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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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

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 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

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.

Farm Tours Part II: Potatoes, Tomatoes, and Shiny Mixers

Like many things in the world, it turns out that even when it comes to organizing farm tours, there is a certain order to things.  Order things the wrong way, and you’ll find yourself promptly zipped into a hazmat suit on the hottest day of the summer.  Like so:

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On Wednesday morning, I met up with the Norwich University crew on SouIMG_4781th Hill in Williamstown at Chappelle’s Potatoes.  Bob and Barb Chappelle are known for their 50-acres of potato production, but what many don’t know is that the Chappelle’s are also one of the (if not “the”) largest seed potato suppliers in Vermont.  Walking around the potato warehouse, you can see signs of Bob’s past career as an engineer.  Everything is efficient and calculated, perhaps also as a result of the benefits of specializing in growing one crop – a rarity in a state like Vermont where many vegetable producers are highly diversified.

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From Chappelle’s, we drove southeast to Long Wind Farm in Thetford.  We were met at the farmstand door by owner Dave Chapman, holding an armful of white plastic bags.

“You just came from a potato farm, and you’re at a tomato farm.  You’re going to have to put these on,” he said has he passed out full body, white plastic suits to our team. As much as we giggled negotiating skirts and limbs into one-size-fits-all suits, the reason for this safety measure was quite serious.  Dave apparently had just recently heard about a case of blight at another farm in Vermont, a plant disease that can destroy entire crops. With a disease like blight that affects crops like potatoes and tomatoes, one case of blight can easily become hundreds…in other words: Hazmat suit on.  Duly noted for next year – we will not visit the potato producer and tomato producer in the same day.

I’vIMG_4811e heard tales about Long Wind Farm’s 2-acres of greenhouses that produce tomatoes almost year-round, but this was my first time actually seeing it.  Row after row, the tomato vines are encouraged to grow taller and taller, using a vine-wrapping system that winds throughout the rows.  Looking at one tomato plant, Dave estimated IMG_4821that from the base of the stem to the top of the plant strung up it was 35 feet tall.

The heat pipes that run along the base of the plant also double as tracks for their harvesting shuttles to run on.  Long Wind has plants producing from March through December, giving the soil and plants a rest for a few of the winter months.

The final leg of our tour brought us to Randolph to visit Freedom Foods. freedom foods Freedom Foods is a food processing facility for specialty food producers, just south of the village of Randolph.  Owner Kathy Bacon touted that with little to no marketing, they receive over five inquiries a day from food producers across the country looking for kitchen space to rent.  Our group of chefs didn’t know what to expect as we wandered from kitchen to kitchen, each full of new-fangled mixers and bottle fillers and dish washers and baggers.  Each piece of equipment was introduced as a calculation of time – “this filler can fill in 5 minutes what it used to take us to fill in an hour.”  I could see the mental wish list of each chef growing as we rounded every corner.

freedom foods 2 freedom foods 3

As I got back on I-89 north headed home, it dawned on me how each of our hosts that day illustrated models of specialization and scale: Bob, Barb, and Dave immersed in the high efficiency, yet high risk of producing a single crop; Kathy being 18 months into operating a new facility that more than quadrupled the size of her previous production space.  Quite a group of fascinating innovators to spend a day with!

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

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.