Photo Journal: Peaslee’s Vermont Potatoes

 

 

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From left to right: Karen Guile (Peaslee’s Potatoes), James Marsh (Johnson State College Dining Team), Tom Fondakowski (General Manager at Johnson State College), Annie Rowell (Sodexo’s Vermont First), Janice Peaslee (Peaslee’s Potatoes), and Corey Kelley (Johnson State College Dining Team)  Photo Credit: Nicole Chicoine

In 1928, on the eve of the Great Depression, Fred and Gertrude Peaslee set out to find land along the Connecticut River to start a farm.  Settling in Guildhall, Vermont, little did they know they were building a business that would be the livelihood of their family for multi-generations.  Eighty-five years later, Janice Peaslee, Fred and Gertrude’s daughter-in-law,  together with Karen Guile, their granddaughter, own and operate the 250-acre potato farm.

This year, through Vermont First, we identified an opportunity to increase our local potato purchasing in partnership with Peaslee’s Potatoes and our distributor partner Black River Produce.  In our excitement, we made the trek to Guildhall to see the potato crop in full bloom and meet Karen’s family and team.

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Karen Guile showing us their potato storage in the basement of the barn built by her grandfather, Fred, during the Depression.  Take note of the slots meticulously molded in the concrete walls behind her.  They use the same space and system built and designed by Fred Peaslee: after potatoes are harvested and brought back to the barn, the floor boards on the main floor of the barn are taken out and the potatoes are emptied into the barn basement potato bunker, guided by boards inserted into these angled concrete slots. Photo credit: Nicole Chicoine
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The farm doorbell next to the front door of the barn.  In the background, you can see a blurry image of the farm’s refrigerated truck backed up to the loading dock.  Photo credit: Nicole Chicoine
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This year’s potato crop was in full bloom when we visited – fields of white flowers as far as the eye could see. Photo credit: Nicole Chicoine
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Marc Labens, Farm Manager, has been with the farm for twenty two years.  He dug up some red potatoes to see how they are coming along.  “Not too long now,” he said. Photo credit: Nicole Chicoine

 

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Our Johnson State College Dining Team – Corey, James, and Tom – explores one of the many Peaslee potato fields along the Connecticut River. Photo credit: Nicole Chicoine
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These potatoes will feed our campus communities across Vermont – from Castleton University all the way to Lyndon State College.  Photo credit: Nicole Chicoine
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Fine Dining: It’s Not Just Found at Restaurants Anymore

Twenty years ago, Vermont restaurants began marketing their commitment to source local and fresh ingredients under the brand of the newly-minted Vermont Vermont Fresh NetworkFresh Network.  In many ways, this network brand was outside the realm of typical marketing strategies, largely because the widespread consumer hunt for local food was barely on the horizon.  Ahead of its time on the local food front, Vermont Fresh Network’s strongest emphasis, as prominently displayed in its name, was the other key word: ‘fresh’.

All good things are associated with ‘fresh’.

Rockville Market Farm Eric Rozendaal 2
Eric Rozendaal of Rockville Market Farm

Crisp, ripe, just picked/baked/chopped, high quality, good tasting.  Years before twelve-year-olds began asking their waiter where the roasted chicken on the menu came from, Vermont chefs and restauranteurs were looking to their trusted Vermont farmer neighbors to provide the freshest and highest quality ingredients.

 

Today, both in Vermont and around the country, institutions are doing the same thing.  “It has taken longer for our local food system to become robust enough to allow institutional kitchens to express their purchasing muscle within the system,” explains Meghan Sheridan, Executive Director of the Vermont Fresh Network.  “As Vermont’s food system continues to grow in size and diversity, it is ever more possible for institutional kitchens to source local and regional products.”

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Norwich Dining and UVM Dining visit Shelburne Farms

Vermont institutions are now qualifying to join the Vermont Fresh Network.  Four of
Sodexo’s Vermont campuses are Network members: University of Vermont, St. Michael’s College, Norwich University, and Champlain College.  In addition to membership, St. Michael’s, Norwich, and UVM join 51 other restaurants and a few institutions in receiving the recognition of Gold Barn Honorees, an award recognizing chefs who are exceptional partners with Vermont farmers. Explore the list of Vermont Fresh Network members and our fellow Gold Barn Honorees here.

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Champlain College serving up local Nitty Gritty Grain Cornmeal.

 

 

As demand for local and sustainable food in cafeterias continues to increase, “culinary excellence is much more of an expectation, cooking is an art and [today’s college student] appreciates a chef’s passion for their trade,” shares Melissa Jordan, Sodexo’s Vice President for Strategic Alliances.  “The days of preparing large masses of commercially purchased ingredients in the back kitchen, bringing it out front and ‘parking it under heat lamps’ is not going to fly with today’s college student,” says Jordan.

 

Chef Kate with Sugar on Snow Party
 

Executive Chef Kate Hays

 

The role of institutional chefs has become widely recognized and revered.  In a November 2015 Burlington Free Press article, the spotlight was on UVM Executive Chef Kate Hays.  “The progress we have made [in the] two and half years I’ve been there in terms of local food has been amazing,” Hays reflects on her experience in shifting from running restaurants to institutional kitchens.  Currently, UVM is in the process of opening a new dining hall that doubles as an educational center for sustainable and healthy food, and forging new partnerships with local producers.  “[We’re] really breaking all expectations,” says Hays.  Read the full interview here.

 

 

Serving thousands of meals per day throughout the year to diverse communities, institutional markets are seen by many in the food system world as the holy grail of local market opportunities.  While we cannot overlook the big questions still looming on the horizon, from institutional market viability for local businesses to optimizing food access for economically-challenged populations, we enjoy pausing for a moment to reflect on this evolution in institutional culinary trends.    From statewide recognition of our chefs for their culinary prowess to receiving best in class awards for volume of local purchasing, we are proud of our engagement and responsiveness to the Vermont community’s demand for culinary excellence in serving fresh, high quality, local food to our campus communities.

With this, we roll up our sleeves, dust off our aprons, and get back to work.

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St. Michael’s College slow-cooking 400lbs of local beef brisket from Black River Meats.

References:

http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/story/life/food/2015/11/06/chefs-night-out-kate-hays/75106656/

http://www.smcvt.edu/news/2016/may/food-service-honored-for-vermont-product-use.aspx

http://www.vermontfresh.net/search-members/

Other Resources:

http://www.sevendaysvt.com/vermont/uvm-food-systems-summit-considers-localvore/Content?oid=3429884

http://www.foodservicedirector.com/ideas-innovation/emerging-trends/articles/3-takeaways-from-nra-shows-noncommercial-conference

http://www.foodservicedirector.com/ideas-innovation/emerging-trends/articles/5-ways-think-restaurateur-0?page=0%2C3

Results: Vermont First Local Purchasing 2015

The 2015 results are in!

But first, a few thoughts:

When we launched Vermont First, we knew that in order to make strides towards our goal to increase local purchasing across all our Vermont accounts we needed to establish a baseline.

This baseline data needed to provide enough information to support the complex and detailed decisions made on the ground:  for chefs, which products to purchase from a local source; for producers, which products Sodexo is looking for from local producers.

In order to support these challenging decisions, we have built our Vermont First local purchasing tracking system to break down the data by:

  • Account
  • Product Category (i.e. “Produce”)
  • Product Sub-Category (i.e. “Apple”)

VT First FY15 Results - Infographic

The data used to support this infographic will be instrumental in the year ahead, helping to inform conversations and decisions with producers, distributors, and chefs about local purchasing opportunities.

As we turn the corner from data compilation to data analysis, we can begin asking the tough questions to match-make between demand and supply.

We are already seeing how the data can be put into action.
In 2015, our Vermont accounts spent  $123,165.50 on whole potatoes – 14% locally. Peaslee’s Potatoes, out of Guildhall, VT, sells local potatoes that are competitively priced and available through our local produce distributor, Black River Produce.  After identifying this opportunity, Johnson State College began using Peaslee’s for their hand-cut fries daily in the dining hall.  When I stopped in at the college earlier this month, Tom Fondakowski, General Manager, pointed out how the Peaslee’s marketing poster is now a framed wall fixture because they use Peaslee’s potatoes exclusively for the duration of their availability.

Peaslee's in dining hall

We look forward to sharing more stories like this in the months and years ahead.

Excited to read more?  Check out the latest coverage on this story in Vermont Biz.

What Does the Bird Flu Mean for Vermont?

THE CRISIS

Since it was first detected in December 2014, the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) has hit the US egg industry with tremendous force. In just over 6 months, HPAI has infected and killed 48 million birds in 15 states.  Avian influenzas are spread by wild bird flocks along their migratory routes. Therefore, in addition to being highly contagious, HPAI is also highly mobile, which explains the massive geographic spread of the disease across the west and mid-west.  It bears repeating that this is not a food safety issue – it is a bird health and egg and poultry supply issue.

According to a United Egg Producers July 2015 report, 12% of all layer hens in the US have tested positive for HPAI and more than 30% of all layer hens are dedicated for the egg products business.

The manufacturer and food service industries have been hardest hit by this outbreak, more so than the retail market.  Large manufacturers and many food service companies primarily use eggs in a liquid or powdered form.   Liquid egg producers have been particularly affected by HPAI, as over 80% of infected birds were dedicated to supplying the processing egg industry (typically referring to liquid pasteurized eggs), according to the New York Times May 2015 article.

egg supply chain

As of August, there have been no new cases reported.  The chaos HPAI wreaked from December to July, however, is massive and devastating.  Absorbing and recovering from the aftermath will continue for months, if not years.

IMPACT ON SODEXO

In 2014, Sodexo announced its commitment to purchase 100% cage-free eggs through prime vendors.  HPAI entered the scene shortly after making this commitment, and cage-free eggs are now both in incredibly low supply and have steeply increased in price.  Price increase among Sodexo’s contracted suppliers has ranged between 15%-50%, cage-free eggs being on the high end of that range.

There are many ways Sodexo has responded to the limited egg supply.  Many accounts have implemented menu shifts to accommodate unpasteurized egg use when not serving to vulnerable populations.  Some recipes have been altered to not require eggs.  Managers, like Amelia Heidenreich at Norwich University, are providing training to staff and clients about the impact of the avian flu. As a company, Sodexo’s supply management is directing the pasteurized eggs that are available to first go to our accounts that serve vulnerable populations, like hospitals and senior care homes.  And as a final measure, in some cases Sodexo’s customers are seeing the price increase for products using eggs as an ingredient.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR VERMONT? 

There has been no reported case of HPAI in the state of Vermont, and work is being done to keep it that way.  In the face of this national crisis, “our regional producers take biosecurity very seriously and are looking to make sure their facilities are up to par with anything that my potentially happen next year,” explains Sean Buchanan of Black River Produce. He added, “This will surely increase their operational costs.”

With cage-free eggs in low supply through national suppliers, it has been difficult for Sodexo accounts to source cage-free eggs as per the commitment made in 2014.  In an effort to uphold the commitment, UVM Dining has made a recommendation to chefs and managers that when cage-free eggs are not available through our prime vendor to source from Maple Meadow Farm, a Vermont egg producer that offers cage-free eggs available through our regional supplier, Black River Produce.

Still, the true market opportunity for Vermont egg producers remains to be seen.  “Based on our scale, Vermont poultry farmers do not produce enough poultry [and eggs] to take advantage of any supply disruptions in other parts of the country,” Buchanan noted.

Jackie Devoid, co-owner of Maple Meadow Farm, has seen an increase in ordermaple meadow farm - eggss from regular customers who are not able to source liquid or powdered eggs.  As a result of prices going up across the board,
Maple Meadow’s cage-free eggs have become more price-competitive with non-local cage-free eggs. “As the price point becomes more competitive, and because it is a local product, our customers are looking to Maple Meadow,” Devoid observed.

While sales have increased, Maple Meadow’s capacity for absorbing considerable new sales volume is limited, as Buchanan described.

Resources:

United Egg Producers Report on Avian Influenza on Egg Farms
USDA Update on Avian Influenza Findings
About Maple Meadow Farm
NY Times: Food Companies Fear Bird Flu May Cause Egg Shortages

“What food would you recommend for a ninja?”

This was a real question – my favorite question – I fielded this past Wednesday.

I think the more accurate summarizing remark of the local food fall fest lunch at Champlain College came from a first year student who strolled up to the spread under the white tent in the middle of the dining hall.

“I’m so overwhelmed, where do I start??”

I knew how she felt, as I had shared the same sentiment when I walked in that morning as Jimmy Fanton, Sandi Earle, and their dining team were finishing setting up.

Champlain Sept 4  Champlain Sept 5

Champlain Sept 3 Champlain Sept 7

Let me give you a sense of the spread I’m referring to.
The menu included:
Vermont Beancrafters Bean Chocolate Cookies
Local Watermelon Gazpacho
Fresh juice (juiced at the stand!): ginger, carrot, clementine, and kale
GrandyOats Granola
Vermont Autumn Beet and Apple Salad
Japanese Cucumber Salad
Fingerling Potato Salad

(Special thanks to our friends at Black River Produce – who stopped by the tent – for sourcing the local fruits and veggies for this event!)

While the menu was indeed complex, enticing, and certainly a showcase, many of the items were taken straight from the resident dining menu.  This event was an opportunity to bring attention to the work already being done using local ingredients in resident dining dishes, and encouraged students to be on the lookout for more.

As for my recommendation to all the ninja’s out there: it’s hard to go wrong with throwing back a swig of the fresh juice with ginger. It’s rugged and has a surprise spicy kick at the end – just like you!

As promised…Meet the Vermont First Advisory Board!

We are very excited to announce the creation of the Vermont First Advisory Board! The Vermont First Advisory Board will support Sodexo’s Vermont First Initiative in realizing Sodexo’s goal of strategically increasing the purchase of Vermont products across Sodexo’s Vermont accounts. The Advisory Board is a tremendous ally in providing guidance to moving Vermont First objectives forward. The Board is made up of the following members:

Name Organization Representation Category
Bill Suhr Champlain Orchards  A person who operates a conventional vegetable farm (Eco-Apple Certified)
Jon Slason Harlow Farm A person who operates an organic farm
Tony Risitano Deep Root Organic Coop A person with an intimate understand of food aggregation operation
Mike Rosenberg Garuka Bars A value-added food product business owner
Sean Buchanan Black River Produce/Black River Meats A person with expertise in meat (slaughter, processing, marketing, storage) A distributor who distributes local food
Abbey Willard Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets A person involved in creating or advising policy in Vermont
Erica Campbell Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund Vermont Farm to Plate A person with experience in research and data analysis A person involved in creating or advising policy in Vermont
Olivia Pena University of Vermont A student who attends a Sodexo campus account in Vermont who eats campus food
Abbie Nelson NOFA-VT VT FEED A person who educates others about food and/or food systems A person with experience in research and data analysis
Vern Grubinger UVM Extension A food safety specialist
Heather Lynch-Ellis St. Michael’s College A person who educates others about food and/or food systems
Christina Erickson Champlain College A person who educates others about food and/or food systems
Doug Lantagne UVM Food System Initiative A person who educates others about food and/or food systems
Jane Clifford Clifford Farms Green Mountain Dairy Federation A person who operates a dairy farm

The experience and perspective of this strong group will be instrumental in moving the needle forward on Vermont First objectives.

Meet Molly and Eva.

We are always looking for innovative ways to bring local food to our campuses.  In a state like Vermont, we have the opportunity to use our small scale and strong relationships to test out new models.  Molly Willard and Eva Loomis run Vermont Technical College’s Market Garden, an educational farm that partners with our produce distributor, Black River Produce, to bring Market Garden produce to four of our Vermont college campuses.  We think that bears repeating.  The Market Garden model is two-fold:

  • An educational farm to train the next generation of farmers on sustainable growing practices.
  • Uses existing infrastructure for distribution to college campuses.
    Read on to learn more about the people who make this happen.

What is your role in the Market Garden?

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Market Garden bounty.

Eva: My role as an AmeriCorps VISTA in Vermont Tech’s Market Garden is to work with Molly to manage the handful of wonderful market garden staff and volunteers to produce and distribute organically grown produce and provide the crew with educational opportunities. We discuss the projects that need attention each week and the crew and I work to get it done. It’s a good combination of learning how to grow produce, sharing that knowledge with others, and learning how to manage people. Molly’s farming experience and knowledge are absolutely critical to the vegetable production and we all look forward to her educational lessons. Being a College-run garden, learning is central to so much of what we all do here.

Molly: My main role is to oversee and guide the manager (this year being Eva) to produce high quality produce for the VSC and other institutions. I also develop vegetable farming related curriculum for courses that can potentially utilize the fields for hands on educational opportunities.

When did you know that you wanted to work in food?

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Market Garden tomatoes

Eva: For just over a year, I lived and milked on a small organic dairy farm in Waterbury Center where I fell in love with Vermont and its working landscape. From there, I took half a year to travel in Asia. During part of this time, I volunteered at an elephant sanctuary, living and working outdoors with minimal utilities. My experience there inspired me to reassess what I wanted in my life, and one of the top priorities is physically working outside. The food piece came about from the (at least) thrice-daily necessity of needing to find quality and affordable food to eat. I’d initially joked that I was just going to eat my way across the continent, but this is pretty much what happened. The combination of a love of good food and being outdoors seemed to naturally point to farming, so I applied for my current position and headed off to WWOOF in Japan to get a better taste for it. I’ve tried to immerse myself in as many food-related activities as possible, including volunteering with the Randolph Area Food Shelf and the Vermont Foodbank’s VT Fresh program, and my overall experience has solidified my desire to continue to be a part of Vermont’s vibrant food systems and agriculture world.

What is your favorite thing about your job?

Eva: There are so many things I love about my job. I am grateful for being able to feel the weather so acutely, especially the welcome breezes and the flawless days. I’m stoked that the Garden is able to supply not only our partnering campus cafeterias with fresh produce, but our community as well. Last year we donated produce to the Randolph Area Food Shelf, and I’m happy to report that this year we’re expanding distribution to the Bethel Food Shelf as well. It’s great to know that we’re able to contribute to food security efforts and that we’re providing healthy and delicious food options for people who may not have access to it otherwise. Another really exciting part of my job is that this year I was responsible for grafting the tomatoes. Though it was a stressful process initially since I didn’t know if they were going to take, I now feel like a proud parent every time I step into the tomato house and see it filled with strong plants climbing their way toward the ceiling on their trellis lines. In fact, I just ate my first perfectly ripe Sungold today!

Molly: I studied botany as an undergrad and knew I wanted to work with plants. I have strong agricultural ties to VT on both sides of my family so there has always been a draw to agriculture as well. I have worked and managed dairy, maple and horse farms. When I started vegetable farming I knew this is what I wanted to do. Every day is different, each growing season bring new challenges and there is never a dull moment. I have never said I’m bored or sick of sitting in front of this computer as a vegetable farmer. To me it’s a way to make a living, follow my passion and provide a quality of life that fits for me.

What are you excited about when thinking about the future of the Market Garden?

Market Garden
Produce ready for delivery to St. Michael’s College, Norwich University, Champlain College, and Vermont Technical College.

Eva: We’re not exactly sure what the Market Garden’s future looks like, but we’re fine-tuning it as we go. For instance, this year we had thought of focusing on greens, but after the first succession of salad mix germinated we decided it’s not feasible because of the weed pressure in our fields. However, other crops, such as head lettuce, do really well there and we have a strong market for them so they’re definitely a keeper. This learn-as-we-go method over the last few years is continually shaping the Garden, and I enjoy taking lessons from daily, weekly, and monthly experiences with tasks and projects and thinking about how to do them differently or more efficiently in the future. Continual improvement and education is at the core of the Garden, that much is certain.

Molly: I get excited about the idea of growing food that reaches large institutions that feed many people.  Providing fresh, local, healthy food to folks that eat at institutional cafeterias makes me feel like we are making a difference. I love that the market garden is created in a way to provide educational opportunities to those interested in vegetable production. With Sodexo as a partner, VTC’s access to equipment and professional savvy in all aspects of agriculture we give students a real farming experience. Students can leave knowing how to work the fields, the importance of securing a market and figuring the finances for that given market. Above all, I love watching future generations learn skill around agriculture and food production.