Bunches of red and yellow beets, baby yellow and green squash, garlic scapes, arugula, and red leaf lettuce are only a few of the varieties of produce that are gracing our local farmers markets, roadside stands, and home gardens. Each week the list grows, as does our enthusiasm for access to eating food grown or produced close to home. The demand for local food increases every year as people become more aware and place greater importance on knowing where their food comes from. We are fortunate in our green mountain state where growing a multitude of crops is possible and a return to our agricultural roots is evident. What is most noticeable is the diversity of products that are homegrown.
Our local retirement communities have embraced the ethic of focusing on local food in their menus as much as possible. The heads of dining services at both Wake Robin and The Lodge at Shelburne Bay are committed to utilizing local products. Kathy King, Director of dining services at Wake Robin says, “The local food movement has always been very important to me as a professional in the food industry. I worked in southern Vermont for many years and was part of the Vermont Fresh Network, so it was natural for me to bring the ideas and the mission of the Vermont Fresh Network to Wake Robin.” King has been at Wake Robin for seven years and during those years, she has incorporated new Vermont products to the menu. Her goal has been to bring in a few products per year to introduce to residents, in order to keep up with the Vermont industry and to keep things “fresh”. The Lodge’s Executive Chef Andy Rose has similar sentiments. “Buying local makes you part of the community and residents appreciate that,” he says. “However, the quality and price still needs to be there, regardless of what products we use.”
Both King and Rose have a long list of the types of products they currently support, and that list continues to grow. Wake Robin works with two local farms for the summer who supply their salad mix and head lettuce—Bella Farm in Monkton and Bloomfield Farms in Charlotte. Monument Farms supplies dairy products and Cabot for cheeses. Echo farm supplies pudding. They use local ground beef, turkey comes from Stone wood Farms and they have recently purchased a whole pig from Maple Wind Farms. The chefs are looking forward to the variety of ways they can incorporate these goods into their menu. The Lodge supports produce vendors who purchase from Lewis Creek Farms and Mazza’s. They continue to buy as much locally as possible which according to Rose includes produce, cheese, meats, and maple products.
Andy Rose says that four seasonal menu groupings helps the local focus, especially in the summer when produce is more plentiful. Spring offers a chance to incorporate maple syrup, which means maple desserts and other yummy maple treats. A small herb garden outside the kitchen is a huge plus. Menus often reflect what is currently in season, whether it is fresh rhubarb, sugar snap peas, or strawberries.
Quality and price continue to play a huge role in what drives their purchasing, but it is evident that both chefs at these remarkable retirement communities appreciate that they are able to support the local community of folks who produce a wide array of Vermont products.