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67 Merchants Row
Rutland, VT, 05701
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Rutland Area Farm and Food Link (RAFFL) promotes local food knowledge, production and market opportunities for farmers and community members throughout our region.

Rutland County Nutrition Coalition

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Rutland County Nutrition Coalition

Steve Peters

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Every few months I get together with other folks in the Rutland community who are also working to improve food quality and access. This group is the Rutland County Nutrition Coalition and this week in my column in the Rutland Reader, I share a little insight on them. Here is a reposting of that article. I spend a large part of my day thinking about food. What I’ll cook, where I’ll shop, how I’ll grow my favorite vegetables or what restaurant I’ll explore are all common thoughts bouncing around inside my head. And while I can do all of those things with a degree of comfort and ease, I’m often reminded that not everyone can.

“So many of our families are two generations away from those who cook,” Sue Bassett, coordinator of the Rutland Community Cupboard, stated bleakly at a recent meeting of the Rutland County Nutrition Coalition.

It’s a sad, but true fact: today many families, especially those with limited income, are not cooking their own food. It is one of the many concerning topics discussed among the coalition — a group of like-minded folks involved in our community’s pressing food issues, especially those of access and nutrition.

If you haven’t heard of the group, in which I participate through my work at the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link, I’m not entirely surprised. It exists much in the form of a support and communications network for its members. Organizations such as the Community Cupboard, RAFFL, the Boys and Girls Club, the Southwestern Vermont Council on Aging and Rutland City Public Schools are all represented.

The coalition originated in the mid 1990s with members from UVM Extension, the Vermont Department of Health, the Rutland Regional Medical Center and Rutland County Head Start. These organizations banded together to address the food and nutrition issues they witnessed in their respective corners of the community. At the time, they were known as Community Team Nutrition, but as they’ve grown, their focus remains the same: to look closely at food access and utilization.

“There wasn’t a collective voice speaking to food and nutrition in the community,” says Bethany Yon, a nutritionist with the Vermont Department of Health and the coalition’s lead member. “Now there is.”

If you have heard of the coalition, it’s probably through Yon and the television program she hosts on PEGTV — “What’s Cookin’ Rutland.”

When RRMC was looking to create a public television show, Yon helped reinvent “What’s Cookin’” to address their desired health concerns. With a focus on local food and nutrition, she cheerfully welcomes other coalition members as guests each month. Her enthusiasm on topics as varied as cleaning out your freezer, making a meal with items from a food shelf and cooking with kids, is engrossing.

Although the coalition doesn’t take on or produce its own initiatives — there is no paid staff — it assists its members in doing so. In fact, Everyday Chef, the cooking education program I run at RAFFL, is a direct result of the group’s efforts.

Years ago, with the help of the Bowse Health Trust and UVM’s Center for Rural Studies, the coalition conducted a survey on Rutland’s food barriers, needs, health concerns and where people were doing their food shopping. They wanted to get an idea of people’s thoughts about nutrition.

“Everyone always says there just needs to be more classes. But when you hold more classes people just don’t come,” Yon explains. “We need to go where the people already are.”

That’s exactly why, when Everyday Chef started up in 2011, it was formed as a traveling educational program. Instead of regularly holding classes at a specified location, we travel throughout Rutland (and beyond) to provide cooking education for those who need or request it.

Over the years, the coalition has helped organize a number of other campaigns. Shopping tours for WIC and Head Start families, establishing cooking curriculum and training for childcare providers, working with Share Our Strength, and distributing bone health information to young girls are just a few.

At a recent meeting, free summer meals for kids, the letter carrier food drive and the farm-to-family coupon distribution schedule were all discussed.

In addition, Jenna Whitson, a child nutrition advocate from Hunger Free Vermont, was a guest presenter who brought to our attention the number of eligible schools in Rutland County that could be taking advantage of funds to serve an after-school meal and snack.

The coalition meets a handful of times a year and is in the process of determining where to direct future attention. New contributors to the group are always welcome.

“We would like to see who else we could bring to the table. It’s valuable for people know what other programs exist and for the cross pollination of organizations and ideas,” says Yon.

If you would like to learn more about or join the Rutland County Nutrition Coalition, contact Bethany Yon at bethany.yon@state.vt.us.

Contact Steve Peters at rutlandbites@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @RutlandBites.