Farm Tours: Building Resilience in the Vermont Food System

The sun was shining through the rolling hills of the Northeast Kingdom as members of the UVM Dining team and Vermont First began a day of farm tours. Every summer dining staff takes time out of busy work schedules to engage with the farmers that help bring food from farm to dining hall table.

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Cows happily grazing at Butterworks Farm in Westfield, Vermont. Written on every cow tag just above the number is each cow’s unique name. Photo credit: Flannery Mehigan

Our first stop was Butterworks Farm. Located in Westfield, Vermont, Butterworks Farm started in 1976. Today you will find about 50 Jersey cows grazing through endless fields of grass. From Onyx, a member of the Gem Family, to Chipotle, a feisty Spice Family member, each happy healthy cow has a name and a family unit. 100% grass-fed and Vermont Organic, Butterworks Farm makes products from Whole Plain Yogurt to Orange Sunshine Kefir. Our team was lucky enough to get a taste!

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Mike Heald, Christine Lazor, Collin Mahoney, and Hazel of Butterworks Farm were generous enough to send Flannery Mehigan, Emily Portman, and Sarah Langan of UVM Dining home with arms full kefir and yogurt. This photo is in front of Butterworks’ old granary.  Photo credit: Annie Rowell

Full of delicious yogurt and pictures of Butterworks’ beautiful herd of cows, we headed to Craftsbury to check in with Pete’s Greens, a certified Organic four-season vegetable farm. Inspired by farms from around the world, Pete’s has gleaned a number of innovative ideas, including expanding the width of their planting rows to require less passes of the tractor and therefore less energy expended. From a new tomato greenhouse, better equipped for heavy Vermont snowfall, to endless rows of red leaf butter lettuce, Pete’s Greens pursues its goal that Vermont can feed itself. We ended our tour with a quick lunch at Pete’s Farmstand, a building complete with a living roof and veggies galore!

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Pete’s new four-season tomato greenhouse. Photo credit: Annie Rowell

Have you ever seen a barn with a moon mural? A moon made of cheese suspended in space? Look no further than Jasper Hill Farm in Greensboro, Vermont. Driving past the cheese-inspired galaxy barn, we headed into the Cellars. Nestled into the hillside and stocked with seven cheese vaults, the Cellars at Jasper Hill age and care for cheesy favorites like Cabot’s Clothbound and Harbison, a favorite of UVM Dining’s Chef Sarah. We toured the vaults and were lucky enough to end the hour with a tasting of a few of their divine cheeses.

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A look inside the cheddar vault at Jasper Hill. Photo credit: Annie Rowell

Finally, we ventured from the Cellars towards our last stop of the day, the Center for an Agricultural Economy in Hardwick, Vermont. A non-profit with a mission to build and engage a healthy Vermont food system, the Center for an Agricultural Economy has kitchens for anyone, from entrepreneurs with a bold new idea to the Just Cut Program, which helps institutions (like us!) purchase minimally processed vegetables to ease food preparation later. Jasper Hill Farm also holds space here, and our team was able to witness an exciting part of the cheese making process—fresh curds being poured into molds.

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From left to right: Josh Minot (Center for an Agricultural Economy), Emily Portman (UVM Dining), Flannery Mehigan (UVM Dining), Sarah Langan (UVM Dining), and Connor Gorham (Center for an Agricultural Economy) Photo Credit: Annie Rowell

Partnerships and relationships of farms throughout the Northeast Kingdom became even clearer as our day of farm tours folded to a close. From Butterworks Farm’s trucks cross-docking in the Center for an Agricultural Economy’s warehouse space, to Pete’s Greens partnering with Jasper Hill Cheese to create a local pork product under the label “VT 99 Meats,” to Jasper Hill Cheese leasing space at the Center for an Agricultural Economy to make cheese, these farms and organizations exemplify the Vermont ethic of being a good neighbor and building resilient systems.

Be sure to keep an eye out for these Vermont farmers and producers next time you’re at one of our Vermont campuses!

UVM Achieves 20 Percent ‘Real Food’ Served in Dining Halls, Sets New Goal

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Serving locally-sourced potatoes like Peaslee’s Potatoes helped UVM reach its Real Food Challenge goal three years early. (Photo: Nicole Chicoine)
 April 17, 2017
By Bridget Dorsey, UVM Student Co-Chair, Real Food Working Group

The University of Vermont announced on Monday the achievement of the Real Food Campus Commitment, a university pledge signed in 2012 to track and increase responsible food sourcing on campus. The university is meeting the 20 percent Real Food milestone three years early, having originally set out to meet this goal by 2020.

To build on this momentum, UVM has renewed its commitment with a new goal of 25 percent by 2020.

The Real Food Challenge is a nationwide student-led campaign to shift institutional purchasing to more sustainable and community-based food production. The national organization offers tools to audit university dining systems and support the procurement of qualifying products.

Food qualifies as “Real” if it meets requirements in one or more of the following categories: fair, ecologically sound, local, or humane. These qualifiers are developed by Real Food National Standards Council, and are used by all institutions that participate in the Real Food Challenge.

UVM has been a national leader for the Real Food Challenge since 2009, as one of the first schools to pilot the calculator tool that students use to audit university purchasing and determine the percentage that qualifies as Real. In 2012, UVM Interim President John Bramley signed the Real Food Campus Commitment, making UVM the fifth school in the country, and the first public land grant institution, to pledge to purchase 20 percent Real Food by 2020.

Nationwide, 80 colleges and universities have signed the Real Food Campus Commitment and well over 200 campuses utilize the calculator to track purchases in their dining systems.

Of these, only about a dozen have met or surpassed 20 percent, and UVM is the first land grant university to do so.

Tlaloc Vasquez, a Real Food Challenge National Organizer, believes UVM’s success is at least partially attributable to the fact that UVM’s contract with Sodexo, which runs UVM Dining, includes an obligation to meet the Real Food Campus Commitment. “The corresponding rapid pace by which the campus has shifted purchasing is notable.”

“UVM Dining is proud to be a partner in such a progressive campaign for food system reform,” said Emily Portman, sustainability coordinator for Sodexo. “We’ve been successful at creating a culture of transparency around food procurement and strengthening many of our local partnerships.”

Running concurrent to Real Food purchasing is UVM Dining’s Vermont First initiative, which supports local economies through the prioritization of products made in-state.

The combined success of value-based purchasing derives from the shared goals between students, administrators, dining services, and the nationwide platform.

“This achievement is a testament to the power of collaboration and student leadership. It’s been inspiring for me to watch the students pursue food system reform by researching products, auditing UVM purchases, and upholding momentum even when the project ran into roadblocks,” said Alison Nihart, assistant to the Food Systems Initiative at UVM.

“I joined the Real Food movement because I wanted to make a measurable impact on the food system,” say Gina Clithero says of her role as student co-chair for the multi-stakeholder Real Food Working Group. “It’s exciting to see that come to fruition.”

Related Links

UPDATE: The Local Motive – Farm to Institution

Episode 4: Farm to Institution

About this episode:
Institutions such as schools, universities, camps, hospitals and prisons are places where the food consumer often doesn’t have much choice. This is food intended to feed large volumes, and has to do so with typically small per capita budgets, USDA nutritional requirements and limited labor and equipment resources. To reach Farm to Plate goals in increasing local consumption, these institutions need to choose local food for their consumer. We’ll look at the paths to bringing local food into institutions and the passionate individuals committed to making Farm to Institution a reality.

There are many familiar faces featured in this episode!
Vermont First Advisory Board members: Abbie Nelson, Joe Bossen, and Bill Suhr
Vermont First Leadership Team members: Caylin McKee and Kate Hays
Producers we buy from:Vermont Bean Crafters, Vermont Food Venture Center, Pete’s Greens, Jericho Settlers Farm, Lewis Creek Farm, Champlain Orchards

We are a proud sponsor of the Local Motive, a collaboration between The Skinny Pancake and Vermont PBS that explores the Vermont food system in a six-part series.

Read more about the series here.

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The Local Motive: The Food We Eat Must Come From Somewhere

It’s finally here!
We are a proud sponsor of the Local Motive, a collaboration between The Skinny Pancake and Vermont PBS that explores the Vermont food system in a six-part series. The series launched this past Thursday and a new episode will be aired each week on Vermont PBS.

Watch an episode tonight at 7pm on Vermont PBS Plus.

Read more about the series here.

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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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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’.

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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.

 

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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

RePost: UVM On Track to Surpass Goal for “Real” Food Purchases

Exciting news from University of Vermont: the 5th signatory in the country to the Real Food Challenge, a commitment to achieve 20% Real Food purchasing by 2020, released this past week that they are currently at 19% Real – and it’s only 2016!

The Real Food Challenge is one way UVM Dining supports UVM Food Systems Initiative’s aim to “establish itself as a global leader in food systems education, research and collaboration, building on decades of food systems leadership” by 2020.  Follow the UVM Dining Blog or @uvmdining on Instagram to stay in the know on UVM Dining’s other food systems work.

Congratulations to the members of UVM’s Real Food Challenge Working Group, past and present, as they continue build new benchmarks for campus dining.

Link to story on UVM Food Feed here, or read story pasted below.

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By Alison Nihart
June 16, 2016

The University of Vermont is on track to surpass its current goal of purchasing 20 percent local, sustainable, fair, and humane food. In the 2015-2016 school year, 19 percent of the food purchased by UVM Dining qualified as “real,” according to the Real Food Challenge, indicating that the institution is likely to exceed 20 percent Real Food by 2020, the current target date.

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The Real Food Challenge is a nonprofit organization that supports a national, student-led movement to shift 20 percent of existing university food budgets (equivalent to approximately $1 billion) from conventional agricultural products to local, ecologically sound, fair and humane products by 2020.

“Growing numbers of students across the country are concerned about how their food is produced — and how it affects farmers, fishers, and workers — and the Real Food Challenge is a response to that concern,” says Anim Steel, executive director of the Real Food Challenge. The motivation for the Real Food Campus Commitment is to empower students to hold their universities accountable for responsible purchasing decisions.

UVM responded to student interest and signed the commitment in 2012, pledging to purchase 20 percent Real Food by 2020. UVM was the fifth institution to do so and 32 campuses have signed since. Student interns work with UVM Dining to audit purchases at dining venues across campus and submit the data to the Real Food Calculator, an online tool that calculates a university’s percentage. Those associated with the effort at UVM expressed excitement that the changes made over the past four years have brought UVM so close to the 20 percent target so quickly.

To qualify as real, products must meet specific criteria in the categories of local, ecologically sound, fair or humane. Local products must be sourced from within 250 miles of campus. Popular local products include apples from Champlain Orchards and maple syrup from UVM’s own Proctor Maple Research Center. The ecologically sound category includes organic products and seafood that is sustainably sourced.  All of the granola, maple syrup, tofu and most fish on campus qualify as ecologically sound. The fair category includes products with certifications indicating that farm workers involved are paid and treated well. Fair Trade coffee and tea are the standard on campus, and UVM is one of few colleges with a Fair Trade banana program. Lastly, there are many qualifying certifications for humane that ensure animals are well treated. Certified Humane (cage-free) eggs make up the highest portion of UVM’s humane category.

UVM Dining serves about 13,000 meals daily and Melissa Zelazny, resident district manager, understands the opportunity each of those meals presents. “We are proud to be creating dining experiences that are better for the planet, healthier for our students and support our local community.” Zelazny is working with others in the UVM food systems community to build a culture that will help students carry these values with them after graduation.

UVM Dining’s demonstrable progress in increasing Real Food purchasing reflects the passion and values at UVM for holistic food systems education and practice. Although the 20 percent goal is within sight, Gina Clithero, student co-chair of the UVM Real Food Working Group (a multi-stakeholder group of students, faculty, administrators and UVM Dining staff), says the work is far from done. “The working group will continue leveraging UVM’s purchasing power to create a sustainable, ethical food system, beyond 20 percent!”

To learn more, visit uvm.edu/realfood.

 -Alison Nihart is assistant to the UVM Food Systems Initiative.

 

Re-Post: An Unlikely Fellow – Dispatches from the Trenches of Institutional Dining

We are excited to share an article written by one of the two inaugural UVM Dining Fellows, Hailey Grohman.  The UVM Dining Fellowship was created in the creative and collaborative process between the University of Vermont and Sodexo in the innovative dining contract launched last year.
We appreciate Hailey’s perspective on the incredible complexity behind the decisions made every day at UVM – and all institutions – to “[translate] the dietary needs, health choices, and value preferences of 10,000 people into three meals a day while keeping costs down.”

Blog Post - UVM Food Feed

Click HERE to read the full article.

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.

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!