Student Reps: the Student Voice in Vermont First – Part I

It’s hard to believe it is officially the end of the fall semester!  As we wrap up the semester – before I get to intended topic of this post – I would be remiss if I didn’t point you to a few stories from this past semester that involve eating invasive species, the reemergence of the coveted UVM Dairy Bar, Vermont spuds on VPR, to name a few. Check them out here – we’ve been busy!

The real crux of this post is to highlight two folks behind the scenes in the Vermont First world.  In fact, to give each their proper due, I will break this post into two.  This fall, we launched Vermont First Student Reps, an internship program for students at our Vermont campuses to learn more about Vermont First, sustainable procurement in Vermont and beyond, and to represent the student voice on each campus.  Today’s post highlights one of our Student Reps, and stay tuned for the second installment!

We spent some time with Student Rep Flannery Mehigan, a junior at University of Vermont, to learn more about why she is interested in Vermont First and what she does when she’s not focused on her Vermont First responsibilities!

FLANNERY MEHIGAN

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Student Rep Flannery Mehigan, UVM, getting ready for the holidays!

College: University of Vermont

Year: Junior

Major/Minor(s): Environmental Studies with minors in Psychological Sciences and Dance

Favorite class this semester: Contact Improvisation, a wonderful form of dance focused on exploration of bodies and their unique relations to space

Favorite Christmas food: My mom makes a delicious Moroccan Spiced Pie with squash, spinach, chickpeas, and a whole slew of amazing spices.

What does ‘local’ mean to you? When I think of local I think of a way to connect people to their homes and surrounding landscapes. When we make the decision to purchase local, we create a tangible and dynamic relationship between food and farmer. In the evening when I prep veggies grown in Vermont for my dinner, I feel overwhelming gratitude for the fact that I can make local a priority in my budget, that I can take the time to try my best to support Vermont producers as I strive to eat seasonally.

What interested you in being a VT First Student Rep? I’m interested in my position as a VT First Student Rep because it has continued to strengthen my perspective on local food systems. There is a whole arrangement of externalities to consider when thinking about bringing local food into institutions like colleges and hospitals – externalities I found myself neglecting to consider before this position. Farm to institution is an amazing movement and I feel immensely grateful to be witnessing it in a place like Vermont.

What have you enjoyed about your experience so far? I have loved my experience as a Student Rep thus far. I have enjoyed being able to think about the complexities of supply chains and consider the difficulties of food access. As a VT First Student Rep I’ve been able to strengthen my perspective of the Vermont food system and continue to foster a deeper connection to how I live and relate to food here.

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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

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.