post, be sure to also check out this great article in Food Management magazine featuring the symposium!
Thank you, Anastasia, for capturing the day! Thank you also to our partners VT Farm to Plate, VT Agency of Agriculture, and UVM Event Services for making the event possible!
Vermont First recently held their first student symposium on October 28th designed to celebrate and learn about farm to institution and the career paths within the food system. Vermont chefs, entrepreneurs, farmers, and other leaders in the field gathered to discuss current food systems issues, celebrate Vermont’s farm to institution efforts in supporting local farmers, and to support students pursuing careers working in food.
The day kicked off with a warm welcome and overview of the day provided by UVM Dining’s Sustainability Manager, Marissa Watson. Watson set the tone of the day by encouraging students, producers, and partners to utilize this opportunity to engage with one another and build new relationships. She then introduced the Keynote Speaker, Vermont author and farmer Ben Hewitt. Hewitt has written six books on agriculture and food, including most popularly The Town that Food Saved.
Hewitt began by sharing an anecdote about his neighbor, Martha – an older farmer for whom he and his children bale hay. Martha returns the favor by providing hay for Hewitt’s sheep. After years of this neighborly trade, Hewitt has come to love baling hay because it requires hard labor and self-reliance, which he feels is one act of protest against the convenient, mindless farming methods employed in industrial agriculture. Through haying and his observations of Martha’s hard work and commitment to stewarding her land, Hewitt realized he saw deeper into the tragedy of the food system: it requires so little of us, but we require it in order to survive. This disconnect allows us to often neglect and forget our connection to the land. His final parting thoughts highlighted the importance of being independent thinkers filled with gratitude for the outdoors:
Remember that everything comes from the soil.
Get outside every day
There is no better way to reclaim culture and liberty than to produce good, nourishing food in fair, responsible ways.
Following Hewitt’s keynote address was a panel highlighting case studies of innovation in the Vermont food system. Panelists included:
Darby’s areas of expertise include soil sciences and environmental stewardship. Darby described her role in Extension, which includes aiding farmers and processors in achieving their goals by utilizing applied research. She shared her story of living in Vermont throughout her life and having to watch the environmental degradation of Lake Champlain, as well as the decline in numbers of farmers. Similarly to Hewitt, Darby instilled the need to take care of our soils and preserve them for future generations. She emphasized this need as especially vital due to the changing climate.
Kehler’s Jasper Hill Farm makes their own cheese as well as matures cheeses for other producers. Kehler characterized his business as a group of activists working in response to a globalized food system. He explained his desire to redefine cheesemaking by supporting independent cheesemakers and preventing consolidation of the market. “Consolidation stifles innovation,” Kehler told the audience.
Bossen described himself as “an advocate for people’s palates”, which is how he found his niche in the market by producing organic heirloom tortillas made from scratch. Bossen emphasized the need to preserve heirloom varieties, as well as creating a market for crops that consumers are not currently accessing.
Snow described “food as a lever for social change” in which we are able to capture food not reaching the market and provide that food to vulnerable populations. Snow emphasized the need to create a more inclusive food system that undermines the power of corporate control. Through a research study done in 2016, Snow discovered that 15% of production was being left on farms. She utilized this data to create Salvation Farms and begin the process of creating a more regional food system.
Our lunch break was based on the theme “Close the Loop.” The goal of this theme, Watson explained, was to raise awareness about food waste and some of the innovative ways Vermont producers work to mitigate waste through the creation of their products. Prior to walking to the lunch, the producers featured during lunch each spoke to the story of their business and products. Products included ice cream from Wilcox Ice Cream incorporated into the Caramelized Apple Compote, chicken from Maple Wind Farm incorporated into the Pulled Chicken Salad on a Baguette, and many more delicious options. Lunch was in UVM’s Central Campus Dining Hall, the new farm to table residential dining hall on campus.
Following lunch, representatives from Vermont Farm to Plate, Jake Claro and Kristyn Achilich, took the stage to briefly discuss career pathways in the food system as well as the Food Sector Job Growth report. The data from the report indicated that jobs within the food system comprise one of the largest growing sectors in Vermont. Achilich offered insight to Vermont Farm to Plate’s new available resource, Career Profiles, which details the many pathways of a food systems career as well as qualifications needed, salary, and more information about these positions.
The final panel of the day featured five panelists, each speaking about their individual career journey and their words of wisdom along the way:
Labun spoke about her non-linear career path. She described jumping from job to job in the field of rural development, and then finally landing her current position where she works to connect chefs to local farmers. When asked what advice she would give to students, Labun encouraged students to take time for themselves away from their career and not to feed into the romanticization of overworking yourself.
Alexander spoke of her experience working currently as the harvest manager as well as the wholesale manager at the farm. She described the difficulty of having a constantly changing schedule, as well as the immense gratification she feels from farming. Alexander recommended students find a career in which they love and to be a problem solver in whatever position you take on.
Myers discussed her experience owning and operating a new business. She founded the company after working in the restaurant industry in New York City, in which she discovered a disconnect between farmers and restaurants. Myers decided to create a business in which she could connect restaurants that were looking for local food to farmers who were looking for a market to sell their produce. Myers’ advice to students: “create the job that you want”.
In addition to running his own cattle business, Schubart also works to source local meat for Walden Local Meat. Schubart’s day in the life was a bit different than the other panelists, which includes rotating cattle three times a day as well as working remotely for Walden Local Meat. He encouraged students to embrace failures as opportunities to learn a new lesson.
Langan spoke on her experience working on the culinary side of the food system. Langan shared her extensive background working in restaurants across the globe, ultimately landing back in her home state of Vermont to follow her passion of teaching students. She described the busy atmosphere of working in a dining hall that serves hundreds of meals a day, and being constantly on her toes for what comes next. Sarah closed the panel by inviting students to be open to whatever journey their career and life may take them.
We are happy to share some reading ideas to get you excited and prepare you for the range of topics covered at Taking Root on October 28th at UVM – take a look! For more information about the Symposium, please refer to last week’s post.
Innovative work happening in Vermont’s food system
Career paths of many of Vermont’s leading entrepreneurs and thinkers
Resources available at each campus for students to pursue food systems-relevant coursework as well as food-related employment
Current food-related job opportunities; students will also have time to network directly with some Vermont employers in the food industry.
And let’s not forget about lunch!
Eat the Loop Supper celebrates innovative production practices, featuring Vermont producers who “close-the-loop” through the creation of their product. From waste-free production to soil health management, Vermonters are leading the way in innovative practices. Meet the producers and fill your bellies with the “loop.”
Are you a Vermont college student interested in attending? Here’s what you need to know:
We are looking for student representation from all Vermont campuses. We also have limited space for this event. If you are interested in attending, please email Annie Rowell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Registration costs $25 for the full day, 9am-4pm.
I am excited to attend the Taking Root Student Symposium at UVM because I was inspired by Ben Hewitt’s book ‘The Town that Food Saved’ when I was introduced to it as an undergrad. Also, I will be looking to find employment soon, so getting to learn more about current food-related positions and Vermont-based employers is a great opportunity. Overall, I can’t wait to meet people with similar passions as me and people who want to learn more!
– Ann Chiarenzelli, UVM Food Systems Master Student & Taking Root attendee
The statewide college student gathering is a perfect opportunity for our students in our learning community “A Call to Action: Building Sustainable Communities”. […] The symposium lands at a perfect place and time to support our goals; we hope that many students, faculty and staff from other Vermont colleges and universities attend.
– Ellen Hill, Faculty, Northern Vermont University at Johnson
Here is a glimpse of some of the panelists, producers, and employers you can expect to see there!
It’s hard to believe it’s already September – and even harder to believe with 96 degrees headed our way tomorrow. Nevertheless, campuses are once again a whirlwind of activity and we have piles and piles of updates for everyone, including this one here!
For the past two years, Vermont First has hosted a UVM Food Systems Graduate Student for a year-long fellowship. This graduate student does the critical behind-the-scenes work on our detailed local purchasing tracking system, is a member of the Vermont First Advisory Board, and this year will be very involved in planning for our very first Taking Root Student Symposium (much much more to come on this exciting development).
We couldn’t be more excited to announce that Ann Chiarenzelli is our 2018-19 Fellow. Read on to learn a little more about our newest team member, in her own words! Welcome, Ann!
I graduated in 2016 with a B.S. in Environmental Psychology from St. Lawrence University. My passion for regenerative agriculture began when I volunteered at Bittersweet, a small diversified farm and continued on to intern with GardenShare, a food security non-profit. Over the past year, I served as an AmeriCorps VISTA at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Clinton County in New York as the 4-H STEM Educator and Outreach VISTA. There, I worked to form curriculum in Animal Science, Environmental Science, Permaculture and more. This year, I am excited to pursue a graduate degree in Food Systems at UVM and be a Fellow with Vermont First.
Two weeks ago, we received the bittersweet news that Peaslee’s Potatoes, one of our celebrated farm partners, is selling the farm. Peaslee’s leaves a 90-year legacy of selling potatoes grown in the Connecticut River Valley of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. We started working with Peaslee’s three years ago after our Scaling Up Forum, a Vermont First event focused on educating and connecting producers with our Vermont supply chain. At the time, Peaslee’s was in their third generation of ownership, and to their knowledge, the only female-owned potato farm in the country. They were looking to increase market share and were looking for new partnerships with Vermont businesses.
With Peaslee’s long history of selling to wholesale markets, putting the pieces together to buy from them was fairly straight-forward. We identified our potato usage by variety to inform their crop planning, and brought in our distributor, Black River Produce, who already carried Peaslee’s potatoes to help fulfill our statewide demand. In adding their products into distribution, Peaslee’s became available to many other Vermont food establishments, including the five Skinny Pancake restaurants throughout VT and western-NH. In addition to buying potatoes directly from Peaslee’s, the University of Vermont was looking for a fresh cut diced potato, as UVM didn’t have the time to process all of their potatoes in-house. The Vermont Food Venture Center in Hardwick, VT, made a diced potato for institutions, also sourcing their potatoes from Peaslee’s. We promoted our relationship with Peaslee’s at many regional and national conferences, and the relationship was featured in a Vermont Farm to Institution ‘Best Practice’ report in 2016. Over the years, Peaslee’s also became heavily involved in the food security movement with the Vermont Foodbank and Salvation Farms.
As Peaslee’s Vermont markets continued to grow, most people didn’t know that third generation owner Karen Guile-Caron was also the owner of an equine therapy business, Stable Connections. While running two businesses is no surprise to most Vermonters living in rural areas, that doesn’t make the task any easier. In addition to running her own business, with the combination of not having a 4th generation transition option while also looking out for her mother’s best interest, Karen knew she had a tough decision on the horizon. “Selling to Sodexo and the Vermont Food Venture Center [in Hardwick, VT] these past few years put us in the position of being able to sell the farm on our own terms,” shares Karen.
To honor her grandparents and her father Bert, Karen preserved the home farm of 64-acres of river-bottom land through the Vermont Land Trust, ensuring their family land will always stay part of Vermont’s working lands.
Succession planning can take many forms. For three generations, the Peaslee’s followed the more traditional path of the succession plan, passing the farm down from generation to generation. This succession takes a different approach, but ultimately keeps the land in production for a new farmer, and allows the family to pick the time for a graceful exit.
We could not be more grateful for our partnership with Peaslee Vermont Potatoes these past three years. There is no denying that this story is ridden with emotional undertones, but we honor the tough decision and celebrate the history of what the Peaslee’s have contributed to the state of Vermont for almost a century.
What does this mean? Besides being the theme of this year’s National Nutrition Month, this idea perfectly captures what we at Vermont First aim to do. We are going further with food by not just prioritizing local, but also prioritizing seasonal local purchasing and consumption. Making the conscious choice to eat local food in-season means that you introduce a tasty variety into your diet and also support Vermont’s local economy and working lands.
When you choose to eat with the season, you introduce a greater variety of produce into your diet which supports gut health, decrease your risk of heart disease, increase folic acid (helps build red blood cells!), and much more. Your body will thank you.
You choose to keep money in the community. Your decision to purchase local Vermont products creates jobs, strengthens the flow of funds into your immediate community, and keeps Vermont’s working lands working. A recent UVM study found that every dollar spent on Vermont grown and manufactured food generated an additional $0.38 to $0.68 of value for the local economy. Your neighbors and friends will thank you.
Ok, but how?
Maybe you aren’t sure which crops are best in which seasons, don’t fret! Use these staples as a jump start as you begin thinking about seasonal consumption:
Winter: beets and cabbage
Spring: tomatoes and parsnips
Summer: cucumbers and peppers
Fall: potatoes and squash
Looking for more? Check out the full seasonal availability list here and our Vermont seasonal crop flyers below!
And finally, when we run out of local supply, we often don’t need to look further than our neighboring states to fill the gaps. Healthcare Without Harm‘s Nourished by New England campaign highlights the availability of regional products.
You have the power to shift consumption towards local and seasonal favor (and flavor!). Eating local produce in Vermont doesn’t mean eating only apples and carrots. Go further with food – enjoy a diverse diet all year round, supporting both the needs of your body and your larger community!
As she tallied up the final numbers, Sodexo’s Vermont First Coordinator Annie Rowell already anticipated the decrease in Sodexo’s local purchases for 2017. Launched in 2014, Vermont First is Sodexo’s commitment to increase local food purchasing at all of Sodexo’s Vermont accounts, which helps achieve Vermont Farm to Plate’s goals of increasing instiutional consumption (Goal 2) and increasing local food production (Goal 7). Vermont First is also aligned with Farm to Plate’s local food definition: Raw products grown in Vermont or within a 30-mile radius around the state borders or food manufactured within the state.
Over the past three years, Vermont First has become a revered best practice in institutional local food procurement, setting the standard for how to strategically leverage statewide institutional spend, actively engage and collaborate with statewide stakeholders, and transparently track local purchasing. “VT First has forged a path for thoughtful, intentional, and systematic calculation and communication of institution’s local food procurement,” shares Abbey Willard, Food System Chief for the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, as well as a member of the Vermont First Advisory Board. Why, then, was Rowell not surprised to see a downward trend for Vermont First’s local purchasing between 2016 and 2017?
Abbie Nelson of NOFA-VT/VT FEED and member of the Vermont First Advisory Board, explained the 2017 findings best: “The reality is [Vermont First] is getting penalized in the numbers for getting better at tracking.” Every year, the Vermont First Advisory Board (VFAB), made up of fourteen Vermont food system stakeholders, reviews Sodexo’s Vermont food purchasing totals and identifies opportunity areas for purchasing more Vermont products. Over the past year, Vermont First dove deeper into the supply chains of regional brands Hood, Cabot Creamery, and Black River Meats’ Northeast Raised Beef to explore opportunities for Vermont producers. After participating in this process as a member of the VFAB, Jake Claro, Director of Farm to Plate, observed, “From the very beginning, Sodexo’s Vermont First has been an exemplar of transparency and integrity, a model for how institutions can accurately track. Vermont First’s willingness to be transparent in their accounting and open to critical feedback reflects a true commitment to Vermont farm and food businesses and the food economy of Vermont.”
Black River Meat’s Northeast Raised (NER) beef brand was created on the scalability of a regional model, while also remaining focused on bringing more Vermont beef producers into their folds. In 2015 and 2016, VT First counted 100% of NER beef as local, as the animals were either raised or slaughtered and processed in the state. Sodexo significantly increase NER beef purchases during that time. In reviewing VT First totals, however, it became evident to the VFAB that Farm to Plate’s definition for how raw, cut beef should be counted for ‘local’ was unclear. Farm to Plate’s intent was that all raw, cut animal protein could only count as local if the animal was raised (or spent a significant portion of the animal’s life) in Vermont, regardless of whether the animal was slaughtered and processed in the state. While all animals in the Black River Meats’ NER beef supply chain are slaughtered and processed in Springfield, VT, 20% of the animals were Vermont-raised in 2017. (As a note, 100% of Black River Meats’ Vermont Grown lamb and pork is raised in Vermont.)
As such, in October 2017, Vermont First modified their tracking to count only 20% of NER beef purchases as local. While this change negatively affects Vermont First’s 2017 totals, it means Vermont First will be able to track the growth in number of Vermont raised animals in NER’s supply chain over the long term.
“Better tracking. More transparency. At the end of the day, that’s what counts!” Peter Allison, Executive Director of Farm to Institution New England, sums up.
Much like NER Beef, Hood and Cabot Creamery are brands that are dependent on the regional infrastructure needed to aggregate, process, and distribute dairy products. Dairy is Vermont’s largest agricultural industry, and Vermont produces 63% of the milk in New England (Vermont Milk Matters Report, 2016). Tracking aggregated fluid milk volume back to individual farms is a laborious and complicated process, but necessary to understand how much of the milk in supply chain of companies like Hood and Cabot comes from Vermont farms. With the assistance of Hood and Cabot, Vermont First narrowed in on the Hood and Cabot products that meet the Vermont First definition – either produced or manufactured in Vermont +30 miles.
Overall, more than $250,000 of beef and dairy spend in 2017 no longer qualifies as local for Vermont First. As a result, Vermont First’s 2017 local purchasing totals were $2.6 million, decreasing from 15.5% local in 2016 to 13.74% local in 2017. While the numbers show a decrease, the 2017 totals tell a more accurate story of the volume of products purchased that were either produced or manufactured in Vermont. “The purchasing numbers reported by the program are not window dressing, but an honest accounting of progress and an integral piece of feedback Sodexo management at all levels uses to inform purchasing decisions and improve institutional market access for Vermont farm and food businesses,” said Claro.
Looking ahead to 2018, Vermont First is focused on identifying and purchasing ‘Priority Products’ that are best-suited for Vermont production and that currently or have potential to be used in institutional dining. The growing list of Priority Products will inform chefs which products are grown or manufactured locally and alert producers about the local products Sodexo is looking for.
Priority Products are identified with support from the VT First Advisory Board, Sodexo’s local produce distributors, and Vermont’s Farm and Forest Viability Program, among others. For instance, one priority product that was developed in response to institutional markets seeking a 100% Vermont-raised beef product was Precision Valley Specialty Meats’ hormone and growth promotant-free beef, which is a ground beef product made from transitional dairy cattle (cattle that are no longer productive for dairy). Precision Valley offers Vermont dairy farms a reliable premium for cattle that would otherwise be sold at highly-fluctuating regional cattle auction prices. Currently, all Precision Valley cattle come from dairy farms in Addison County and are slaughtered and processed in Springfield, VT.
Eden Specialty Ciders is, well, east of Eden. In the Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, Eden Specialty Ciders calls West Charleston their home, about 40 miles east of Eden, Vermont.
Last week, Chef Sandi from Champlain College and I were joined by chefs from Vermont restaurants like Misery Loves Company and farms like Vermont Cranberry Company to learn why Eden’s ice ciders offer some of Vermont’s most genuine terroir.
Read more about our visit at DigInVT.com …and while you’re there, take a minute to peruse other taste of Vermont experiences to check out every day of the year!