II. Vermont rural food systems—from milk to maple

This is the second of five reflective journal entries assigned for class.

Class began this morning with breakfast here at the b&b. We were served buffet style homemade cornmeal waffles with Vermont maple syrup, eggs scrambled with spinach and cherry tomatoes, bacon, and sliced fruit. As we ate, our professors talked about the agenda for the week and reviewed overarching concepts to consider.

Amy discussed Vermont agriculture in terms of a series of (historical) events as they are framed within systemic and/or holistic structures. She emphasized she will push us to consider what we experience during the week systemically. Components of a food system diagram she handed out is a sort of Krebs cycle to visualize this system and includes inputs > food production (on the farm) > food processing (adding value) > food distribution (trucking and marketing) > food transformation (cooking, preserving,..) > food consumption (burp) > waste and recycling (animal, human, vegetable, mineral) > natural resources (energy requirements for production). And the cycle continues. Another diagram begs deeper consideration of the bio-physical environment and bio-diversity (byproducts, waste, land, air, water, energy) in concentric circle to the social environment and policy & institutions (utility, meaning, satisfaction, capital, skills, knowledge), in reversible reaction of inputs and outputs of resources, health in interrelated and interconnected relationship of producer, consumer, and nutrition. This diagram includes consumer, nutrition, and health but remains incomplete lacking consideration of their limiting factors for culture, education, SES, among other.

For the first day of class, we stayed in Burlington and visited the Intervale Center, ‘foraged’ for Vermont produce at a Vermont cooperative City Market, attended a lecture at the Nutrition and Food Science department at UVM, enjoyed a cheese tasting hosted by Vermont Institute of Artisan Cheese at UVM, and finished with a dinner at Smokejacks in town. This itinerary provided experiential-based learning touching on all facets for components of a food system. As the week progresses, we will radiate away from Burlington, like the concentric food system diagrams, to visit farms, cheese producers, a culinary institution, and sugar shack.

Herein is a rundown of what we experientially learned for the day. I think for the rubric we’re following for reflective journaling, the organization will rate towards the dry end.

We headed to the Intervale Center for a tour of the grounds followed by a discussion in their offices. Their mission is to develop farm and land based enterprises that generate economic and social opportunity while protecting nature. They currently have six major programs for healthy city, composting, conservation nursery, farmstead, food enterprise center, and agricultural development services. The Intervale farms program is especially interesting to me. It is a solution to the aging problem affecting American agriculture. With the average age of farmers being 57, there is a need to educate and train the next generation of agriculturalists. Big commodity farms producing corn and soy provide little or no incentive. The recent documentary King Corn shows corn farming to be little more than a giant outdoor widget factory. The process is highly mechanized and does not provide for a true profession worth aspiring to. The Intervale program includes mentoring for fledgling farmers as part of an incubator program. Leases for land, equipment, and other services are partially subsidized.

Next door to Intervale is a power plant that generates upwards of eighty percent of energy needs to Burlington. It is considered a sustainable power plant that burns used wooden palates, Christmas trees, and other wood waste. Depending on environment and weather conditions, there are days the plant switches to natural gas. A classmate and I wondered why the wood is not used or recycled again before being burned for power. The Intervale compost program requires large amounts of woodchip for its massive mounds cooking in the northern sun.

Foraging at the local cooperative market did not seam to turn out perhaps as the professors visualized. Except for local cheese, breads, and mustard greens, there wasn’t very much available in terms of fresh produce. When they said foraging, I had gleaning on my mind from the Intervale session and freeganing on my mind from back in Gotham. Perhaps this fell somewhere in between, except the market was open and we were paying. Each student in the class was given (back) ten dollars for lunch. E and I foraged family style. We ate kale, chicken curry salad, ciabatta baguette, a bleu and another cheese which I forget their artisan names at time of tapping here.

For a lecture at UVM Pathogen control in raw oyster: Vibrio vulnificus and Vibrio parhaemolyticus, Professor Donnelly asks why raw oysters are not regulated as dairy is and does not require pasteurization. In Vermont bill H.616 is in the state legislature to ease restrictions on dairy farmers selling raw milk. Currently, they are allowed to sell not more than 25 quarts per day direct to consumers. No marketing is allowed. She dubs the bill as a farm fresh initiative in the guise of economic stimulus to put money direct into the pockets of farmers. As a public health professional, Professor Donnelly testified to the epidemiological and health implications of raw milk, to be considered with the bill. Listeria and various strains of E. coli being the main bacterial strains.

After the lecture there was an hour to kill and explore the Davis center building. Their coffee shops and gift shops sell local, sustainable products. I think by the end of this week I’ll be deaf to the word sustainable. I already am as the term’s been with me since embarking on food, nutrition, health studies some years ago. I prefer the term ecological. I think it’s the broader term that all the others, green, sustainable, local, biodynamic, organic are all seeking to achieve, or are considering. Also, a comparative reading of Walden and A Place of My Own remain on the intersession free read list as yet undone. Amy discussed ethnographic research in terms of the ecological—considering the relation of the part (a subject) interrelated and interconnected to it’s whole (it’s society/culture). A takeaway question from lunch, “What are we doing and to what ends?” I’ll keep with me throughout the week.

A four o’clock cheese tasting at the Vermont Institute for Cheese left me feeling a bit guilty. It seemed decadent and pushing the envelope of experiential learning experience. It definitely falls under those things yuppies like to do and as it doesn’t relate to a specific thing that I am doing, to contribute to some greater good, save for tapping here. And really, does this do anyone any good except for me. I digress. I did fall in love with the Bonne Bouche from Vermont Butter and Cheese. We’ll be heading there on Wednesday afternoon for a tour and tasting.

The class day ended with dinner at Smokejacks in town. More sustainable, local foods. More cheese. Great wines a classmate picked for nine of us who imbibed. Thank goodness for all the fat to cut the alcohol, and the wine to cut the cheese. I think I would have been worse for wear the morning after.

End note.. Consider what are reoccurring themes, concepts, and keywords as the week progresses. Systemic, local, sustainable, ecological, terroir, landscape, producers compost, waste. Based on what personal interests and goals I wrote in initial journal entry, how are these expanded upon, debunked, scaled back, inspired.

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