Category Archives: For Foodies

WC Speakers: Joe Bossen of Vermont Bean Crafter’s Company

Joe Bossen, founder of VT Bean Crafter's
Joe Bossen, founder of VT Bean Crafter’s
Six years ago, after attending a NOFA conference, Joe Bossen was inspired with a new idea. He wanted to start a business that was not so much profit driven, as it was a “nourishing experience”. That’s where Vermont Bean Crafters Company came into play. This time, at the 2013 NOFA Winter Conference, Bossen was the one providing in the inspiration in his TED style speech, where he explained how Vermont Bean Crafters Co. is the combination of passion and innovation working together to fill a void in Vermont’s agricultural community. At VBC, they choose what products to create based on a) what’s being consumed, b) what’s being poorly executed, and c) what’s available locally. From this framework, they’ve developed tasty, local products, including veggie burgers, refried beans and falafels.

In addition to increasing the availability of local products to the community, Bossen believes that the schools are also in need of more nutritious, local foods. So in spring of 2012, Bean Crafters teamed up with Burlington High School and created Falafel Fest, where they provided white bean and chickpea falafel samples to the students, which was a major hit.

“You can’t just put new inputs into a broken system,” Bossen explain. “You have to get kids excited about it”. This idea can resonate throughout the entire Vermont food system – providing a local option isn’t enough to make a change, you have to motivate people to be on board. Bean Crafters, and other local agriculture businesses have the responsibility to “be activists and create this type of culture,” where we “re-imagine daily reality”. Bossen stresses the amount of untapped potential in agriculture, reminding us how much we can do with just one simple product, like Bean Crafter’s does with beans, in order to create this new food revolution. He reminds us to “think about inputs over outputs, and quality over quality,” and continuously strive to innovate and grow both as individuals and as a community.

Guest blogger: Kristy Ryan

Organic vs. Contential Milk: Is There a Big Difference?

While attending the NOFA winter conference, I noticed that much of the conversations that were being held were about the most effective way for small farmers to reach their desired audience. Recently The American Academy of Pediatrics conducted a study that looked more in depth about organic foods and what food is worth buying organic.

When parents are shopping for food whether it be at a grocery store chain, local farm stand, or co-op they want to purchase the food that will have a positive impact on their families. So when choosing between the conventional options and the organic labeled foods parents that can afford the organic foods are more than likely reaching for those choices. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently conducted a study about the advantages and disadvantages of purchasing organic foods for children. On average the cost of these foods are about 10 to 40 percent higher than the non-organic foods and in the case of purchasing organic milk there seems to be little difference. With a high dependency on the cows daily diet and the scale of the farming operation raw milk could have higher rates of antioxidants which is a positive for small children and families. However the report claims that there is no evidence of ‘clinical relevant difference’ between organic milk and conventional milk. It’s not all doom and gloom surrounding organic foods and if they have a better effectiveness than conventional foods.

When incorporating organic food the study found that a significantly lower percentage of pesticides were found in children who ate organic foods. These low levels can contribute to a healthier immune system and the ability for children to have a greater chance fighting off sicknesses and disease. Other bright news, organic foods will not have the high costs forever! With the rise in oil prices things like pesticides and herbicides will become more costly to farmers, which could allow for dropping organic prices. Along with the high costs of pesticides improvements in organic technologies will also lead to decreased costs for consumers.

For more information about the study visit: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2012/10/15/peds.2012-2579.abstract

Guest blogger: Jackson Diebold

Small Farm Marketing at the NOFA Winter Conference

Most would think that the actual planting, growing, and harvesting process is the hardest part for many small local farmers. However, that seems to be the easier part when it comes to trying to distribute and sell these fresh, local products. There seems to be a slight disconnect between the farmers, their products, and the consumers who want and love these locally produced goods.

This problem was recognized and addressed at the recently held Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont winter conference. In a classroom setting farmers were able to gather valuable information from a professional on how to most effectively market their farm products to consumers. One issue that seemed to be a major problem from the consumer side was not realizing that ‘organic’ and ‘local’ do not mean the same thing. Consumers just assume that if something was grown local than that must mean it is organic. This leaves consumers wondering why they are paying so much more for ‘organic’ so they choose to not support local. This was a big point that the farmers should really take the time and educate their customers on the difference.

Another big talking point at the workshop was the understanding of whom the farmers are selling to and what are their average customer’s demographics. For example, the main motivator for parents when buying organic food is they are trying to provide healthy options for their family as much as possible. It was discussed that this could be a great selling point and some farmers did admit that once they started posting recipes using the food they were selling either at a farmers market or food stand it had a positive impact on sales.

As a non-farmer in a room full of farmers I began to realize that they were unaware of how great their product actually was, they almost took the high quality of their products for granted. Consumers are not used to buying the freshest products from a place like price chopper however once the realization is made that fresh food is at their fingertips I think the conversion would be a easy one to make for the consumer.

Guest blogger: Jackson Diebold

Farm to Institution Forum: Advancing Access to Local Foods

The Farm to Institution Forum: Advancing Access to Local Foods workshop stood out among the plentiful list of inspiring and informative discussions during these years Winter Conference. The forum kicked off with an informational presentation providing hard numbers behind the demand for local produce and eggs by local Vermont Institutions. NOFA’s study showed that over 70% of institutions purchase local fruit and vegetables, and want to purchase more. This research also showed that institutions would rather purchase from their primary distributors or directly from the farmer, which provided a perfect transition into the discussion about to take place.

The open floor, discussion based forum got down to the nitty gritty of the Farm to Plate IMG_0363program and addressed how we may bridge the gap between local farms and large institutions. The fishbowl panel of speakers, prompted opinions from institution reps, local and large-scale farmers, distribution agencies, and a number of sit in attendees, providing a wealth of perspectives. One of the biggest points made by Paul, a local farmer panelist member, explained that local farmers couldn’t compete with the low prices of large scale producers. The representative from a school institution responded that he would rather purchase locally for higher quality and longer lasting food, despite the higher price. It was surprising but refreshing to hear such a large institution advocate for purchasing local food throughout the entire workshop. The question still remained; how does this sector cultivate direct relationships with farmers and institutions?

A representative from Upper Valley Produce remarked, “they should be putting pictures of local farmers up on the walls in school cafeterias!” While this may have evoked laughter among the diverse audience members, she certainly had a point. Maybe institutions would be more likely to buy local if the distribution process was more transparent, and consumers were more connected to their food. The discussion element of this workshop revealed just how essential it is to bring the multiple members from all sides of distribution together in one room. The fishbowl discussion allowed opinions from panelist NOFA members as well as attendees in the workshop, which promoted a diversity of topics and discussion throughout. The three hours spent juggling costs and benefits will surely help reach their goal of 10% Farm to Plate distribution by 2020.

Guest blogger: Laura Friedland