Capital Day in the Capital City

Vermont Agency of Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross

On the first day of June, the Vermont Food Systems Study Tour participants traveled to Montpelier, the state capital of Vermont.

In our rented 15-passenger white van, already nicknamed Moby, we lumbered through a steady and at times driving rain to make our 8:30 a.m. appointment with Paul Costello, executive director of Vermont Council of Rural Development (VCRD). Among myriad aspects of policy and organization and the history behind the “food systems renaissance” sweeping the state, Paul talked about VCRD’s role in establishing the Vermont Higher Education Food Systems Consortium. He spoke of various farm and food successes at the local and state level as well as of the special project that became the study tour.

“You will define its success,” he said to us, referring to this pioneering and one-of-a-kind experiment in learning and cooperation among higher education institutions.

Next stop was at the Agency of Agriculture just down the street in a Romanesque Revival structure of red stone. In a second floor conference room, Vermont secretary of agriculture Chuck Ross and his staff presented on current laws and pending legislation at both state and federal levels that impact local food production and consumption. Schools were a big part of the discussion, with a review of grant funding to improve student nutrition at the secondary level and to encourage local sourcing of farm and forest products by colleges and universities. Wrapping up, Secretary Ross laid out a rubric of concepts to guide our thinking about food and law, including issues of democracy, economics (micro to state to global), sustainability, relationships, culture, community, water quality, etc.

“If you think you know and have the bright answers, think again,” he said, stressing that many of the conflicts that arise in government have no sharp, clean, or final solutions.

After lunch, we met with staff of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund (VSJF). Executive director Ellen Kahler and research and evaluation director Scott Sawyer talked of their role in coordinating the state’s Farm to Plate Strategic Plan. VSJF is a quasi-governmental 501(c)(3) non-profit tasked with helping “businesses and farms learn how the food system is evolving” in Vermont. Scott led us through a tour of the Farm to Plate web site, with special attention to the Vermont Food Atlas section, which includes multiple maps and graphs. Visual presentations of data include such topics as food security, percentages of food purchases by race, middle-scale versus small scale farm and food businesses, etc.

Sausage making at the New England Culinary Institute

With our heads stuffed with new knowledge, we headed to the New England Culinary Institute teaching kitchen that serves the Vermont College of Fine Arts Cafeteria. We sampled honey black pepper bacon and watched a demo of sausage-making by chef David Miles, assisted by culinary student Liam Doherty – most definitely this media fellow’s favorite part of the day! NECI dean of education Lyndon Virkler spoke of the school’s collaboration with Vermont FEED (Vermont Food Education Every Day) in producing and testing recipes for New School Cuisine Cookbook, featuring healthy, local food for children.

The day ended with a delicious supper in the cafeteria catered by NECI students, with salad, broccoli soup, greens, jambalaya, and berry cobbler. It doesn’t get any better than that!