From the Audience: A Student’s Recap of Taking Root 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.

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Keynote Speaker, Ben Hewitt; Photo credit: Nate Stevens

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.

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Posters telling the stories of the producers who provided the food for our meal. Photo credit: Nate Stevens

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.   

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Student attendee enjoying the charcuterie spread featuring Jasper Hill Cheese, VT Salumi, Grafton Village Cheese, and Red Barn Crackers. Photo credit: Nate Stevens

 

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A lunch dish featuring VT Chevon goat, VT Bean Crafters beans, and squash gleaned from local farms by Salvation Farms.  Photo credit: Nate Stevens

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.  

The day finished with a final career networking session in which students could speak to panelists and representatives from across the state. Employers present included Green Mountain Farm to School, Intervale Food Hub, Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Jasper Hill Farm, Sodexo, Maple Wind Farm, and many more. As food systems continues to grow as a field, connecting students to innovative organizations offers an opportunity to build professional relationships as well as open up new understanding of the evolving food system.

 

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Local Partnerships, Local Products: A Burlington Area Farm and Food Business Tour

By UVM Dining Sustainability/Marketing Intern, Eva Sherman, esherma1@uvm.edu

Rockville Market Farm

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Recently, I was able to visit some of UVM Dining’s local partners in the Burlington area. Our first stop was Rockville Market Farm, located on a beautiful stretch of land in Starksboro. Upon arrival, we were invited to try some of their famous maple lemonade. Aside from being a perfect refresher on a hot day, this drink is actually the largest source of income for the farm. Every weekend during the growing season, Eric and other crew members make the drive down to NYC to set up a stand at the famous Smorgasburg market in Brooklyn, an event they have been participating in for years that draws some unique and well-loved vendors from all over New York and New England.

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However, there is a lot more being produced at Rockville Market Farm besides their lemonade. The organic farm produces tomatoes, squash, onions, corn and more for their CSA shares, farmer’s market stands and wholesale orders. Their produce is also included in CSA shares through the Intervale Food Hub. Rockville Market Farm’s relationship with the Intervale started five years before they made the move to Starksboro, as the farm took its roots there before they were able to purchase their current land from the Vermont Land Trust. This is a great example of the success that can come from a supported start from the Intervale Center, parent organization of UVM’s newest produce distributor,Intervale Food Hub that brings Eric’s peeled butternut squash to campus.

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Shelburne Farms

There never seems to be a dull moment at Shelburne Farms, from their cheesemaking facility to the market garden education and sustainability drives the work they do. When we arrived, Rory, the cheese sales manager gave us a brief history of the estate and the different operations that run throughout the year. Our focus was on their most well-loved product, Shelburne Farms cheddar. We were talked through a cheddar tasting with six different types and given tips on how to get the most flavor from the cheese, for example holding the cheddar between your fingers for a minute to warm and soften it makes for an even richer bite. We were encouraged to share flavor notes as we tasted the cheeses with beef broth and onions coming up for the savory two year aged cheddar.

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The cheesemaking facility is set up so that farm guests can watch the production from start to finish. The milk from the farm’s herd of Brown Swiss cows is piped directly into a large vat where the cheddaring process begins. Through a series of steps, the cheese begins to form until it is firm enough to cut into large blocks. At this point, they are stacked repeatedly in a way that is unique to creating cheddar. After this, the blocks are cut into curds before the aging process begins. Shelburne Farms is unique in that they completely transparent with their cheese production process and recipes. They are an educational center with the main goal to share the traditional cheddaring process and historical culture of cheese making with visitors and are more than happy to answer questions and talk all things cheese!

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To end this delicious visit, we were each given a block of the two year cheddar to take home and savor. If you haven’t tried Shelburne Farm’s award winningcheddar, look for it on menus across campus to get a taste of this Vermont staple.

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Citizen Cider

The last stop on the tour allowed us to cool off with a tasting of Burlington’s own Citizen Cider. UVM purchases the hard cider for catering events and hopes to bring their non-alcoholic cider, Citizen Sweet, to campus as Citizen Cider scales up their production. The business has steadily grown over the past couple of years since 2011 and they have moved from large plastic containers full of cider to state of the art tanks.

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The market for local, natural cider is growing and Citizen Cider has risen to the top of the market in Vermont. As our tour leader Jordan said, “Five years ago if I ordered a cider at a bar, my friends would have laughed at me. Now retired men and 21-year-old women can drink the same cider and no one bats an eye. I think that is success!” They continue to experiment with new flavors and product ideas, a complex process that we were able to catch a glimpse of as we walked through the production area. For example, their Homesteader Cider came about after inviting locals to bring apples from their farms and properties that would be turned into a specialty cider and put on tap for a limited time for people to enjoy knowing that their apples were a part of the mix. What a commitment to local sourcing!

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All apples used to make the cider are local (within 200 miles) and come from Vermont and New York. They use a variety of apples, many of which are not traditionally sold in grocery stores. For instance the Northern Spy apple, an heirloom variety that is solely used to make their Northern Spy Cider. Along with this cider, our group tasted the B-Cider which uses local honey as natural flavoring, but is not as sweet as you would think. Lasty, the Brosé which is infused with blueberries, no added sugar or coloring and has a similar light taste to rosé. This name came from the three men who started Citizen Cider with the goal of elevating hard cider’s reputation in the alcohol world. They recognized that cider was one of the libations that never bounced back after prohibition. To do this, they wanted to make a local cider that was not overly sweet due to added sugars, would align with Vermont’s exploding craft beer industry, and have the added appeal of terroir.

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Spreading Big News from Intervale Food Hub and UVM

This news has been years in the making.  Intervale Food Hub, just over a mile away from UVM campus, and UVM Dining have worked closely over the years to identify how to best collaborate to bring lintervale signocal food to UVM students.  This summer, we are happy to announce that Intervale Food Hub is now an approved vendor of Sodexo.
To learn more about the details of how Intervale Food Hub and UVM Dining will work together this coming school year, check out the UVM Dining Blog’s post from earlier this month.

For the purposes of Vermont First, this is an important example to highlight.  As we consider different, indeed creative ways to increase our local business, there are many take-aways to consider.  Conveniently, for those of you who enjoy alliterations, we will call these the “3 T’s”:

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    Visiting Intervale Community Farm’s greenhouses.

    TIME – None of this progress was achieved in haste.  We took the time to do needed research, identifying the best track for both parties.

  • TESTING – The evolution of the strong partnership between IFH and UVM Dining has come as a result of open-minded experimenting with many different models.  From creating a meal plan option with Intervale products to  setting up a CSA for UVM students with drop-spots on campus, the relationship has grown as a result of problem-solving together.
  • TRUST – An essential by-product of years of thinking creatively together.

We look forward to the new learning moments as we forge ahead!

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