The state of Vermont is a special place to eat—not because of maple syrup producers, or at least not only because of them. There are also cheese makers, beekeepers, cider makers, rabbit breeders and millers—more than 125 producers in all who supply more than 200 restaurants across the state.
This unique partnership was born during the mid-1990s, when a number of devoted locals were committed to preserving Vermont’s agricultural way of life, along with the pleasures of its harvest tables. These hardworking individuals held meetings to discuss how producing the best-quality, ecologically responsible food helps create a lasting bond between producers and consumers, a bond they saw as key to the survival of their farming lives. Through these discussions the Vermont Fresh Network was formed, the nation’s first statewide farm-to-restaurant program.
To join the Vermont Fresh Network, farmers must partner with at least one restaurant. The partnership requires that the farmers deliver their products directly to the restaurants they are working with. In turn, the restaurants need to have a working connection with at least three farms that practice sustainable farming.
“This is a very special farmer/chef relationship of which I am most proud,” says network member Jason Tostrup, chef and owner of The Inn at Wethersfield. Tostrup buys humanely raised veal from Jersey Girls Farm. The milk from the veal goes to Consider Bardwell Farm Creamery to make handcrafted cheese. The whey produced during cheese-making feeds the hogs at Happy Hogs Farm, and the hogs are purchased by The Inn.
“The full circle and scope of this may seem complicated, but it really just makes sense for everyone involved, ” Tostrup says.
Along the way, the network has been a boon to start-up farms and producers. Pete Johnson, owner of Pete’s Greens, says, “The Vermont Fresh Network was important in our early years as we became established as a source of specialty organic produce for Vermont’s restaurants. Today, I’m impressed by the range of Vermont restaurants that use significant quantities of local food, and Vermont Fresh deserves much credit for this revolution.”
Story by Tracey Medeiros. Recipes reprinted with permission from her Dishing Up Vermont (Storey Publishing, 2008).