East of Eden

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!

Eden Specialty Cider tasting at the NEK Tasting Center in Newport, VT.
Eden ice cider
En route to Eden Specialty Ciders, passing by Lake Willoughby with views of Mt. Pisgah and Mt. Hor.
eden ice cider 4
Chef Sandi enjoying a sample of the ice cider concentrate from Eden’s heirloom apples. They are busiest when the north is frozen!

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.”

Shelburne Farms Group Truck Picture 2
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.

chef serving food.jpg

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.





Other Resources:




Vermont First Localvore Challenge at St. Michael’s College

In celebration of Vermont First’s initiative to increase local food sourcing, eight Vermont colleges competed in the Localvore Cooking Challenge yesterday hosted by St. Michael’s College.  Click here to see the live story from WCAX News.

This friendly competition challenges professional and up-and-coming Sodexo chefs to create dishes around foods and products that are native to Vermont. The goal of the Localvore Cooking Challenge is to highlight fresh, local ingredients and promote local farmers and vendors. It provides students with an opportunity to learn about the benefits of local products while enjoying delicious food.

Each campus culinary team prepared and served their local dishes to students during the special lunch at Saint Michael’s College. Students then voted on their favorite dish. The culinary teams were also judged on presentation, creativity, technical execution, and guest interaction by guest judges from the Vermont food community.

Localvore Challenge - Photos 2016

A HUGE shout-out to all the stellar culinary teams from each participating campus.

  • Castleton University – Smoked Chicken & CHeese Sliders with caramelized Whistle Pig onions and cheddar ale sauce, apple beet hash, and apple pave
  • Champlain College – Native Pulled Pork Slider with Queen City Brewery Smokey Rauchbier Beer and rainbow carrot and cabbage slaw
  • Johnson State College – Chickpea Crepe, Risotto Balls, Mud Pie Mini Cupcake
  • Lyndon State College – Maple Chipotle BBQ Beef Slider, Smoked Gouda Mac & Cheese, BBQ Tempeh Slider
  • Norwich University – Vermont Maple Carrot Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
  • Saint Michael’s College – Maple Bourbon Ice Cream with crispy apples, candied fennel stems, cranberry confit, butternut squash coulis and streusel.
  • University of Vermont – Vermont Elk Sausage and Ricotta Cavatelli Saute
  • Vermont Tech – Carne Desmechada Arepa with NE Raised Beef Brisket and Queso Fresco from Champlain Creamery and Caramelized Apple Arepa with apples from Champlain Orchards and Maple Syrup made at Vermont Tech.

Can you say yum?

Congratulations to the St. Michael’s College team for their first place win this year!

“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!

Case Study: Farm to Institution New England Reviews Vermont Tech’s Market Garden

Remember our post from way back in June (how is it August 31st already?) about Vermont Tech’s Market Garden?  Our friends at Farm to Institution New England have recently highlighted the Market Garden, too – check it out here!

Note: In addition to selling to Vermont Tech, the Market Garden also sells to other Vermont campuses – St. Michael’s College, Champlain College, and Norwich University.

We’ve Been Everywhere: Summer Tours 2015

How can Vermont First help create connections between Vermont accounts and Vermont producers?  I asked chefs and managers of our Vermont campus accounts that I visited this spring.

“Easy,” Rob MacFarlane, the General Manager of Castleton State College, offered.
“Get people out visiting places.”  I couldn’t agree more.  An excellent place to start.

Each week this July, we have organized tours in the region of each Vermont Sodexo campus.  Our goal is to use this time to strengthen two types of communities:
– Build closer connections between campuses and their farms and food business neighbors
– Community of chefs and managers at Vermont accounts, building awareness within Sodexo surrounding the goals of Vermont First.

Castleton State College, Champlain College, and UVM went to:

Champlain Orchards: It’s hard to leave Champlain Orchards and not feel passioChamplain Orchards group picturenate about everything apple.  Sandi Earle, Executive Chef at Champlain College, met and thanked the crew who make the apple pies she serves in her dining hall.  We watched an incredibly efficient crew pack the remains of last years apple crop into retail bags.  We poked our heads into the newly constructed cidery.  We ended with a stroll up the hill to see the new apple trees.

Sandi at ChamplainChamplain Orchards bins

Vermont Sweetwater Bottling Co.: As we see more and more maple-based drinks enter the market, it becomes increasingly apparent how mu Vermont Sweetwater productsch Vermont Sweetwater was ahead of the curve years ago.  The company began with a Vermont Maple Seltzer in the mid-1990s, made using sap from their neighboring sugarmakers in the Poultney area.  In a retro-fitted dairy barn which houses all of their production and storage, we sampled their creative additions to the product line of natural sodas, with flavors like Rugged Mountain Root Beer and Mango Moonshine.                              Vermont Sweetwater samples
Vermont Sweetwater bottling ling

UVM and Champlain College went to:

Intervale Food Hub: Less than a mile away from the UVM campus, Intervaintervale walkle Food Hub aggregates products from farms across Vermont and distributes throughout the Burlington area.  This was our first visit since Intervale Food Hub became an approved vendor this summer, becoming a gateway for many small to mid-scale farms to sell into UVM.  Our team got to see the packing room where all products get aggregated and packed out to then be delivered to three sites on UVM campus.  Thanks to Bobby Young and Sona Desai at IFH for being great partners!

Intervale - Phil and Melissa Intervale Food Hub - Phil Melissa Paul Caylin

Intervale Community Farm: Manager Andy Jones feels that member-owned Intervale Community Farm has done something right to have a model that has worked for 26 years. I agree.intervale community farm Opening the door to their new greenhouse packed full of tomato vines, Andy explained how they expect to produce over 20,000lbs of tomatoes out of this one greenhouse. As Andy fielded questions, it was apparent how the combination of his experience, technical knowledge, calm manner, and calculated approach to farming were a good example of the “something right” that has dictated this long life of ICF.

Diggers’ Mirth: Part-owner Hillary Martin made it clear to our groupUVM at Diggers Mirth that the word “mirth” in walk to diggers' mirthDiggers’ Mirth is truly a fact of life on this farm.  Quality of products grown at Diggers’ Mirth as well as quality of life seem to hold equal weight.  Since 1992, they have enjoyed slow growth, experienced very little debt, and have enough shared responsibility to not over-tax any of the owners and workers.
A noteworthy model.

Catamount FarmIt seemed only fitting that chefs and managers fCatamount Farm - chef joerom UVM should visit the UVM farm, Catamount Farm.  Our tour guides, Isabella and Amanda, were part of the UVM Farmer Training Program, a 6-month intensive training program for aspiring farmers and food system advocates.  In addition to seeing where our food comes from when we purchase from Catamount Farm, we got to see first hand all that Isabella and Amanda have learned in just a few short months of being in the program.  To top it off, Isabella whipped out a pocket knife to slice off some vegetable samples during our stroll through the fields.

Catamount Farm - tour guides
Catamount Farm - beet sample

Johnson State College, Lyndon State College, Champlain College, and UVM went to:

Vermont Soy: I have to be honest here – the places we visited with this group had a degree of interconnectedness that I had not planned for.  As we entered VermVT Soy group photoont Soy, Michael Carr, Business Manager, asked if we were indeed going to Boyden Valley Winery later that afternoon.  Yes, I confirmed.  Michael went on to say how the Boyden’s had just planted a large crop of soybeans for Vermont Soy, and circled around to explain that the okara, a by-product from tofu production, then went back to the Boyden’s to feed their cow herd.
Since 2007, Vermont Soy has worked closely with Vermont farmers to grow soybean to be used in Vermont Soy products. Tom Fondakowski, General Manager at Johnson State College, explained how he likes using the tofu scramble product from Vermont Soy in residential dining.

VT Soy Michael and Sandi
VT Soy production

Center for an Agricultural Economy: Just across the street from VermoConnor and floor plannt Soy sits the 15,000 sq ft facility of the Center for an Agricultural Economy, the home of the Vermont Food Venture Center.  For full disclosure here, this is where I worked before coming to Sodexo!  A lot has happened since my last day back in February, from new products being made to new equipment coming in the door.  In addition to the community building, market development for farmers, and food business incubation work they are known for, what’s clear in walking away from a tour with Connor, Sarah, and Alissa is that they’re a great team.

Just Cut
VFVC beets and Sandi

River Berry Farm: A backbone of organic farming in Vermont, River Berry Farm knows what they’re doing.  In Fairfax since 1992, they chose their spot for the river bottom soil.  After we arrived, co-oRiver Berry Group Photowner Dave Marchant pulled up in a golf cart, having been harvesting greens in a distant field.  I think one thing I deeply admire about experienced farmers is their ability to quickly calculate what “makes sense.”  When asked about the history of the farm stand that we stood in while talking with Dave, Dave simply responded it was the result of needing a place to send folks who stopped by looking for a head of lettuce.  So he built them a farm stand that operates with an honor code system.  Create your own market that requires very little management to run – makes sense.

River Berry farmstand
River Berry greenhouse2
River Berry in the fields

Boyden Valley Winery: Going on their 5th generation of ownership andbridget at boyden business management, the Boyden’s are a staple of Vermont’s farming economy.  Operating at least five different businesses under the family name, from maple produboyden wineryction to a winery to an event center to growing soy beans for Vermont Soy, they have discovered a way of creating business opportunities between and within generations on this, rather large, plot of land.

For more photos from our travels, check out the UVM Dining Facebook Page.

…still to come:

Chappelle’s Potatoes

Long Wind Farm

Freedom Foods

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?

Aug 2014.7 (2)
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?

tom house pana
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.