By Jen Miller
Cost, time, accessibility. These three words can describe the reasons we feel limited in various aspects of our lives, not able to take advantage of certain resources or spend our time the way we envisioned. Last winter, focus group participants from Rutland County identified the price point, the time required to plan, shop, and prepare, and the business hours of farmers markets and farmstands as the top three barriers to accessing local foods. Does this ring true to you? To others in your community? If so, read on to learn more about work being done to address these barriers and to make buying local easier for community members in our region.
I would like to start by sharing a bit more about two recommendations put forth by those focus group participants related to both access and use of local foods. First, it was recognized that education, starting at the school level with strong Farm-to-School programming, is key to connecting more people to local foods. Second, some towns have a limited selection of local products for sale in their towns and Rutland County residents feel that this availability issue needs to be addressed. As a result, two such towns, Chittenden and Pittsford, are now partnering with RAFFL to increase the access to local food in their communities.
Pittsford’s Lothrop Elementary and Chittenden’s Barstow Memorial School are both already active in efforts to connect their students with the food system. Wandering the perimeter of Lothrop, it is likely that you will encounter Farm-to School Coordinator Laura MacLachlan, enthusiastically leading a class through a lesson on compost or harvesting cherry tomatoes. A small greenhouse is scheduled to be constructed on site soon, extending both the growing and garden lesson season at Lothrop. Meanwhile at Barstow, classes tend to their garden boxes before heading to lunch where chef Meg Hanna has one of many farm fresh menu items waiting for them. On one of my visits to the school, the highlighted treat of the day were slices of local heirloom tomatoes topped with mozzarella and local pea shoots. You can only imagine what Hanna has in store for their annual school Thanksgiving feast.
Building on the existing momentum at Lothrop and Barstow, RAFFL has now expanded its Farm Fresh Connect program, which has been offered at area businesses for the past three years. This on-line farmers markets is now serving the communities of Pittsford and Chittenden, connecting 22 local farmers and food producers with area shoppers. In any given week, there is a plethora of locally produced vegetables, meats, fruits, artisan breads, and other specialty products such as jams, pickles, and maple syrup. Customers’ order are delivered directly to the schools on Wednesday afternoons, simultaneously eliminating the need for an extra stop for groceries on the way home while supporting our region’s farmers and producers.
RAFFL staff members are also working with Hanna and MacLachlan to offer local food tastings to students, parents, teachers, and community members. Featured recipes are simple and straightforward, demonstrating that planning and cooking with local food does not have to be a time-intensive undertaking. In fact, strategic simplicity of recipes can actually highlight the fresh taste and flavor of local foods. Look for free samples and recipe cards for corn and bacon salad, tomato tart, Mexican spaghetti squash, and more as you are out and about in Chittenden and Pittsford this fall! Remember, partnering with schools to offer tastings and serve as pick-up locations is just one of the many initiatives in our region targeted at supporting farms and decreasing the number of people who feel that cost, time, and availability are barriers to accessing local foods. So stop by, try a new recipe, hear about what we are up to, and let us know how you think we can best serve your community!
Jen Miller is the coordinator of the New Farmer and Farm Fresh Connect programs at the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link. You can reach her at email@example.com.
Originally published in the Rutland Herald.