III. Vermont rural food systems—from milk to maple

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

For breakfast this morning I ate fried eggs over a beat and root hash, buckwheat pancakes with Vermont maple syrup, and fresh fruit. The b&b also served Canadian bacon, yoghurt parfait, and scones but I ate enough of the other goodness. Already I’m feeling and seeing the effect of three squares and lots of cheese on my belly. Karen discussed logistics for the day. We talked briefly about Todd Murphy of the Farmer’s Diner.

Checking out the Farmer’s Diner website, they seek to recreate a 01933 supply chain connecting producers within a seventy mile radius to serve typical diner food via a central commissary to local farmers and producers. The menu begins with a page by Wendell Berry,—the man who wrote “Eating is an agricultural act”; a closed loop act when farmers eat their own product—The mad farmer liberation front. Worth the read. If you’re traveling north and enjoy New England style breakfasts, the Farmer’s Diner is well worth checking out. Hash & eggs—need I tap more.

Megan Sheridan, the Executive Director from the Vermont Fresh Network joined us for breakfast. She spoke informally about their initiative, mainly answering questions and in conversation while we all sat and ate. Vermont Fresh Network encourages farmers, producers, and chefs to forge partnerships to promote stronger communities and protect the Vermont landscape. The aspect of working directly with chefs and restaurants is interesting. I’ve heard during the week from producers about their concerns working with restaurants, mainly per the fact that so many new restaurants close in the first year. This makes for an uncertain cash flow the producers and farmers depend upon for their own viability.

Today’s experiential learning includes a trip to St. Albans Cooperative Creamery—a large dairy—and a trip to Green Mountain Blue Cheese at Boucher Family Farm—a small cheesemaker in Highgate center.

St. Albans Cooperative Creamery is a cooperative creamery made up of nearly 500 member dairy farmers. The plant is managed by Tom Gates who provided a detailed presentation of their business and structure. He was open to fielding and answering all of our questions—and there were many. The model of the cooperative creamery benefits the farmers since it generates additional income to the base price set by the commodities market for fluid milk. The cooperative provides added value products and services for: milk separation, condensed evaporated nonfat milk,—sold on the commodities market—and pasteurization. One of their primary services is as cream producer which they sell to butter, cream cheese, and ice cream among other customers in the Boston and NY markets. A major factor in fluid milk handling and production is product safety. They are a facility processing nearly 259 thousand gallons of fluid milk a day. Cleanliness and safety are an utmost priority. A tour of the facility illustrated we were visiting a facility whose success is in no small part attributed to the conditions and maintenance of the facility. Readings in food studies tends to demonize dairy producers. St. Albans facility lifted some of this and illustrated a larger dairy model that manages to balance interests of the dairy producers and consumers. Out of nearly 500 member dairy producers, only 10 use rBST. The other 490 are rBST free—per consumer demand. Interesting to note though, there are no economical tests to show presence or use of rBST. A good faith contract is signed. Testing for non-sulfa antibiotics are tested rigorously. Technology affords testing at parts per billion. If any is detected, the entire shipment of milk is dumped and will not go to market.

During the afternoon we went to Green Mountain Blue Cheese at the Boucher Family Farm. Dawn Boucher began making cheese to generate supplemental income for the family farm. This was a very telling example of the versatility and hardiness of Vermont farmers. The Boucher’s are not yuppy transplants making a go at farming, cheesemaking, and reconnecting with their rural roots. Indeed, Dawn’s husband’s family have been farming in northern Vermont and Quebec for nearly four hundred years. Dawn makes five varieties of cheese, while the farm produces dairy, veal, turkeys, and pork. Recently they began raising laying hens and broilers. The operations at Boucher are superb examples of a food system that is nearly complete.

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