By Lindsay Courcelle
Worker bees are a-buzz on West Street. As you drive by, you might see people helping with the gardens or working on construction projects at the Vermont Farmers Food Center, the big green building past the railroad tracks.
For the past three years, farmers and community members have been working diligently to build up the Vermont Farmers Food Center as the site for Rutland’s Winter Farmers Market and a space for food education, storage, and the infrastructure needed to power our local agricultural economy.
This Sunday, August 16th, the Vermont Farmers Food Center is asking the community to come together at their Taste of Rutland Farms celebration and fundraiser. The event will feature an incredible spread of locally grown foods, cooked by chefs, farmers, and New England Culinary Institute students, as well as live and silent auctions to raise money for the major projects on the Food Center’s agenda.
The dinner will include roasted local pigs, organic chickens, eggplant parmesan, vegetarian lasagnas, Peter McGann’s famous carrot cake, and bread from local bakeries. Most of the ingredients will be sourced from local farmers who are donating what they grow. There will be music by the Bogstompers, a silent auction, and a live auction featuring local business owners who have donated their goods or services.
The auction includes both practical and extravagant options. Among the auction items are a chef’s table dinner for four at The Foundry at Summit Pond in Killington; a guided fly-fishing tour; a six-person wildcrafting tour to pick wild mushrooms and other wild foods and then prepare and eat a feast with local chef and forager Steve Lanfear; a cord of wood cut, split, and delivered; and services from local carpenters, plumbers, and electricians. One of the most interesting items up for bid is the time from four members of the Board of Alderman who are donating their services to help you around your house or yard.
The money raised from this event will be used for four major projects at the Food Center: a shared use commercial kitchen and processing facility, large scale storage and aggregation infrastructure, a biomass heating system, and a Community Teaching Kitchen. “Every person contributing is truly meaningful. Every dollar goes a long way,” says founding board member and farmer Greg Cox.
This summer, the Vermont Farmers Food Center began an exciting program to spread more local food amongst our community members. The program, called Health Care Shares, is a Farm-to-Patient collaborative initiative working with farmers, doctors, community health teams, and local non-profits to provide access to healthy foods for 75 local families who struggle with food insecurity and chronic health issues affected by diet. Board Member Kathleen Krevetski says, “As a nurse, I’ve come to believe that good food is good medicine, and this program truly demonstrates that.”
In essence, fresh produce is “prescribed” instead of medication. Local doctors refer patients and the Health Care Share provides free farm shares of local, healthy produce for twelve weeks of the growing season. Participants are supported in creating healthy eating habits through cooking and nutrition classes offered by the Vermont Farmers Food Center, the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link (RAFFL), and Hunger Free Vermont. Recipes, storage tips, and shopping strategies are also provided in weekly newsletters.
When participants pick up their shares, they are also able to try samples at the “tasting table,” which has proven very exciting for the kids who come along with their parents. Collaborations with food educators from the Shrewsbury Institute for Agricultural Education (SAGE) and the Vermont Foodbank will bring even more food demos, both at the Food Center and at the Rutland Community Health Center on Stratton Road, one of the pick-up sites for participants of the program.
Four area farms—Homegrown Garden, Breezy Meadows, Yoder Farm, and Alchemy Gardens—bring produce each week that is then packed up at the Vermont Farmers Food Center by volunteers and a crew of local youth working with the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC).
The VYCC Community Crew is made up of four local teens and a crew leader. Besides helping to pack the Health Care Shares on Wednesdays, they also have been traveling to each of the four farms to volunteer their time with weeding, planting, and other farm projects. They are a particularly fun and inspiring group and bring great energy to the farms.
Many hands and many partners are coming together for the Health Care Shares and to support the Vermont Farmers Food Center, and every bit of community support helps. Please join together and show your support this Sunday at this exciting event!
Tickets to the Vermont Farmers Food Center’s Taste of Rutland Farms event are $20 per person and can be purchased from many of the farmers market vendors or at the door. The dinner is from 3:00 – 5:00 pm this Sunday, August 16. The live auction will start shortly thereafter.
Lindsay and her husband Scott own Alchemy Gardens, a vegetable farm business in Shrewsbury. Learn more at www.AlchemyGardensVT.com